Palauan women break the political glass ceiling

Palauan women have achieved another milestone. After more than 30 years, two women made it to the House of Delegates (HOD) and two won another term in the Senate. So, in the upcoming 10th Palau Congress, there will be four Palauan women joining this political institution which had been predominantly composed of men.

In total, 13 women ran for a seat in the Palau Congress.

Senators J. Uduch Sengebau Senior and Rukebai Inabo; Airai Delegate-elect Vicky Kanai and Ngarchelong Delegate-elect Dilmai Saiske, who won seats in Congress, share some commonalities. All four women also had their first career outside politics and had established their socio-economic independence and confidence before formally entering politics.

Uduch Senior is a lawyer. Prior to her taking a seat in the Senate, she was working for a private law firm.

While this is her second term in the Senate, she said there are still challenges for women to enter politics. One is the financial capability to campaign. As an incumbent, it was easy for her to campaign, but for the newcomers in politics; it’s hard to win when you run on a limited budget.

“It’s a big challenge for women, who are not in office like myself and have families,” Uduch Senior said.

She added that she was able to contribute during her first term by “ bringing attention and awareness of social issues, juvenile delinquency concerns, and being able to take care of mothers through the maternity leave bill.”

She said it is still a man's world. The Palau Congress has 29 members but only four women were elected. Representation is still small but the 2016 Palau election yielded a new wave of women lawmakers who are ready to bring changes in 2017.

Besides financial constraints, culture also hinders acceptance of women in politics.

“Being a woman, you have to overcome cultural barriers. Women are in supportive roles, they are not supposed to be the one who get up and speak,” Inabo said.

However, she said the barrier could be overcome if women would show that they can be leaders.

Inabo held the post of Senior Auditor at the Office of the Public Auditor for five years. She also served as Comptroller/Chief Financial Officer at PPLIC and VP Business Banking for the Bank of Hawaii, and headed th