INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day, every March 8, is a time for people in Solomon Islands and across the Pacific region to celebrate the progress made towards gender equality.
It’s a day to commit ourselves to redouble our efforts to achieve equal access for Pacific women to education, employment, health, leadership, prosperity and other opportunities – and to realise the rights and benefits that women’s empowerment brings to women and girls, to their communities and nations.
We celebrate the courage and determination of women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their Pacific countries and communities, including our women leaders who make a daily impact in their families, villages, businesses, workplaces, marketplaces, cities and nations.
And we acknowledge the strong commitment by Pacific governments, community organisations and the dedicated and talented women activists and leaders, who are all working to advance gender equality across the Pacific region – to ensure women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men.
Although there is much to celebrate, March 8 is also a day to reflect and to recognise that we have a long journey ahead to realise empowerment, safety and equality for women in the Pacific.
Notable achievements to close the gap in gender equality in the Pacific include the fact that there are now more girls then ever enrolled in schools and graduating. There are more women running businesses, and women taking up senior professional roles. Another big achievement in recent years was the passing of legislation to protect women and girls from domestic violence.
Despite these gains, there is still a lot of work ahead. While women are increasingly active in the business sector, they are still more likely to be in low wage or unpaid family employment. Higher female enrolment and more female graduates in education has yet to translate to equal numbers of women professionals and leaders. The Pacific still has the lowest global percentages of women in leadership roles including the world’s lowest overall average of women in parliament at only 15 percent. And although women are now more protected by domestic violence laws passed in 10 Pacific States between 2008 and 2014, still, the Pacific still has twice the global average of violence against women. Violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights, which threatens to stop women achieving their potential and limits the development of their family, community and nation.
We have significant work to do to ensure women’s rights and improve gender equality across the Pacific region.
Today I am heartened to see that the commitment and dedication to this work in the Pacific continues to escalate with more new initiatives evolving to promote gender equality, prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG), and increase access to quality response services for survivors.
VAWG is a significant barrier for women and girls in completing education, taking up professional roles and realising their goals. As such it is a key factor in closing the gender gap and improving the lives of not only women and girls, but their families, communities and nations.
And we know now that closing the gender gap is not only a basic human right, but it also makes the best economic sense. Research and statistics clearly indicate that improving gender equality not only improves the lives of women and girls but also generates significant economic benefits for nations and the Pacific region. Global data indicates that if we invested equally into women in the economy, the world economy could gain $US28 trillion dollars by 2025 .
As Pacific nations move progressively towards closing the gap in gender equality and ensuring all our population – both women and men – are able to participate and contribute equally to community decisions and development, then we’ll see commensurate improvements in the Pacific’s overall development and the quality of life for our wonderful women and our girls.
Let us use this International Women’s Day to reflect on our progress in the Pacific but to also prepare for the ongoing challenges ahead. There is still much work to be done to come close to achieving gender equality for the women and men of the Pacific. The time is now.
By Aleta Miller,
Representative of the UN Women Multi-Country Office (MCO), Fiji