A gender studies programme is to be set up at the University of the South Pacific (USP) as part of plans to accelerate the achievement of gender equality in the Pacific.
The initiative was one of several outcomes of a recent meeting that brought together representatives from about 20 development agencies, civil society organisations (CSOs) and diplomatic missions to discuss ways of improving inter-agency collaboration and making the most of new opportunities to make equal status for women and men a reality, not just a right.
Delegates at the meeting, held in Fiji from 20 to 22 August 2008, supported setting up a programme to advance equality education, boost the number of gender equality advocates, and back up organisations working to raise the status of Pacific women.
Discussions with USP heads on a gender studies programme, common in other parts of the world, have already started. The university is also exploring linked scholarships and internships.
‘Such programmes increase the pool of people who can lead effective gender equality projects and train others in women’s rights,’ says USP head librarian, Sin Joan Yee, who is also the university’s representative on the gender working group of the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific. ‘They benefit women in even the smallest villages to the largest cities. The potential trickle-down effect is enormous.’
Participants at the meeting highlighted the need to consolidate their efforts in several other areas as well. These included strengthening the women's movement; centralising research and documentation on regional gender issues; improving gender training; incorporating gender issues into national development plans and budgets; increasing the capacity of governments to mainstream gender issues in all sectors; and improving gender mainstreaming within regional agencies.
Gary Wiseman, manager of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre in Fiji, says partnership is crucial. ‘Working independently is okay, but there are often great advantages and flow-on effects with better collaboration, and at the very least, a sharing of experience and knowledge.’
He adds: ‘I would stress here the importance of recognising that we are [each] contributing to a process of change, rather than claiming credit for it all.’
Delegates were urged to put more visible effort into improving gender equality in their own organisations.
‘Development partners recognise that they need to step up the pace internally and work smarter on gender equality, and that this needs to be reflected in a visible commitment with observable follow through,’ said Linda Petersen, manager of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Human Development Programme.
The meeting agreed that SPC should initiate a review of civil society organisations working on gender to find out what is being done nationally and regionally and where there might be unrealised potential. The meeting also backed creating a detailed register of gender trainers, a task to be overseen by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Various agencies will also continue encouraging Pacific governments to set aside more money in their national budgets for gender initiatives. In a related effort, SPC is about to launch a stocktake of the capacity and resources of government women’s departments for mainstreaming gender, as well as a core set of gender indicators to help governments collect and analyse gender statistics for improved policy making, planning and accountability. The stocktake will also look at the political working environment for women’s departments.
The meeting was attended by representatives from SPC, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and United Nations agencies; donor agencies AusAID, NZAID, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency; USP; and staff of the Australian and New Zealand high commissions in Fiji.
Also taking part were representatives from influential civil society groups such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Pacific Foundation for the Advancement of Women, Commonwealth Local Government Forum Pacific Project and Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.
Meanwhile, a newly released UNIFEM report on the progress of the world’s women 2008/2009 reveals that much stronger accountability mechanisms are needed to track progress on gender equality if we are to meet national and international commitments to women’s rights. The report states that this accountability must begin by increasing the number of women in decision-making positions.
For more information please contact Tione Chinula, SPC Human Development Programme Advocacy and Communications Officer, tel: +687 26 01 57 or e-mail
or Téa Braun, SPC Human Development Adviser (Gender Equality), tel: +687 26 01 91 or e-mail