The Pacific Islands Forum Women Leaders meeting has supported Fiji's proposal to host an extraordinary session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee in 2025, with funding and secretariat services provided by the Pacific Community (SPC). This proposal will now be presented to the CEDAW Secretariat and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for their decision on whether to proceed.
In a resounding display of commitment to women's equality, the Forum Women Leaders have endorsed this groundbreaking initiative, emphasising the importance of addressing gender discrimination across the Pacific region as part of the recent Pacific Islands Forum Women Leaders Meeting held in Fiji from 31 August to 1 September 2023.
This move aligns with the region's focus on women's rights, prominently featured in the Leader's list of ten Commitments within the Pacific Islands 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific. Moreover, it builds upon the ongoing implementation of the revitalised Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration and the widespread ratification of the CEDAW.
The positive outcome of the Pacific session of the 84th Committee on the Rights of the Child in Samoa in 2020 shows that regional meetings can speed up human rights progress and help drive the implementation of international commitments. A Pacific CEDAW session is expected to boost the gender equality agenda similarly.
An extraordinary session of the CEDAW Committee in Fiji would provide the Pacific and Civil Society Organizations with a unique opportunity to engage with the Committee of independent international experts, fostering invaluable learning and collaboration. Importantly, the core funding and secretariat support necessary to host this extraordinary session in the region has been secured thanks to SPC – notably through the USAID-funded PROJECT Governance and DFAT-funded Pacific Women Lead.
While presenting the paper to her fellow women leaders from the Pacific, Fiji’s Minister for Women, Honourable Lynda Tabuya, shared the ambition among Pacific nations to amplify the voices of women and girls across all spheres of life.
Addressing the challenge of limited representation at UN human rights treaty committees due to protocol and cost barriers, Tabuya explained, "This means the Committee does not get to hear invaluable first-hand evidence on which it can base its concluding observations."
She further highlighted the need for better contextual understanding, as only one Forum Island Country representative has ever served on any UN Treaty Body Committee.
As part of her address, Tabuya shared the importance of having more Pacific Island representatives on UN Treaty Bodies to provide an understanding of regional contexts, ultimately leading to more relevant concluding observations and General Comments.
Fiji also proposed a programme of support to help representatives of Forum Island Countries to be elected to these prestigious and influential treaty body Committees, again through the backing of SPC and their development partners.
The Forum Women Leaders also took the following concrete steps:
- Supported Fiji's proposal to host an extraordinary session of the CEDAW Committee in Fiji in 2025, with funding from SPC.
- Called upon the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to approve the convening of an extraordinary session of the CEDAW Committee in Fiji during the first half of 2025.
- Backed the nomination of Pacific Island women candidates for upcoming CEDAW, CRC, and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee elections.
- Entrusted SPC and the Forum Secretariat with the responsibility to advance these initiatives, including establishing a Steering Committee comprising Fiji, the Forum Troika, SPC, Forum Secretariat , OHCHR, and relevant UN agencies based in Suva.
- Agreed to convey their meeting Outcomes to Forum Leaders before they meet in Cook Islands this November.
The Forum Women Leaders' endorsement of Fiji's proposal marks a significant stride towards gender equality in the Pacific region, demonstrating a collective commitment to advancing women’s rights and eliminating all forms of discrimination against them. The upcoming extraordinary session of the CEDAW Committee in 2025, should the UN approve it, promises to be a landmark event in the pursuit of gender equality and women's empowerment across the Pacific.