Sen. Mary Torres, Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee joi their counterparts if Pacific Island countries at the Second Pacific Women Women in Power Form. Photo courtesy of Office of the Guam Legislature.
Saying that the Pacific has the lowest level of women’s representation in the world, Guam lawmakers met with regional members of Parliament to discuss strategies at the Second Pacific Women in Power Forum.
The United Nations Development Program organized the four-day forum, which concluded Friday.
Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, Sen. Mary Camacho Torres and Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee were invited to present on issues impacting women in politics on Guam.
Muna Barnes said women often face a host of structural and cultural barriers in every field that keep them from moving forward. She shared the issues she faced, how she overcame them, and how the government of Guam is working to ensure that these barriers be removed for the future daughters of the island.
“When I found out I was becoming a mother, I had to choose between getting an education or raising my child. Decades later, as a mother, grandmother, and the Speaker of the Guam Legislature, I know I made the right call,” the speaker said. “I want to ensure a woman’s right to achieve a better life never takes a backseat to caring for her family. It’s unfortunate that this is still the case, but we need to keep on pushing this agenda forward as a government and as a society.”
During her presentation, Torres advocated for a more comprehensive definition of Violence against Women in Politics (VAWP), stressing that any action that keeps women from being politically active should be considered VAWP—regardless of whether it’s physical or psychological. Recognizing that violence against women is often rooted in cultural attitudes, Torres further emphasized that lawmakers eliminate any part of their culture that excuses abusers.
“Too often, we are told that harassment is just the ‘cost of politics.’ That abuse is acceptable because that’s the way it’s always been,” Torres saiaad. “But we can’t stop VAWP unless we stop it at the start and call it for what it is: a dangerous obstruction to democratic integrity. By strategizing with our Pacific partners, we can fight this, and improve representation for all women in our region.”
Lee was invited to present on social media and its use by Guam’s elected leaders. Lee stressed that online platforms have been effective for maintaining transparency and accountability, but should not replace face-to-face outreach with constituents or cooperation with traditional media partners.
“Guam and many Pacific island cultures have an overlapping value of sharing. By participating in events like this, we have the opportunity to bring back viable, successful ideas that can work for Guam and continue to build our network across the Blue Continent,” said Lee. “I’m especially thankful global organizations like the United Nations Development Program continue to recognize our island as a regional leader when it comes to the worthwhile and worldwide goal of raising generations of public servants.”
The Pacific Women in Power Forum was established by the UNDP to promote women’s political participation, support women Members of Parliament, and strengthen legislatures’ capacity in Pacific Island countries. Costs for the senators’ participation (economy airfare, accommodations, and per diem) were fully covered by the UNDP Fund.