Boost for women’s rights in the Pacific will improve lives of many

Foreign aid, Media Releases, News article written on the 30 Aug 2012

The Federal Government’s new 10-year program to improve the lives of women and girls in the Pacific region is an innovative approach at addressing one of the worst examples of gender inequality in the world, Oxfam Australia said today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative today at the Pacific Islands Forum at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. 

It is aimed at targeting communities and policy makers to support women to have increased knowledge, skills and opportunities, enabling them to participate equally in economic, social and political life.  It also will aim to improve education and health outcomes for women and girls.

Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett welcomed the Initiative’s 10-year time frame, as the changes needed would take many years.

“Given that women in the Pacific have the lowest representation in Parliament anywhere in the world, that more than 60 per cent of women in four Pacific countries report experiencing physical and sexual violence, and that maternal mortality rates are unacceptably high, change will take generations,” Mr Hewett said.

He welcomed the additional investment in countries of the highest need – Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Mr Hewett said the engagement of women’s organisations in the Pacific was critical to success.

“It will be important that the Federal Government works not just with Pacific leaders, but also continues to engage and seek feedback from grassroots Pacific society such as women’s organisations, local groups and churches, as this is the way to achieve lasting change,” he said.

He also welcomed the emphasis in the first two years of supporting already successful initiatives in the Pacific, and learning from these.

“This, together with the ‘learning by doing’ method of adapting programs depending on what’s working and what is not, is a refreshing departure from a ‘top down’ approach,” Mr Hewett said.

He said the Initiative’s focus on targeting men also was necessary in tackling gender inequality.

“Men need to understand the benefits of equal rights for women, if cultural norms about women’s rights to participate in decision-making are to change,” he said.

“With this Initiative, the Federal Government has rightly realised that increasing gender equality in the Pacific will not only improve the lives of many women and girls, but also has the potential to increase economic development in the region, which will benefit all.

“Addressing the rights of women in the Pacific is essential if countries are to prosper.” 

Oxfam Australia’s work with partners on improving the lives of women throughout the Pacific includes programs tackling gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, a women’s literacy project in Papua New Guinea, and increasing women’s access to sustainable livelihoods and young women’s access to essential health services in Vanuatu.

For more information or interviews contact Laurelle Keough on 0425 701 801