The spotlight shone on gender equality issues in the Pacific when leaders came together at the annual Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga in August.
Violence against women, poor participation and representation of women in the political sphere, and unsatisfactory participation of women in economic development have been identified as issues requiring urgent attention in the Pacific - and several positive moves to reverse these trends were evident at the Forum. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Women’s Economic Opportunity (WEO) Index ranks two Pacific countries in the bottom five of those reviewed globally, just above Yemen, Chad and Sudan.
The Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration and the Joint Statement on the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality collectively commit to improving the status of women in the region, focusing on support for women’s increased political and private sector representation.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard also announced an unprecedented 10-year Aus$320 million initiative to “expand women’s leadership and economic and social opportunities in the region” noting that women participating as equals is a key indicator of a healthy, functional society. The objective of the 10-year initiative aligns with the gender equality declaration and will seek to increase the number of women in leadership and politics, improve economic opportunities for women through better access to finance and markets; and improve safety for women through violence prevention and access to justice. New Zealand is proud to be a supporting partner of this initiative.
The active participation of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet, added weight to the importance of gender equality. In an address to the Forum Secretary Clinton stated that “progress toward gender equality in the Pacific has not kept pace with the rest of the world” but that “we are here to do something about it”.
(To note: New Zealand in partnership with the US, AusAID, and the World Bank initiated the Emerging Pacific Women’s Leadership Programme New Zealand will partner with the East West Center providing NZ$1 million over five years and a contribution of scholarships for short term study; New Zealand will also collaborate with the US in hosting a Forum in Jamaica in 2013 for representatives from the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean to discuss collaboration and best practice in food security, agriculture and women’s economic empowerment.)
Adimaimalaga (Adi) Tafuna’I, co-founder of Women in Business Development Inc Samoa and an important role model for women in the Pacific, as the first ever Pacific winner of the Vital Voices Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Award wrote to the Head of New Zealand Aid Programme Amanda Ellis to thank New Zealand for facilitating her participation in the Pacific Women Leader’s Dialogue hosted by the US, “Apart from the fact that it was such an honour to be sitting at the same table as Secretary Clinton, it all seemed the very normal thing to do. She had so many meetings and so many things on her mind, but she sat with us and shared with us and I'm sure all the group felt as I did, that she made us feel like we were just a bunch of girls sitting down for a chat - it never for one minute felt like we were sitting down with perhaps the most powerful woman in the world!”