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Pacific Leaders will need to address situation of women

UNICEF NZ (United Nations Children’s Fund)

Media Release

Friday 31 August, 2012

Expectations that Pacific Leaders will need to address situation of Pacific women

Wellington, 31 August 2012 – Women’s Rights and Advocacy in the Pacific (WRAP) is hopeful that with the participation of two powerful women’s rights advocates and following Australia’s announcement yesterday to commit millions more in funding to support the empowerment of Pacific women that Pacific leaders will address this vital issue at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum.

Both the Executive Director of UN Women Ms Michele Bachelet and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be attending the 43rd Pacific Island Forum Meeting and it is expected they will be drawing attention to the critical statistics that show that the Pacific has the highest level of sexual and gender-based violence, and the lowest rate of women’s political participation in the world.

While the theme for the Meeting is Sustainable Development and Oceans, one of the central planks to achieving sustainable development – both economically and environmentally – is to recognise the equal rights of women. Not only does increasing women’s public and economic participation advance development and reduce poverty, but enabling women to plan their families can also help slow rapid population growth, urban migration and reduce pressure on dwindling resources.

“Although positive steps have been taken in many Pacific Island countries, sexual and gender-based violence remains an entrenched and widespread human rights challenge in the Pacific”, says Sumi Subramaniam, Director of Family Planning International and WRAP spokeswoman.

Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director at UNICEF NZ said, “Violence against women impacts children, it teaches them that violence is acceptable behaviour and this becomes perpetuated through generations. It is good that these issues are being addressed as it has been a long overlooked problem in the Pacific.”

In 2009, Pacific leaders established a Forum Reference Group to address sexual and gender-based violence in the region, and while WRAP commends the work of this group, Pacific leaders must now make specific, attainable and time-bound commitments to further its work, and implement legal frameworks that support its recommendations.

At 3.5 percent, the Pacific region, excluding New Zealand and Australia, continues to have the world’s lowest rate of female political representation. Excluding half of the Pacific’s population from public and political participation poses huge obstacles to achieving sustainable development.

Subramaniam adds, “Donors must play a key role in promoting women’s rights in the Pacific. WRAP congratulates the Australian Government for its leadership in addressing gender disparities through announcements that it will put USD320 million towards initiatives to ending sexual and gender-based violence, improving women’s economic opportunities and increasing women’s political participation.”

WRAP particularly commends Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s remarks at the opening ceremony that, ‘gender equality matters because it's one of the keys to unlocking development’.

WRAP notes that while it is disappointing that New Zealand has reduced its funding for women's programmes in the Pacific by nearly half over the last four years, the highlight on gender at this Forum will lead to a renewal and expansion of support for this issue by New Zealand. WRAP also calls on existing and new donors in the Pacific region, such as China and the United States, to follow Australia’s example, especially as the US renews its engagement with the region.

ends

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