The Hon Julie Bishop
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs
One of the best ways for nations of the Pacific to harness their full development potential is to support equal rights for women and girls, particularly in terms of economic and community leadership.
It is in a nation’s economic, social, cultural and political interests to promote the talents and efforts of all its citizens, including the at least 50 per cent female population.
August 2017 marked the half-way point for Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (Pacific Women). The ten-year $320 million program was launched in August 2012 at the Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ meeting, alongside the Pacific Leaders’ Gender Equality Declaration (PLGED). This was a landmark moment where the Pacific saw a high-level political commitment to progress the status of women.
It is timely to reflect on the progress made for women and girls, their families and communities.
More women and children are protected by legislation that criminalises family and sexual violence and are accessing quality crisis-support services. Communities across the Pacific are standing together and condemning violence as unacceptable. More needs to be done, however, to ensure women, children and families can live their lives without fear of violence.
Although the percentage of women as members of national parliaments has not increased in five years, there are more women contesting elections and many countries have made major steps forward, including Niue where 25 per cent of parliamentarians are women. In some other nations the numbers of female parliamentarians has declined from already low levels.
Women are entering new professions. During a visit to Madang earlier this year I met young PNG women who are forging careers in science, technology, and engineering. Women working in these areas are seen as leaders and role models for their communities.
I was pleased to recently launch a new Women’s Leadership Initiative which will provide participants from the Pacific — selected from Australia Awards scholars — with the tools to navigate barriers that might impede pathways to leadership. This initiative will see Pacific women mentored by successful female Australian leaders, including Australian Indigenous leaders, private sector representatives and leaders from the Pacific.
While we have achievements to celebrate there is still much more that must be done to ensure women and girls in the Pacific have the opportunity to fully contribute to their societies and enhance their nation’s capacity to develop and grow.