As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all of our Pacific Island countries in one way or another – the impact on our economies and health systems coupled with the restrictions on movement through lockdowns and curfews have increased social stressors. Not surprisingly, gender-based violence has increased during these COVID-19 times, in the Pacific and across the globe. This is worrying for our region which had relatively high rates of intimate partner violence prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many who are experiencing domestic violence are being required to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers at a time when services to support survivors are being disrupted and are less accessible.
Your meeting this week is therefore critical as the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact our countries for the foreseeable future. Your work this week will reﬂect on good practices and lessons learned in implementing domestic violence legislation during the COVID-19 pandemic and during recent natural disasters (tropical cyclones Harold in early 2020 and Yasa and Ana in late 2020 and early 2021). The objective of this meeting is to develop a set of recommendations on practices for their respective governments to consider adopting during similar situations in the future. You will also consider how Pacific governments can collaborate to implement the key recommendations on addressing gender-based violence which came out of the 14th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women held in April 2021.
In addition to being critical, your meeting this week is very timely. As you know, Pacific Leaders issued the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration in August 2012. Amongst other things, the Declaration highlighted that rates of violence against women in the region were unacceptably high and committed Pacific Island countries to working at national levels to progress gender equality including government programs and policies to end violence against women. Nine years on, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has commenced a review of the Declaration to evaluate its effectiveness, relevance, impact and sustainability, in advancing the status of Pacific women and girls, and the outcomes of your deliberations this week will be shared with the Forum Secretariat to help inform this review.
Your meeting is also very timely because of the recent announcement by the Government of Australia that SPC will implement and manage the Pacific Women Lead program. Pacific Women Lead is the Government of Australia’s new 5-year gender equality program for the region. Building on the successes and lessons learned from its predecessor, the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development, Pacific Women Lead will have stronger regional ownership and control of the program. This means that Pacific women will lead the program, define the problems, create solutions, and drive strategy through the Pacific Women Lead Governance Board comprising strong and diverse membership from across the region.
The goal of Pacific Women Lead is for Pacific women and girls, in all their diversity, to be safe and to equitably share in resources, opportunities and decision-making, with men and boys. The program seeks to achieve this by promoting women’s leadership, realising women’s rights, and increasing the effectiveness of Pacific regional partners’ gender equality efforts.
Activities to address violence against women and girls will be a key part of the Pacific Women Lead and your deliberations this week will be very helpful in informing new activities which the program will be looking to design and implement in the new year, 2022.
I am also pleased to announce that the Government of New Zealand has recently provided SPC with a NZD 2 million grant for direct support to the Regional Working Group over 3 years – vinaka New Zealand. Together with existing direct funding support from the Spotlight Initiative (and vinaka vakalevu to UN Women for this) the Working Group should be sufficiently resourced to undertake its important work and bring about the transformational changes necessary to eliminate gender-based violence.
As you all know, violence against women and girls is a manifestation of gender inequality. Measures to address gender-based violence can only be effective if they also seek to enhance gender equality and women’s agency in the region more broadly or closely linked to activities which seek to achieve these outcomes. I am confident that this context – and how to enhance women’s economic empowerment and participation in leadership and decision-making at all levels of society – will be at the forefront of your deliberations this week.
Before I close, please allow me to re-affirm SPC’s commitment to continue to work with your ministries and with our SPC members, as you journey to ensure the full and effective implementation of your respective domestic violence legislation and progress towards gender equality.
With those remarks, I wish you well in your deliberations in the next 3 days.