In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender, Indigenous and Ethnic Political Representation in Oceania

  • Introduction

Political Science Gender, Indigenous and Ethnic Political Representation in Oceania
by
Janine Hayward, Claire Timperley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0369

Introduction

This entry draws attention to literature on political representation in Oceania, understood primarily to mean elected representation in the formal institutions of government. Literature across the region has been dominated by analysis of women in politics, but there is assessment of Indigenous and ethnic representation in some countries. While the focus is on formal representation, this article includes literature on representation beyond elected roles, guided by scholarship that emphasizes the importance of politics beyond parliament, especially for women. Literature on Indigenous representation also includes theoretical research that considers the relationship between Indigenous sovereignty and formal representation. Oceania is a region of tremendous diversity in relation to history, language, culture, and political systems. In social science literature the region is often divided into three subregions—Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia—each with some distinct characteristics. Given the diversity of the region, and related scholarship, there are many ways to configure this literature. This entry follows the contours of the scholarship, which clusters around Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Island states and territories. To guide readers new to the field, Australia and New Zealand are separated out, reflecting the scholarly attention these countries have received, as well as their similar histories as colonial settler societies. Each section highlights scholarship specific to the two countries, but there is also substantial overlap in the literature drawing connections between these two cases and with other Westminster democracies. The article concludes with some of this comparative literature, especially where it highlights important findings for each country, but there are many excellent studies that are not listed here. To introduce readers to scholarship in Oceania beyond Australia and New Zealand, this topic is approached thematically, highlighting the relatively extensive literature that analyzes the low numbers of women represented in formal politics across the region, the obstacles to women’s representation, and the impacts of electoral systems on women. Scholars also offer recommendations to address this deficit, and provide a fuller picture of the contributions women choose to make beyond parliament in the public sector, local government, and community politics. The literature also gives a voice to women who defy the odds and get elected. Political science scholarship is highlighted in these sections, but attention is also drawn to a number of important reports written for the UN and aid organizations (some authored by political scientists) that have had a major impact on the research in the region. Three countries—Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Solomon Islands—have received higher levels of scholarly attention, which is reflected in the final three sections that focus on each in turn, providing a sample of the representation literature over time in each country.

Australia

The scholarship on political representation and diversity in Australia is dominated by analysis of the representation of women in Parliament, in particular consideration of women’s political leadership and substantive representation of women in national and state legislatures, while Indigenous and ethnic representation remains less comprehensively studied. To highlight these two key aspects of representation in Australian politics, this section is divided in two. The first section on Women’s Representation presents scholarship that shows Australia’s executive and legislative institutions as exclusionary and hostile places for women, especially those in leadership positions. At the same time, substantive representation for women has tended to focus on ‘women’s issues’ such as reproductive health, while proportional representation in the Senate has led to an increase in women politicians. The second section on Indigenous and Ethnic Representation highlights empirical work detailing the experiences of Indigenous and ethnic minorities in the executive and public administration, as well as normative work exploring questions of sovereignty and the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torress Strait Islanders in political institutions and the Australian Constitution.

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