Enhancing Agency

‘Women’s voices must be heard, both locally and internationally. Women’s rights are human rights and must be recognised and respected by all, as we are the binding force of our families and communities.’
Dr. Takiora Ingram, Environmentalist, Women’s Rights and Arts Advocate, Cook Islands (2017)

‘Fijian men are conditioned by culture and tradition to act as they do, [which] is an indicator of the deep-set attitudes that we are up against. Not supposed to show weakness….. My brothers of the Pasifika are fierce warriors in their own right and I am sure that they will tell me that they too are taught not to cry.’
Mr Sakiasi Ditoka, Deputy Team Leader, Property Services, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.


During 2016–2017, Pacific Women funded 38 activities under the Enhancing Agency outcome, equating to around 14 per cent of total program funding. Benefits of these activities included 880 women having formal opportunities to share ideas and learn from each other through participation in research, learning and networking activities and forums supported by Pacific Women.

Supporting women’s agency, so women and girls have access to opportunities and are able to enjoy their full potential, means building an enabling environment for change. This change needs to happen at the individual, family and community-level. It also requires reform of formal structures at the national and regional-level to better promote gender equality. Many of the activities supported under the three preceding outcome areas also contribute to enhancing agency for women and girls.

Regionally, barriers to gender equality include formal and customary laws. The majority of Pacific Island countries recognise customary law in their constitutions, legislation, or both, adding additional complexity.

Historically and culturally entrenched attitudes and longstanding social norms can impact negatively on women’s agency. Pacific Women is supporting partner-led efforts to develop social norms based on a shared understanding of gender equality and how it can benefit families, communities, and countries. Changing social norms is difficult, but a critical element of an enabling environment, including for gender-equitable legislation. To ensure understanding and acceptance of change, law reform and policy development must be undertaken together with communities, traditional and political decision makers, faith-based organisations and civil society.

Pacific Women’s partnership with the Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) of the Pacific Community has helped progress legal commitments to gender equality through legislative reform and better understanding of legal and human rights. In June 2016, RRRT’s regional consultation on Gender, Domestic Violence and the Law produced a set of key actions and an outcome statement that can be used as a platform to lobby governments to recognise and take action based on barriers identified to implementing domestic violence legislation.  Advocacy, evidence creation, development of technical capacity and drafting of legislation can all help countries to generate demand for effective implementation of laws and related policies. Greater numbers of inclusive coalitions and advocacy groups are emerging as a result of Pacific Women’s programming. In Solomon Islands, Oxfam supported the expansion of the Safe Families project into 18 new communities. Through We Rise, Pacific Women is supporting coalitions that are inclusive of girls, young women, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, as well as women with disabilities. These coalitions for change are also helping progress Pacific understanding for local solutions to gender inequality.

Lessons learned in relation to enhancing agency include understanding that there is tangible benefit in investing in the ‘process’ of coalitions. Activities supported by Pacific Women such as the We Rise coalition in Fiji, Safe Families in Solomon Islands and the Women in Shared Decision Making (WISDM) coalition in Vanuatu demonstrate the value of spending sufficient time in partnership brokering, building trust and rapport, and ensuring inclusivity in the process of enhancing agency for positive change. Work to support the enabling environment to increase gender equality and women’s empowerment is occurring across all areas of the program with a wide range of stakeholders.


Project name: We Rise Coalition
Project Partner: Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Diverse Voice and Action for Equality, femLINKpacific and the International Women’s Development Agency
Total Funding: $4,800,0008
Funding timeframe: 2015–2019

The inaugural Pacific Feminist Forum brought together feminists, women human rights defenders and gender equality advocates from across the Pacific. Participants joined in three days of networking, sharing and learning and launched the Pacific Feminists Charter for Change—a document that captures Pacific feminist perspectives and priorities.

Feminists, women and human rights defenders and gender equality advocates celebrate the launch of the Pacific Feminists Charter for Change at the Forum in November 2016. Photo: Shazia Usman, Pacific Women Support Unit.

