Over 20,000 people live in Palau. Palauan society follows matrilineal traditions, particularly in relation to funerals, marriages and inheritance of land and titles. Nonetheless, gender equality continues to be a major social, economic and political issue.
The Ministry for Community and Cultural Affairs is working to introduce gender mainstreaming across all of its policies and programs. The government has invited the Pacific Community to assist with drafting a gender mainstreaming policy and strategy.
There were no women in parliament before 2008. Since then, women have increasingly been involved in national-level politics. In the 2016 elections, 13 of the 64 candidates were women, including one woman as candidate for president. Women now represent 14 per cent of parliamentarians, with two women successful in being elected to the Senate and two to the House of Delegates.XXXVIII
There are fewer women than men in the formal and informal labour force in Palau. Pathways identified by Palauan women to assist with women’s economic empowerment include access to capital for entrepreneurship, good education and equality of opportunity. At the legislative-level, they have identified a need to develop equitable workplace legislation addressing parental leave, workplace sexual harassment and equal pay for equal work.XXXIX
One quarter of women in Palau have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime.XL Nearly five per cent of ever-pregnant women experienced physical partner violence in at least one pregnancy and 37 per cent of these women were punched in the abdomen.XLI The Family Protection Act was passed in 2012 and includes provisions for stakeholder coordination, establishment of referral networks and education to strive for violence free communities. A review of the implementation of the Family Protection Act is planned for late 2017 with support from Pacific Women. The review will identify unmet needs, service gaps and make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of implementation of the Act.
Project name: Stakeholder workshop on economic empowerment
Outcome: Economic empowerment
Project Partner: The Pacific Community
Total Funding: $150,000
Funding timeframe: 2017–2019
In April 2017, stakeholders gathered to validate and inform a Pacific Women scoping study undertaken by the Pacific Community’s Gender Equality Adviser in the North Pacific, funded by Pacific Women. The study analysed the barriers to women’s economic empowerment in Palau.
Whilst Palauan women are active in the economy, own many businesses, and have high labour force participation by Pacific and world standards at almost 75 per cent XLII, they also face many challenges. Women are less likely to be employers than men and they account for only one third of all self-employed people in Palau.
Stakeholders agreed on three priority areas to support women’s economic empowerment in Palau: support for women in business, increased availability of childcare services and mandatory paid parental leave in the private sector.
To support women in business, stakeholders discussed holding a Women in Business Summit to focus on the specific needs of women entrepreneurs.
To reduce women’s unpaid workload and support women’s economic opportunities, stakeholders championed regulated childcare and afterschool services. The lukel a klechad childcare model that emphasises Palauan community values, philosophy, language, history, and cultural heritage was discussed.
The issue of mandatory private sector paid parental leave was referred to the Palau Labor Advisory Group, which is looking at labour law reform. Ms Carolyn D Ngiraidis is a representative on the Group. She is also the Chief Financial Officer for Dolphins Pacific Inc, on the Executive Board of the Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation, and a former member of the Palau Chamber of Commerce. She commented:
‘Palau has some good labour laws, but [they] require improvement. The Palau Chamber of Commerce’s position is uniform basic benefits across the board for all, such as minimum wage, pension plan, maternity policy, vacation / sick leave policy. However, there are many small ‘mom and pop’ stores who cannot afford much. We are fortunate to be working closely with International Labour Organization who has provided assistance in reviewing our current labour laws.’
Ms Ngiraidis also drew on her personal experiences to contribute to the study’s understanding of women, family, and work dynamics in Palau.
‘Palau is a small country. Our society is close-knit, so you see a lot of women wear different hats at different meetings. We share the same beliefs, concerns, and are vocal on issues relating to Palau’s future for women and particularly our children, as we see it five, ten years from now. We just need to get our national leaders to think about tomorrow and not just today.’