Welcome address by Mereseini Rakuita, SPC’s Principal Strategic Lead – Pacific Women at the 3rd Regional Conference for Pacific Women in Maritime

27 February 2023
Image Source    The Pacific Community

Welcome address by Mereseini Rakuita, SPC’s Principal Strategic Lead – Pacific Women
Third Regional Conference for Pacific Women in Maritime
“Aspiring towards a transformed maritime sector”
Cairns, Australia Tuesday 28 February 2023

Key message: an opportunity to spark genuine change / change gears to achieve gender-equality in meaningful ways in our Pacific maritime sector. 

Elisa Boughton, Australian Maritime Safety Authority Manager for International and Domestic Engagement 

Mariana Noceti, Principal Programme Assistant, Women In Maritime, IMO 

Chair of Pacific Women in Maritime Dinah Inape Omenefa and to all of the representatives here from the state women in maritime associations 


Diplomatic partners

Media and representatives of maritime administrations in the Pacific and those working for the Pacific Community, Australia Maritime Safety Authority and other organisations.

Ni sa bula vinaka to each and every one of you that are here with us today. 

Firstly, I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting the Gimuy. I pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging and extend that respect to other indigenous peoples who are present here today.
Indigenous people and specifically women across our Pacific Ocean have been pioneers for thousands of years when it comes to the maritime sector.

Pacific women played a critical role in traditional navigation that connected our people through great traditional canoes and voyages across our vast ocean.

Women were the weavers of the sails of these canoes. The design developed by women in communities allowed these sailing crafts to navigate swiftly through the ocean. 
These sails designed and woven by indigenous women are the blueprint for the modern sails we see in the Sydney to Hobart races and the ones that still power sailing boats all over the world. 

They are recognised as the most aerodynamic designs to this day. 

This shows the great traditional knowledge and science that informed our indigenous peoples and is the basis of how we find ourselves together in this room discussing ways to enhance the participation of women  in the maritime sector in the Pacific.

Approximately 1 in 10 women work in the maritime sector in the Pacific.  Only 2% of these women are seafarers – most are in administrative roles.  But I am sure you all know that.
On May 18th 2022 the world celebrated for the first time the International Day for Women in Maritime – a day that gave recognition to women working in the maritime sector and more importantly, a day that challenges us to enhance the visibility, participation, retention and advancement of women in the sector.  

I understand that the impetus behind the recognition for an international day for WIM began in the Pacific – and rightly so! As a people, we occupy the largest body of ocean in the world and as such, the ocean is intertwined with our identity and our lives.  It is because of this that men and women must be given an equal opportunity to participate in and access all that the maritime sector has to offer to Pacific people.

As a region we share one Ocean.  An ocean that provides the backbone for the livelihood of most Pacific peoples.  In order to fully harness the potential that the Pacific Ocean holds for the wellbeing of pacific people, it is imperative that all relevant sectors of the pacific economy are given an equal opportunity and footing to partake in maritime activities.

As experts in the field of maritime who are advocating for the equitable inclusion of women in the sector, it is important that we be acutely aware of the intersectional challenges that women face in being employed in any sector and in particular in sectors that are traditionally male-dominated; Challenges that may negatively impact on entry, retention and promotion within the sector.  

These include women’s role in the unpaid care economy, gender-based violence, non-inclusive workplaces and lack of leadership opportunities and career pathways.  If we are to make any meaningful changes to the participation of women in the maritime sector, we must first be fully cognisant of the barriers that do exist and tackle these together. 

If you are in this room today or, you have the power to make a change in this space…make it!  No change is too small. You have all progressed this work immensely in your commitment including the endorsement of the Regional Strategy for Pacific Women in Maritime 2020-2024 and the significant work you are already progressing. What more do we need to do, and what can we collectively focus on, to shift the dial.

The political will is evident – at a national, regional and also at the international level.  As a region, we already have a blueprint of what we need to do to bring gender parity to our maritime sector.  

What remains to be done is for us to take ownership of this blueprint at a national level and implement it.  We must actively allocate resources and ensure that our national budgets reflect the commitments we have made in our regional strategy.  

National governments must take the lead role in bringing about the reform that we wish to see if we truly want to see the empowerment of women in our maritime sector.  It makes economic sense and ensures we continue to be leaders like our ancestors before us in genuine equality for women in the maritime sector. 

This week, I would like us to reflect on our role as a collective and have very open and transparent discussions about how we can better achieve our aspirations as reflected in our Regional Strategy.  Do we have the right governance structures in place? What strategic partnerships do we have to put in place to realise our goals?  Do the activities we have in our results framework align with our Constitutional objectives?  How can we better position ourselves within the next two years to be able to mobilise funds for the implementation of our plan.  I understand that the plan is expiring in 2024 – what have we learnt from this plan that we can take forward to better inform the next iteration of the regional strategy.  I look forward to engaging with you on ways we can do this and to drive a transformational shift in the maritime sector. 

The connection to women in maritime in the Pacific is personal and one that we must fully recognise as a strength to our region in a genuine way. So I encourage each and every one of you to see the change that’s needed and be bold.

Vinaka vakalevu and thank you for your commitment and passion. May the next few days take us closer to our collective goal for a more gender-equal maritime sector in our Blue Pacific.

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