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Pacific Leaders Have Ignored Women and Civil Society

40 Years and Little to Celebrate: Pacific Leaders Ignore Women & Civil Society

There will be little cause for celebration outside the meeting rooms as Pacific Island leaders gather for the 40th anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland this week. NGOs have expressed deep frustration about the Forum’s failure to engage with civil society and labelled the lack of women in parliaments in the region as scandalous.

“This gathering of almost entirely male leaders highlights the absence of women in Pacific parliaments,” said Dr Meredith Burgmann, President of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the peak body for Australian NGOs.

“It is a scandal that just under 3 per cent of all elected leaders in the Pacific are women. This is the lowest percentage in the world. The Pacific region is now officially far worse on women’s parliamentary equality than the Gulf states. In fact, 6 of the 10 countries that have no female parliamentarians at all are in the Pacific,” Dr Burgmann said.

“Given that Pacific women are leaders in other aspects of society including business, education, health, sports and other social sectors, the lack of female representation is deplorable and is a cause for shame, not celebration.

“Women’s representation is especially important given that 60 per cent of the countries in the Pacific do not have laws on domestic violence. Women in the Pacific face similar challenges when it comes to accessing health services, education and family planning,” she said.

To add to this sad record, the Pacific Islands Forum leaders have for the first time failed to hold any formal meeting with leaders from non-government organisations this weekend, despite repeated requests.

“We are deeply disappointed at this refusal to meet,” said Marc Purcell, ACFID’s Executive Director.

“Leaders are happy to engage with the business community at this High Level Forum but they are ignoring the fact that the NGO sector plays a key role in most countries in the region. NGOs in the Pacific are leaders in service delivery and advocates on important policy issues,” Mr Purcell said.

“The importance of civil society in the Pacific has been vastly underestimated by this meeting of the Pacific leaders. In the Solomons, for example, churches provide about 27% of educational services, while in PNG church NGOs provide 50% of the health systems. Additionally, NGOs have been leaders in taking up community concerns about climate change, disability and violence against women.

“This Forum, hosted by New Zealand, will be first and foremost remembered as the one that ignored the peoples of the Pacific.

“We are calling on the Pacific leaders to lift their game. We do not want a repeat next year of this embarrassing failure to engage with citizen’s organisations or ongoing refusal to act on women’s representation,” Mr. Purcell concluded.


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