After the 2014 general election, Tonga now joins five other states (three of which are also in the Pacific Islands region) in having no female members of their lower or single house of parliament. Since Tongan women won the right to vote and stand as candidates in 1951, there have been only seven women parliamentarians — four women elected as people’s representatives, and three appointed to parliament by the king or the prime minister.
Special measures — that is, legislative reforms to increase women’s political representation — can be controversial developments, but in this context the institution of special measures would be a means to guarantee the presence and the contribution of women in parliamentary politics.
Women activists in Tonga have mostly advocated either a reserved seat model or a ‘safety net’ model of special measures. This In Brief sets out the cases for and against these two models, with examples from the Pacific islands region, and concludes with a brief discussion of the Tongan political context.