At their 6th meeting in Suva, Fiji in early October, Pacific Ministers for Women endorsed an ambitious 12-year road map to accelerate gender equality in the region by 2030.
The “Pacific Platform for Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights 2018–2030” lays out concrete ways for Pacific Island governments to progress equality between women and men, and improve the well-being of women and girls.
It will help Pacific governments and leaders to implement their international commitments on gender equality and assist regional agencies and development partners to better support governments.
“The successful implementation of the new PPA relies on the active engagement of all sectors of government alongside civil society and faith-based organisations as well as the private sector who were well-represented at the meetings,” said Colin Tukuitonga, Director-General of the Pacific Community (SPC), adding: “The PPA will also help guide the work of regional agencies and development partners.”
By 2030 all women and girls should have felt the impact of the PPA as it requires government departments and agencies to consider the different impact policies have on women and men, mobilises information and resources to advance gender equality and makes progress on important issues such as health, education, domestic violence and women’s economic empowerment.
Prior to the ministers’ meeting, over 200 participants from 21 Pacific countries converged at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women to discuss the economic standing of 4.5 million women and girls across the greater Pacific region. Despite making up half of the region’s population, women continue to be economically underrepresented due to discriminatory laws, and the social and cultural norms which place unrealistic expectations on women’s responsibilities for home and family care.
Ministers from Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa and Solomon Islands took part in the meeting including Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Fijian Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation who served as Chair.
Over the three days of meetings, government officials and civil society representatives discussed the continuing challenges of closing the economic gender gap, increasing women’s job opportunities and breaking down the barriers that hold women from fully contributing to and benefiting from the Pacific economy.
In her opening statement President Heine emphasised the direct connection between the economic empowerment and Pacific resilience saying, “Where women are able to achieve their economic potential, economies grow and societies prosper; families are wealthier, and more resilient to adverse economic situations.”
The conference participants reviewed and celebrated progress made over the last two decades in the empowerment of women and girls. Access to tertiary and post-secondary education and training has increased, maternity leave in the public sector has expanded; and the number of women contributing to superannuation schemes for long-term financial security is on the rise. However, the progress in these areas has not yet been translated into equal opportunities for employment or control over productive assets for women. In fact, the 2016 Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration Trends and Assessment Report highlighted that gender pay disparities have remained in place and have even widened in some countries.
The reasons for this gap are complex. They can include traditional roles that society assigns to men and women, attitudinal and structural barriers to equal participation in decision-making, obstacles to access to justice, inheritance and ownership, and long standing value systems that link masculinity with authority over women in some parts of the Pacific.
Even with the gender gap that exists, Pacific women are making an enormous contribution to Pacific Island economies. For example, in Solomon Islands, the annual turnover at the Honiara Central Market is USD 10–16 million, with women responsible for about 90% of market activity, both as bulk-buyers from farmers and as retailers. In Papua New Guinea, women are largely responsible for food production, valued at USD 55 million per year.
Against this background, closing the gender gap in Pacific Island countries and territories is both a moral and economic priority. It is estimated that the global gender gap reduces the world’s GDP by over USD 1 trillion. If the Pacific has any hope of reaching its development goals women must have the opportunity to be full and equal participants in the region’s economy.
Said President Heine: “We must show courage and strength and promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in everything that we do; because if we do not, what do we tell our women; our daughters, our mothers, our aunts and nieces in the remote communities?”
The 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women were coordinated by the Pacific Community (SPC) and supported by the Australian Government which provided AU$200,000 in funding.
To access the meeting outcomes, visit this link.
To access the Pacific Platform for Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights 2018–2030, visit:
Gender inequality by the numbers
Federated States of Micronesia
In 2014, 25% of ever-partnered women in Chuuk and Kosrae had experienced economic abuse by an intimate partner, decreasing to 8% in Pohnpei and Yap, with a national prevalence rate of 15%. In Kosrae state, women comprise 36% of employees registered for social security, 38% in Pohnpei, 40% in Chuuk, 41% in Yap and overall in FSM 39%. In FSM women represent 39% of employees in the formal sector, account for 36% of gross earnings, and on average earn 13% less than men.
In 2015-16, on average, women working for wages or salaries spent 24 hours a week on household work, while men worked 10 hours. In 2016, 25% of women working in the public sector have experienced sexual harassment in their workplace, higher than the overall incidence of 20% according to research conducted for the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.
In 2015, one-in-every-two women in the labour force was unemployed and looking for work: the unemployment rate for women aged 15 years and over was 50%, compared with 38% for men.
Papua New Guinea
A 2015 UN scoping study conducted in six markets (Gerehu, Gordons, Tokarara, Malauro, Waigani and Hohola) found that 55 per cent of women vendors had experienced some form of violence in the markets in the past year. Violence includes sexual harassment, rape, robbery, intimidation, stalking and extortion. Extortion involves payments to males in return for security or safekeeping and storage of produce.
Between 2008 and 2014, male-headed households benefited more from economic growth compared to female-headed households. This was because there was a larger increase in the proportion of female-headed households in the lowest quintile than in the highest quintile compared to the increase of male headed households.
Women normally take on the bulk of unpaid work, 27.2 hours per week (80%), while men contribute 6.6 hours (20%). Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015 affected approximately 3,600 female micro entrepreneurs (the “mammas”) who lost an estimated 141,110 work days, an average of 39 days per mamma. Vanuatu’s Post Disaster Needs Assessment estimated that the additional unpaid work restoring homes and gardens, fetching water, searching for food, and taking care of children due to the closure of primary and kindergarten schools represented lost earnings of a minimum of VT 432 million, which would increase lost income estimates by 27%.