Speaking at the launch ceremony held at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, the Forum Chair, Hon. Puna said: “In the short history of our region, the women and girls of the Pacific have suffered as victims of armed conflicts and social unrest.”
“But the women of the Pacific are not alone in these situations. Women and girls around the world have and continue to be disproportionately affected in times of armed conflict. Despite this, women continue to play leadership roles and become strong forces in building peace.”
The Hon. Henry Puna drew attention to three women, two from Liberia and one from Yemen, who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women, and for women's rights to the full participation in peace-building work”.
“We too have in our region similar examples of women who have worked tirelessly to bring about peace at the community, nation and regional levels despite the threats and perils of armed conflict and social unrest,” said Prime Minister Puna.
In acknowledging the work and contribution of Ms Ethel Sigamanu of the Solomon Islands, Ms Helen Hakena of Papua New Guinea and Ms Sharon BhagwanRolls of Fiji to national and regional activities on peace building, the Forum Chair noted that they represented the many women and girls of our region who have and continue to contribute to peace building processes of our region.
“While you many not receive near-enough recognition or acknowledgement of your hard work and commitment to a peaceful and secured Pacific, you have the sincere appreciation of a grateful region,” said the Forum Chair.
The Forum Chair also noted that the Forum Leaders acknowledged the vital role that women of the Pacific play in matters of peace and security when they noted the Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security at their Retreat held in Aitutaki in August this year.
“I have a simple suggestion for my fellow Pacific Leaders and I on how we can support the agenda of Women, Peace and Security in the Pacific – we should send more women to represent their countries in decision making processes relating to peace and security matters such as the Forum Regional Security Committee.”
Speaking also at the Launch of the Regional Action Plan, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tuiloma Neroni Slade explained that, “The focus of the Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security is on utilising and enhancing the inherent capabilities of women as peace builders, including at state institution levels, to provide a secure and conflict free environment for our communities.
“Two of the three focal areas of this Action Plan will seek to increase the visibility and active participation of women in conflict prevention and peace building activities, including by increasing women's engagement with and in security sectors,” said Mr Slade
The third focal area seeks to ensure the necessary frameworks of protection for women and girls during humanitarian crises and transitional and post conflict situations.
“This last focal area is necessary because we know from international experience, including our own regional experiences that in times of crises and conflicts, the vulnerabilities of women and children are exacerbated,” the Forum Secretary General Mr Slade said.
Mr Knut Ostby, the UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, who also spoke at the Launch ceremony said, “Despite the great potential of women as a force for peace, and despite many key contributions by Pacific women to peace and development, their participation in formal conflict prevention and management and post-conflict recovery efforts is still far from being fully realised.”
Mr Ostby said: “This is symptomatic of a broader problem in the region related to women's absence from political decision-making at all levels of society and continued high levels of sexual and gender based violence.”
“If women's contributions are recognised, sustained, strengthened and expanded, they can make a significant impact in realising the Pacific Leaders' vision of a prosperous, stable and peaceful Pacific region and ensure conflict is avoided and peace is sustained. It was in that light that the Working Group embarked on the development of this Action Plan, which we are very happy to launch here today,” Mr Ostby concluded.
A panel discussion followed formal remarks and explored options for implementation and the real challengesthat Pacific women face in peace and security issues. Ethel Sigamanu, the Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs in the Solomon Islands told of her experiences in building peace in Solomon Islands and was joined on the panel by John Davidson, Minister Counsellor, Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), Rita Taphorn, Regional Programme Manager, Gender Equality in Political Governance Programme, UN Women, and Cameron Noble, UNDP Conflict Prevention Advisor, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
The Action Plan was developed by the Working Group for Women, Peace and Security and comprised of members from the Solomon Islands Government, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, FemLINKPACIFIC, UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women, SPC and OHCHR.