Creating opportunities for women to have a stronger sense of their own agency is one way that Pacific Women seeks to improve the lives of women and girls in the Pacific. Pacific Women supported the Pacific Feminist Forum as part of its funding for the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement through the We Rise Coalition. Inspired by the success of the Asia Pacific Feminist Forum and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development Forum, the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement brought together a steering committee to design an event to provide a similar opportunity for women’s movements in the Pacific. The Pacific Feminist Forum Steering Group included representatives from the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Diverse Voices and Action for Equality Fiji, Haus of Khameleon, Bold Alliance and the Pacific Young Women’s Leadership Alliance.

‘It’s been a historic moment bringing over a hundred feminists from Fiji and 12 other Pacific Island countries together, to a space of vibrant discussions where we’re able to talk about issues that we face in the Pacific’, 

explained Ms Michelle Reddy, Acting Executive Director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement at the time of the forum.

The Forum was held in Suva, Fiji, during the 16 Days of Activism, November 2016. Forum sessions covered a broad range of subjects, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, climate change, mining and issues affecting women with disabilities, and action-oriented sessions on coalition building, feminist and intergenerational leadership and the role of communications, activism and women’s rights in the Pacific.

Ms Jennifer Wate, program manager with the West ‘Are’Are Rokotanikeni Association in Solomon Islands, said the forum broadened her knowledge and understanding of the diversity of the women’s movement in the Pacific.

‘It was an opportunity for people like me and my organisation to look into what are some possibilities to engage with other women’s groups in the future’, she says.

On the last day, forum participants launched the Pacific Feminists Charter for Change. The charter reflects the experiences of Pacific women and their hopes for change. It documents the issues raised during the three days of discussions and sets out the priorities for feminists in the region.

7This activity is part of a larger program.

Project name: Progressing Gender Equality in the Pacific
Project Partner: The Pacific Community (SPC)
Total Funding: $3,941,712
Funding timeframe: 2013–2018

The Progressing Gender Equality in the Pacific program (PGEP) supports governments to improve their capacity to mainstream gender equality considerations and responses and to collect and analyse gender statistics to monitor their progress towards gender equality. 

Jim Nimerota (second from left) during a panel discussion at the PGEP regional workshop. Photo: The Pacific Community.

An evaluation conducted in the second half of 2016 found that the program is achieving positive and demonstrable gains and remains highly relevant. Pacific Island governments are overwhelmingly positive about the assistance provided by SPC through the project.

A regional workshop held in Fiji provided an opportunity for government partners to reflect on the program and consider ways to build on this positive groundwork in future implementation.

Civil servants from Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu attended.

‘Central agencies like Ministries of Public Service and Public Service Commission play a central role in gender mainstreaming across governments’, said Solomon Islands Public Service Commissioner, Mr Eliam Tangirongo, opening the workshop.

‘We can institutionalise this work through our policies and the way we work, such as ensuring job descriptions have gender mainstreaming goals’.

The program supports governments to ensure gender mainstreaming and the collection of gender statistics happens across government and is not confined to women’s ministries, or gender divisions within a ministry. Mr Jim Nimerota from Cook Islands says,

‘For me, gender mainstreaming should not be seen as some end state that governments need to work towards by putting policies in place or delegating responsibility to a gender focal point. Instead, mainstreaming should be seen as a paradigm shift that requires all public officials to rethink and view all phases of their work through a gender lens. It is a constant state of reflection’. 

Mr Nimerota is a Statistics Officer with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management. ‘For the Statistics Office, gender mainstreaming was about broadening our perspective on gender issues beyond simply disaggregating and disseminating our data by sex. We had to acknowledge and address the impact that differences in gender has on statistical quality during all phases of statistical production.’

The program will develop activities based on the specific priorities and entry points within each country and tailor work plans towards country-led activities. It will continue to build the gender mainstreaming capacity of governments through on-the-job mentoring, extended in-country visits, training and other activities.