Transforming power relations: Equal status of women and men at the family level in the Pacific
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Sunday, 07 March 2010

ImageSecretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Noumea, New Caledonia, Friday, 5 March 2010On the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is encouraging governments and development agencies to incorporate the need for household and family level equality between women and men into policies and programmes in the Pacific region.

A new advocacy brief entitled Transforming Power Relations: Equal Status of Women and Men at the Family Level in the Pacific is designed to raise awareness of an often under-addressed sphere of power dynamics between women and men. It ties into the broader theme of this year’s International Women’s Day celebration: Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.  

The brief is based on a range of existing research and illustrates the extent of household and family level inequality between men and women and the adverse impact such inequality has on all other spheres of women’s lives. It also looks at the links between violence against women in the home and women’s ability to make important decisions including about their own health care, household finances and social life. It provides policy recommendations for lawmakers, the health sector, educators, land authorities, customary bodies, religious institutions and the media. These are based on international commitments to gender equality such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action.

Under CEDAW, countries are obliged to take measures to change social and cultural conduct and practices that are based on notions of the superiority or inferiority of either sex. This recognises that such notions directly contribute not only to human rights abuses but also to poor overall development outcomes.

The brief focuses on five categories of empowerment and decision-making at the household level. After reviewing studies that evidence the existence of strong household hierarchies in the Pacific, it discusses decision-making on sexual and reproductive issues and relating to health care, social life, household finances and land. The findings are based on a range of studies, most of which were undertaken in the last five years. These include SPC’s gender-based violence surveys in Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Samoa, and demographic and health surveys carried out by SPC in Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Statistics are also taken from various other studies in French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The implications of unequal status at the family level are also highlighted. They include poor health for women, violence against women, and reduced participation by women in the economic and political sectors, which has a negative impact at all levels, from the scale of the individual and the family to that of the national economy.

SPC’s Director-General Dr Jimmie Rodgers says it is essential for women to have equal status in the family in order to participate fully in all other sectors of society. ‘Achieving equality at this fundamental level of society will not only benefit families, it will have positive repercussions at the community, local and national levels and will pull up development outcomes in our region as a whole. Household equality must therefore be seen as a critical aspect of government and institutional policy and programme design across multiple sectors.’

The brief was presented earlier this week at a Pacific side event on women and decision-making at the 54th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 54), which is focusing on progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action. The commission evaluates progress on gender equality and sets new standards for global policy. CSW is held over a fortnight every year in New York. This year’s commission runs from 1 to 12 March.

SPC, in partnership with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Australian Government Office for Women and other development partners, is supporting the active participation of its member countries at CSW. Pacific government delegations from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, as well as from permanent UN missions in New York, are attending CSW54.

Background information for media

International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day (8 March) is an occasion to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security. It is a day when people are encouraged to recognise that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms requires the active participation, equality and development of women. It is also an occasion to review progress in women’s development as well as an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise for meaningful change.

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is often described as an international bill of rights for women. It is an international agreement adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly that defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. By ratifying CEDAW, countries commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including: 
- incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolishing all discriminatory laws and adopting appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
- establishing tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
- ensuring elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organisations or enterprises.
All Pacific Island countries have ratified CEDAW except Nauru, Palau and Tonga. The US has also not yet ratified it, meaning that the three American territories of Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa do not have the protection of CEDAW. There are only eight countries in the world that have not yet ratified CEDAW.

Beijing Platform for Action
The Beijing Platform for Action highlights key issues identified as obstacles to the advancement of women in the world. It focuses on addressing 12 areas of concern. It was signed by participants at the Fourth World Conference on Women convened by the United Nations in 1995 and has since been reviewed every five years. This month, the Beijing+15 review is taking place at the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York (1–12 March).

For a print copy of Transforming Power Relations: Equal Status of Women and Men at the Family Level in the Pacific send a request to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . To download an electronic copy go to

For more information please contact Tione Chinula, Human Development Programme Advocacy and Communications Officer by phone: +687 26 01 57 or email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or Treva (Téa) Braun, SPC Human Development Adviser (Gender Equality), email This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 23 March 2010 )
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