The Pacific Islands Forum Reference Group to Address Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) has welcomed the adoption by Pacific Island Forum Leaders of the Pacific Leaders' Gender Equality Declaration at their 2012 meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

The Reference Group is an independent high-level group of experts established by the Forum Regional Security Committee to guide the Forum Secretariat and support Forum Members' efforts to implement the 2009 Forum Leaders' decision to address SGBV in the region.

Reference Group members expressed support for the Declaration, saying they were heartened by the integrated approach to address all forms of sexual and gender based violence articulated in the statement.

"The Declaration recognises and reaffirms what women's rights advocates and practitioners have been saying for a long time, and that is, addressing SGBV requires sustained and integrated efforts," said Reference Group Chair and civil society representative, Ms Shamima Ali.

Referencing the Gender Equality Declaration, and recalling Forum Leaders' 2009 commitment to "eradicate SGBV and ensure all individuals have equal protection of the law and equal access to justice", the Reference Group also expressed support for an all-encompassing approach to address sexual and gender based violence.

"This approach includes education, healthcare, support and counselling, protection and prevention, and the development of comprehensive legislation to increase access to justice for women and survivors of violence," said Reference Group member and CROP representative, Mrs Fekita 'Utoikamanu. The Reference Group also welcomed Leaders' commitment to increase the participation of women in decision-making processes, and to promote the economic empowerment of women, noting that advancements in both these areas could contribute to lower levels of violence.

The Reference Group congratulated Pacific Leaders on their milestone Declaration, and welcomed with appreciation the 2012 Forum Leaders' reaffirmed support for the Reference Group and its work in addressing SGBV in the region. Reference Group members acknowledged that the recognition by Pacific Leaders of the prevalence of SGBV as a human security risk, and their support for efforts to address the risk, strengthens the collective work to prevent and eliminate all forms of sexual and gender based violence.

"This high level political recognition and commitment is necessary for sustained efforts to address SGBV, and the Reference Group recognises that without our political Leaders' support, our work and that of others in the region, would be made more difficult," said Reference Group member and Solomon Islands representative Ms Ethel Sigimanu.

The Reference Group also noted the recognition and support by the 2012 Pacific Human Rights Consultation for Regional Members of Parliament, for integrated approaches to address SGBV and the development and implementation of gender responsive policies and programmes to eliminate all forms of violence against women, children, and persons with disabilities.

Reiterating the importance of integrated approaches to address SGBV, the Reference Group also encouraged all Forum Members to ensure national ownership of necessary processes to address SGBV, in keeping with Leaders' 2009 decisions.

The Reference Group comprises Ms Ethel Sigimanu, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, Solomon Islands; Mr 'Aminiasi Kefu, Solicitor General, Kingdom of Tonga; Ms Anne Kautu, Director, Women's Division, Ministry of Internal & Social Affairs, Kiribati; Mrs Fekitamoeloa K. 'Utoikamanu, Deputy Director-General, Secretariat of the Pacific Community; Ms Shamima Ali, Director, Fiji Women's Crisis Centre; and Ms Melissa Alvarado, Programme Specialist EVAW, UN Women Pacific.