Gender inequality was the topic of discussion by a group of panelist during the launch of the “World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development.”
The panel discussion on the theme, “Towards Gender Equality in the Pacific” was held at the University of the South Pacific's Laucala Campus in Suva.
The panelist included representatives from AusAID, Ms Susan Ferguson, United Nations (UN) Women, Ms Elzira Sagynbaeva, and the Fiji Women's Rights Movement (FWRM), Ms Tara Chetty. The discussion was chaired by Senior Lecturer in History at USP, Dr Alan Max Quanchi.
Ms Sagynbaeva, the Regional Programme Director for UN Women highlighted that, “Gender gaps still exist today and in particular in the Pacific, even though a lot of the countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) around 15 to 25 years ago.”
CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that focuses on women's rights and women's issues worldwide developed by the United Nations. The Convention addresses the advancement of women, describes the meaning of equality and sets forth guidelines on how to achieve it.
Ms Sagynbaeva shared that countries like Samoa committed to the international treaty in 1992 and Fiji and Papua New Guinea in 1995, however there is still a long wait to ensure alignment of national policies to that of the requirements in the CEDAW.
“One example of non compliance is the lack of women's political participation across the Pacific. There is very low level of participation of women in Parliaments. In the Pacific there are only about 3% of women who are represented in Parliament compared to the world's average of around 15%,” she said.
She pointed out that the linkages between the lack of access to economic empowerment for women and domestic violence was evidently reflected in the WDR 2012.
For gender equality to become real, Ms Sagynbaeva added that there is a real need for broad based national inclusive economic growth policies.
Ms Chetty, who is the Programme Manger at FWRM, explained that FWRM is working at the local community, national, regional and international levels in trying to bridge the gender gaps that exist.
“The World Bank in our region has played different roles at different times and so it's quite encouraging to see now their Report focusing on gender equality and doing some comprehensive job in discussing some key areas of women's equality in our region,” she said.
Ms Chetty elaborated that FWRM tries to give the young women of today a space in which they can voice their opinions, their thoughts and ideas of what they feel about life and more so about the gender inequalities that exist.
The third panelist, Ms Ferguson, Gender Advisor at AusAID expressed similar sentiments. Ms Ferguson shared that in the Pacific, there is still a need to break traditional barriers in order to bring about economic empowerment to women in order to end violence against women.
“In the Pacific, it is important to create initiatives to break traditional barriers. In countries where women are less represented in decision-making bodies, more barriers will continue to be experienced,” she said.
Ms Ferguson noted that AusAID was appreciative of the fact that the WDR 2012 focused a lot on household issues.
“The World Bank is talking about personal issues. Personal is political. The fact that women have the double or triple burden of running a household and keeping a job is a critical development and human rights issue,” Ms Ferguson added.
The panel discussion was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of international and regional organisations, members of the USP community, and the media.