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Joint Statement by the co-convenors of a meeting of Pacific Women Leaders, Australian Foreign Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne, and Samoan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment Fiame Naomi Mata’afa

International relations

“Advancing our commitment to gender equality through the current COVID-19 crisis“

Pacific Women Leaders met virtually on 29 May 2020 to discuss the gender implications of COVID-19 within the Pacific region. Participating ministers, parliamentarians and senior civil servants began by acknowledging the role and efforts of women in support of their communities and families in the Pacific.

Leaders noted the different impacts that COVID-19 is having on women, men, vulnerable groups and persons with disability in the Pacific. They then considered three core areas where women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic for various reasons, including:

Health impacts — Women healthcare workers are at the frontline of the response to this pandemic globally. Ensuring that women health care workers have access to necessary resources to enable them to carry out their vital work safely and effectively was critical. At the same time there was a need to continue other vital healthcare services, including maternal health and childcare.

Women’s safety — There was a recognition that levels of violence against women and girls in the region remain unacceptably high. The current pandemic has exacerbated these problems. Mobilising bystanders to prevent and respond to violence was discussed and it was agreed that governments and communities must act to ensure that women and girls are protected from violence, particularly in these challenging times.

Economic impacts and recovery — In the Pacific region, women are overrepresented in sectors and jobs that are impacted significantly by economic downturn associated with the pandemic, such as retail and hospitality. With global supply chains disrupted, women migrant workers and women- led small and medium enterprises have been heavily affected. A number of countries in the region are also dealing with the impact of Cyclone Harold. Despite these challenges, it was acknowledged women would have a vital role to play in the economic recovery of the region.

Co-convenors Samoan Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said we should find ways to work collaboratively in developing our responses to this pandemic.

“We should find ways which not only build resilience in our communities and help to continue economic growth but do so in a manner which also enhances the well-being of women and girls” said Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.

“Pacific women leading the region’s response is vital to ensuring women and girls interests are at the forefront of government and community responses” said Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

The Pacific Women Leaders also agreed that this period of disruption has created opportunities to reconstruct systems and norms to advance gender equality.

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