Skip to main content

Pacific Islands Forum

News, speeches and media

Side event on Gender Equality in the Pacific


Speaker: Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women, E&OE

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Panel remarks

Kia Orana!

I thank the Honorable Mark Brown, Minister for Internal Affairs, for the invitation to be involved in this panel discussion and for your leadership at the Forum Economic Ministers Meeting.

I am delighted to be here participating in the Pacific Islands Forum program, especially at such a crucial juncture in Australia's partnership with other Pacific countries to promote gender equality.

I was appointed as Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in September 2011.

Although the role is global, the Asia Pacific region is a particular focus of the position.

In the past year, I have had the pleasure of travelling throughout the Pacific.

I have greatly valued the opportunity to meet and learn from inspiring government and civil society representatives who are working so actively to improve the status of the Pacific's women, some of whom are here in the Cook Islands this week.

But I have also been privileged to talk to women and men in remote parts of the Pacific – in places such as Torba province in northern-most Vanuatu, in Goroka, in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea – and to learn about their unsung but equally significant daily efforts to bring equality to the region's women and girls.

We are all very familiar with the disturbing statistics which underpin our collective efforts to promote and protect the rights of women and girls in the Pacific.

However, encouraging signs from within the Pacific point to a growing mood of optimism that change is possible and this has been demonstrated by Pacific Island leaders' consideration of gender equality issues at this Forum.

I think we will look back and say that something historic happened at this Forum.

Underpinning this milestone is a growing understanding that women's progress is inseparable from community and national progress.

Australia has demonstrated over many years its commitment to working in partnership with Pacific Island Governments, civil society groups, churches, critical agencies such as UN Women, and other development partners to support gender equality in the Pacific.

But can I say, the new initiative launched by Prime Minister Gillard earlier this afternoon heralds a new era in that partnership.

Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development

  • will support the commitments made by Leaders towards gender equality
  • it is a 10 year $320 million investment to help shift entrenched barriers to women's social, economic and political participation (because change is generational in nature, we regard ten years as a realistic program timeline)
  • and it's coverage includes all Pacific Island Forum countries.

It will bring new resources to

  • increase the proportion of Pacific women in leadership and decision-making roles both nationally and locally
  • to increase economic opportunities for women through improved access to financial services and markets
  • and to improve safety for women through better services, violence prevention and access to justice.

And it will show us how to improve our existing investments in health, education, and infrastructure so that they better include and meet the needs of women, girls, men and boys.

The Initiative will support Pacific women's own efforts to change social norms, practices and attitudes to improve women and girls' lives.

Importantly, it acknowledges that women can't make these changes alone.

Real change requires men standing alongside to advocate for equality as well, and, of course, changes to women's roles will mean positive changes to men's lives as well.

The initiative recognises that issues of political empowerment, economic empowerment and violence are interconnected, and that underlying interventions to achieve positive social progress, women's advocacy and access to health and education are critical foundations for change.

It also recognises local variation in context – it understands that gender needs to be addressed at different levels and within different groups.

Most importantly, it is clear that outside agencies cannot impose change.

The initiative will increase the number of women in leadership across the region and will provide funds for local communities to work out ways of supporting women's participation in decision making at village and community level. Often women begin to participate in public affairs at local level before they gain the confidence to step onto the national stage.

Australia will work with Pacific partners to mentor and train female members of parliament and candidates to help them influence national and local politics and run in elections more successfully.

Under the umbrella of the initiative, Australia will work with UN Women and other partners to make produce markets in the Pacific more responsive to the needs of the mostly-female vendors, benefiting more than 30,000 women.

This will include making markets safer places for women to work and providing business training and better access to finance for female vendors. It may also include provision of child care for vendors' children since we know that women's caring responsibilities prevent them earning incomes – they simply don't have enough hours in the day to do it all.

The initiative will also expand services for survivors of violence. This will include increasing health services and the number of crisis centres and shelters available for more than 150,000 women experiencing violence, especially in rural areas.

We anticipate a regionally based management structure with resourcing to enable planning, delivery and monitoring at the country level.

The ten year phasing enables a "venture capital approach" – where a range of initiatives will be tested with successful ones taken to scale. Funding will be increased over the ten year period, as absorptive capacity increases and progress is made against intermediate outcomes.

The initiative has been called Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development because it is a strategy that envisages full participation by Pacific women in their futures as well as the future of the region.

These women know through direct experience what works and what doesn't. And they will be central in the coming decade as the initiative is implemented, assessed and refined.

As my Prime Minister said this afternoon, this is the work of generations, and Australia has established very clearly its commitment to continue to work in partnership with Pacific leaders and communities to better the lives of the region's people and their future.

Last Updated: 10 December 2012
Back to top