Report – By Rachel Reeves on Rarotonga
The Australian government has made what the UN Women’s Director called an “unprecedented investment” in the women of the Pacific Islands.
Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday at the Forum Leaders Meeting – before she flew back to Canberra – that her government would be earmarking $320 million to achieve gender equality in the Pacific, under the “Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development” scheme to be rolled out over the next decade.
Her announcement met with enthusiastic applause, and praise from Prime Minister Henry Puna, Forum Secretariat Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade, and UN Women’s director Michelle Bachelet.
She said the investment acknowledges, first of all, that women can be “key drivers of sustainable development”.
“I am so convinced women can make a very important contribution… when women have more rights and opportunities everybody wins,” she said.
The investment also recognises that Pacific women desperately need support.
The region “still has a long way to go”, and still contends with the “very serious issue” of under-representation of women in authority and high rates of domestic violence.
Slade called the statistics “startling, if not depressing”.
More than 60 percent of women in some Pacific countries have suffered physical or sexual abuse. Women occupy 5 percent of the seats in Pacific parliaments, even though research reveals that the higher the level of female representation in a government, the lower the rate of corruption.
Every 1 percent increase in female parliamentary representation raises a country’s economic growth by 0.16 percent. Additionally, agricultural output could increase by up to 4 percent if resources were distributed evenly between women and men.
The Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development scheme aims for the achievement of gender equality in the Pacific, and will require the cooperation of governments, civil society organisations, local advocacy groups, the private sector, and multilateral, regional and United Nations agencies.
It aims to do three things:
1. To increase the ratios of women in positions of leadership, both at the national and local level, by providing mentoring and training for female candidates and political hopefuls
2. To increase economic opportunities for women by improving their access to financial services and the market
3. To provide better services and easier access to justice for survivors of abuse.
“At the end of the 10-year initiative Pacific women will be more involved in local and national leadership and decision-making roles and processes. They will have more opportunities to earn incomes and build assets through safer and fairer employment, and have better access to financial services tailored to their needs. More domestic violence legislation will be put in place to protect survivors of violence and punish offenders. Women survivors of violence will have better access to medical services, counselling, safe shelters and justice,” AusAID has said in a statement.
The investment, Bachelet said yesterday, will ensure that “the Pacific is a better world for everyone, women and men”.
Rachel Reeves is political reporter of the Cook Islands News.