MS MERILYN TAHI
Chair, Pacific Women Advisory Board
I was delighted to chair the sixth meeting of the Advisory Board in November in Vanuatu. This was an opportunity for Board members to visit a number of Pacific Women’s programs and to meet with the wide range of organisations and individuals working to reduce violence against women and ensure that women have access to justice and support services; to expand women’s opportunities to earn an income and accumulate assets; and to expand women’s leadership and decision making. The Board visited the Vanuatu Women’s Centre to meet with our counsellors and discuss their work.
About half of Pacific Women’s expenditure has been on programs to address violence against women and children. We all know of the high levels of violence in our communities, which impacts all aspects of women’s lives. Too often their children are witness to this abuse, which can have life-long consequences for them and for their own families when they become adults. In many communities, violence has become normalised and accepted within the family and society. This is something that we all must work together to change.
The Board provides strategic guidance to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on Pacific Women. Board members question DFAT on the progress and direction of the program. We do not hold back our views and have robust discussions about priorities and the best way for Pacific Women to respond to gaps and opportunities and work with Pacific organisations.
Board members agreed that positive changes have happened across the Pacific, while recognising the continuing challenges. There are more partnerships and coalitions and greater coordination between organisations. It was noted that many programs contribute to different achievements, for example the male advocates program of the Vanuatu Women’s Centre has positively influenced the view and work of church leaders. Board members had the opportunity to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Three-Year Evaluation of Pacific Women. The evaluation found that the program has responded flexibly to cultural variations across the region and the four intended outcomes remain relevant to the Pacific context and have good potential to generate change. However, ownership of the program by women’s and Pacific organisations is not as strong as it needs to be. Pacific Women is responding to this finding and will improve its communication with partners and build a sense of common purpose among implementing partners and to strengthen accountability.