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Remarks by DSG Fong Toy at ITC and Government of Samoa Side Event, Apia, Samoa, 2 September
PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT
 
Faleata Sports Complex, CM5, Apia, Samoa
Timing: 17:00-18:30, Tuesday, 2 September 2014
 
Remarks by
Ms. Andie Fong Toy
Deputy Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
prepared for 
International Trade Centre (ITC) and Government of Samoa (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) Side Event: Integrating Women Entrepreneurs in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) into the Global Economy and the Signing of Partnership Agreements in support of Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Pacific
 
Hon. Fonotoe Nuafesili Pierre Lauofo, Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa 
Ms. Arancha González, Executive Director, International Trade Centre
Mr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
Ms. Adi Tafunai, Executive Director, Women in Business Inc. Samoa
Distinguished Delegates to the Third International Conference on Small Islands Development States
Ladies and Gentlemen
 
It is an honour for me to speak on this very significant occasion to briefly outline the work that is being done to integrate women entrepreneurs in Pacific Islands and to support the economic empowerment of women in the Pacific. Today is also an occasion which marks the formal establishment and strengthening of ties between, the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and our trade and investment arm, the Pacific Islands Trade & Invest (PT&I) network. This partnership will support private sector growth in the Pacific region. Significantly, in the first instance we will focus on initiatives that will contribute efforts and resources towards the promotion of the economic empowerment of women in the Pacific region.  
 
2. Difficult challenges of gender inequality persist in our region. Addressing these challenges is central to economic and human development, and to supporting women’s rights. Economic empowerment of women is among the highest priority in the Pacific region with specific initiatives on various fronts. In 2012, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders at their 43rd Annual Meeting endorsed the Pacific Gender Equality Declaration. Forum Leaders called for the removal of barriers, and sought targeted support to women entrepreneurs in both the formal and informal sectors and a review of legislation that limit women’s access to finance, assets, land and productive resources. 
 
3. Relevant Pacific Ministerial meetings have been mandated to progress specific issues of women’s empowerment. For example, at their annual meetings, issues relating to the economic empowerment of women are a standing agenda item for Forum Economic Ministers. However, despite various high level commitments, Pacific island countries are progressing relatively slowly in the area of women’s economic empowerment. A recent assessment of Pacific island countries under the Women’s Economic Opportunity Index recorded poor performance in several areas, particularly women’s lack of access to economic opportunities and disempowerment, areas warranting urgent remedial action. 
 
4. In 2014, the Forum Secretariat completed a survey on the participation of women in Forum island country State Owned Enterprise (SOE) boards. Tellingly, the survey revealed that even though the number of SOEs in Forum island countries that have at least one woman sitting on their boards is relatively high, the total number of board seats occupied by women across the FICs is low. Such studies highlight the need for increased efforts to promote and empower women as decision-makers in all sectors of the Pacific society. Forum Economic Ministers have supported affirmative action for improving gender participation on SOE boards and have also called for the inclusion of an analysis of the career progression of women in the labour force.
 
5. International evidence shows that equal opportunity for women and men supports economic growth and helps effectively reduce income inequality and poverty. It is estimated that the Asia-Pacific region is losing up to US$47 billion annually because of women’s limited access to employment opportunities, and up to US$30 billion annually due to gender gaps in education. The evidence is clear - gender equality is critical to development, and must be a key part of every development initiative. 
 
6. We acknowledge the significant effort and resources committed both at the regional and national levels to strengthen and support increased opportunities for women in the Pacific region. In our region, the Australian Government is taking the lead by supporting an ambitious ten year AUD$320 million programme to improve the political, economic and social opportunities for Pacific women in 14 Pacific countries. The Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development programme will work with Pacific governments, civil society organisations, the private sector, and multilateral and regional agencies. I am privileged to be on the Advisory Board of the Pacific Women, which provides strategic direction to Pacific Women. The key objective of Pacific Women is to: 
increase the effective representation of women, and women’s interests, through leadership at all levels of decision-making;
expand economic opportunities for women through improved access to financial services and markets; and
reduce violence against women and increase access to support services and to justice for survivors of violence.
 
7. Moreover, in 2013 the Government of Australia through the Department of Foreign Affairs and ITC, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for AUD$3m for programmes and activities that support the economic empowerment of women in the Pacific region. The ITC’s Women and Trade programme will implement this programme in partnership with the Forum Secretariat through our PT&I network.
 
ITC – PIFS/PT&I Partnership Agreement
8. The ITC – PIFS Partnership Agreement will assist businesswomen across the Pacific to capitalise on potential opportunities to participate in formal markets. The partnership will harness the synergies of the overlapping work of the Forum Secretariat and ITC to create a multi-faceted improvement in economic livelihood and poverty reduction for Pacific women and their communities.
 
9. Our PT&I offices’ knowledge, networks and experience in the region, particularly in exports, has been very supportive of existing and new businesses in the Pacific. This was evident in the recent collaboration between the ITC and PT&I to support PNG women Bilum (or string bag) producer groups in initial trade visits to London and New York.
 
10. Such collaborative initiatives will be further strengthened by the formal organisation of producers into national or regional associations that build the capacity of local and regional trade support institutions, especially with respect to production, marketing and sales, and linking the producer associations to national, regional and international markets. 
 
11. Based on requests from, and assessments of countries, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu have been selected as the pilot countries for the Women & Trade intervention in the Pacific. 
 
12. In PNG, the project will aim to transform the largely informal, fragmented and scattered activity of the production of Bilum bags into an economically viable business occupation for groups of women producers in the country. Traditionally, Bilum bags were twisted from bark fibres, while contemporary Bilum bags are assimilating new fibres such as nylon and other yarns, allowing for a creative expressive outlet for producers.
 
13. In Vanuatu, the project will link women smallholder farmers and their communities to the tourism value chain on Espiritu Santo Island, the fastest growing cruise ship destination in Vanuatu. The project will draw on the experience of the UN Women markets programme and partner with the Government of Australia funded Technical & Vocational Education & Training (TVET) Sector Strengthening Programme as well as the Vanuatu Departments of Tourism and Commerce.
 
14. In Samoa, within the framework of the Government of Samoa “Guidelines for Government Procurement and Contracting”, the project will promote the increased participation of businesswomen in government procurement initiatives.
 
15. The PT&I and ITC have worked closely in developing this project.  This close collaboration will continue in the implementation of the project under formal frameworks including a detailed memorandum of understanding. 
 
16. We are indeed excited by the prospects of this collaboration and believe that this is only the beginning of a continuing partnership between our organisations. A truly practical pilot project which we are confident will improve the livelihoods of women and their communities in PNG, Samoa and Vanuatu.  
 
Thank you.
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