A changing Pacific landscape this International Women’s Day, by Miles Young, Director of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Human Rights and Social Development Division

6 March 2023
Photo: Counsellors and caseworkers from women’s crisis centre in the Pacific travel to ensure access to their services. Pictured are counsellors from Chuuk Women’s Centre.
Image Source    Pacific Community

When the women and men of our Blue Pacific work together, with equal access to opportunities, incredible things happen.  

On International Women’s Day we celebrate the achievements of women and girls, taking time to reflect on progress made but also re-committing efforts to address the challenges ahead to improve gender equality.  

We need to ensure Pacific women and girls can better access services, be decision-makers in their homes and communities, and be equal alongside men working together to make this the best Pacific it can be. This includes in the household and the paid workforce – data released this week shows women account for only 34% of the labour force but do 73% of unpaid household work in Fiji (FWRM new report released this week: ‘Beyond 33%: The Economic Empowerment of Fiji Women and Girls’).

SPC is committed to working with our 22 Pacific Island country and territory members to improve gender equality, women’s empowerment and ending violence against women and girls.  

Everyone benefits from gender equality.  

While the heart of SPC’s gender programme lies within its Human Rights and Social Development division, SPC is ensuring gender equality is integrated into every programme we initiate, every community activity we do, and every team we put together.  

Here are some examples.  

In the North Pacific, SPC supported the advocacy campaign by the Kosrae Special Parent Network directly contributing to government adopting the Kosrae Disability Act. The Act improves the rights of people with disabilities, including the rights of survivors of violence against women and girls with disabilities to access support services.  

Other SPC programmes focus on empowering women and girls and ending gender-based violence, such as Social Citizenship Education, Pacific Girl and Pacific Women Lead at SPC that includes support to crisis centres, especially in the North Pacific.  

In Palau, women are being supported to cultivate success from the taro patch to the policy table while transitioning to organic farming. Women are leveraging their traditional knowledge to add value to frozen ‘demok’ (cooked taro leaf), to be packed and sold in supermarkets at a premium price thanks to their organic certification. 

In Fiji, a solar-powered boat project has doubled the productivity of fisher women while changing village protocols and mindsets to realise women can be highly skilled boat operators. The project halved the time and cost of fishing for the village women by providing a solar-powered boat along with the opportunity for women to undergo Boat Master Licence training.   

How fisheries resources are managed along Pacific coastlines is also changing, with more women being included alongside men community leaders, government officials and other stakeholders who make decisions. Community-based fisheries management (CBFM) initiatives support large collectives of CBFM people to share learnings and work together to sustainably manage their resources.  

In climate change, SPC’s accreditation to the Green Climate Fund in 2019 requires environmental, social and other safeguards to be in place, including policies and procedures to ensure gender equality is integrated into all aspects of the climate finance project cycle – from development to implementation and reporting.   

SPC is also contributing to the change in the health sector to have more women in senior leadership roles. In the past decade, there has been a significant increase of 18 per cent in female doctors, reflecting the changing Pacific landscape with more professional development opportunities plus national and regional gender equality commitments. Over the past five years 64 per cent of public health training funded by SPC has been for women.  

SPC continues to be a leader in gender statistics and data development for more than a decade.  

Robust data and research can be used to advocate for key issues such as ending violence against women and girls – as evidence to push for needed legal protection, more support services, referral pathways and resources, and increased funding for programmes. For example, soon after the release of the National Study on Domestic Violence against Women in Tonga, the Family Protection Act was passed.  

You can visit SPC’s Pacific Data Hub for free access to Pacific gender data and statistics, or SPC’s Toksave Pacific Gender Resource for the latest in gender research. 

Of course, none of this is possible without the support of donors to gender equality programming including, but not limited to, the governments of Australia (DFAT), New Zealand (MFAT), Sweden (SIDA), United States of America (USAID) plus the European Union through the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Maritime Technology Cooperation Center in the Pacific. 

As the principal scientific and technical organisation in the Pacific region, SPC remains committed to serving the needs of governments, civil society and partners to improve gender equality.  

We congratulate the women and girls of the Pacific for their achievements and stand in solidarity with them to continue the work to improve gender equality; for the benefit of every Pacific Islander – men and women, boys and girls.  

SPC staff, from left: Sera Dau, Germplasm Health Technician at CePaCT; Teari Kaure, Aquaculture Technician; and right, Sarlesh Kumar, Field Coordinator, with Mereseini Rakuita, SPC Principal Strategic Lead – Pacific Women and Girls.