Tuesday, 31 August 2010 - The 11th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women held at SPC headquarters in Noumea from 16-20 August 2010 called for stronger regional multi-sectoral processes and mechanisms to accelerate the achievement of equality between women and men in the Pacific Island region.The call came in response to a regional report and presentation by SPC showing that while there are good examples of progress, overall implementation of commitments to gender equality has been slow in many areas over the past 15 years, and that national and regional institutions for gender equality continue to face significant challenges in their work.
Among the challenges are low staffing levels, limited resources and insufficient space and opportunity to contribute to and influence policy across the wide range of multi-sectoral development work going on in the region.
"An increasing number of regional sectoral meetings are developing frameworks and making decisions on issues that impact on women's lives and human rights in unique ways," said presenter Treva Braun, SPC's Gender Equality Adviser. "These discussions and the resulting frameworks are usually not benefitting from the participation of national and regional gender equality specialists and as a result women's issues continue to be neglected. Better development results could be seen in these areas if we improve the way we do things."
Regional agencies also continue to operate without sufficient gender expertise in their staffing structures to ensure that women's needs and perspectives are front and centre in all development dialogues.
Conference participants, representing both governments and civil society, noted that among the priorities for developing the new regional processes was the need for sectoral decision-making to involve gender expertise.
They proposed that key regional sectoral meetings such as those being convened for energy, climate change, health, statistics, transport, trade and information and communication technology include as official delegates at least one representative of national women's departments per sub-region (Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia) and a regional sectoral gender expert.
The annual Forum Economic Ministers meeting, to be held in Niue in October, could also benefit from this process to ensure that the specific and persistent issues faced by Pacific women in regard to national economies and financial processes can be better addressed.
The Conference also called for the agreed processes to include systems for strengthening national women's departments and for increasing the pool of regional gender experts including within the ten agencies that are part of the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP)*.
The new processes will require endorsement by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders, CROP agency CEOs and SPC's Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations (CRGA).
"Women are still being treated as a sector rather than as half the population with issues and contributions that cut across all sectors," said Linda Petersen, Manager of SPC's Human Development Programme. "With this new approach, we can start to break down that barrier and empower women to have an equal voice in all the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their families and communities."
SPC Executive Director Bill Parr backed the call to action. "SPC and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat need to get together to discuss this proposal and how to take it forward, and my hope is that, if not before the year is out, then certainly in 2011 we can begin to implement this recommendation."
Conference participants also called for transparent tracking and reporting by all CROP agencies of their longstanding gender equality commitments.
All CROP agencies are party to a CROP Gender Strategy (1998, revised 2005) which sets specific targets for ensuring the work of these multi-sectoral technical agencies is contributing to gender equality, including through gender training for all programme staff and the development of implementation plans and budgets for mainstreaming gender and women's human rights into all areas of work.
SPC has developed a monitoring, planning and reporting mechanism that will enable CROP agencies to track implementation and systematically report back to countries and territories on their progress, a process which is also expected to be endorsed by CROP executives by 2011.
To download an electronic copy of the regional report Beijing +15: Review of progress in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action in Pacific Island countries and territories, go to the following link: http://www.spc.int/hdp/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=85&Itemid=44
* CROP agencies include the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, South Pacific Tourism Organisation, University of the South Pacific, Pacific Islands Development Programme, Fiji School of Medicine and Pacific Power Association.