Co-chairs thank you for this opportunity
The Pacific region recognises that economic opportunities for women remain limited and that gender inequality is imposing a high personal, social and economic cost on our communities.
Our Pacific Leaders have called for accelerated actions to remove barriers to women’s employment and participation in the informal and formal sectors to increase access to employment opportunities, finance, assets and land.
I would like to share an inspirational initiative of economic empowerment of women at the grass-root level in the Pacific. The art of weaving ‘bilum’, is passed down from one generation of PNG women to the next.
With its distinct cultural heritage and creative identity, the bilum is providing income for our PNG women and has become a sought-after accessory item and an attractive souvenir for tourists and visitors to PNG. It has attained international recognition and appeal as a fashionable garment and now recognised as one of PNG’s iconic creative industries and an important source of income, opportunity and empowerment for women in remote and urban communities.
The market success of the bilum has been supported through the Pacific Islands Trade & Invest Creative Arts program aimed to increase and promote the work of local artists in international markets. That Programme included the Goroka Bilum Festival which is the only major cultural event in PNG solely dedicated to female artists. Bilum artwork products have been sold to Museums and high-profile galleries around the world and Bilum weavers have travelled internationally to collaborate on fashion collections in London and New York.
The bilum trade helps to preserve traditional craft techniques and provide home-based income, increasing women’s participation in trade. This has been particularly important for PNG’s Highlands women who have been displaced by civil war or marginalised as a result of domestic violence or HIV.
So how can initiatives such as SheTrades help women weavers?
If SheTrades target is to support 1 million women entrepreneurs enter international markets by 2020, I am hopeful that the Pacific women can also benefit from this initiative. A major challenge in the Pacific for SheTrades is the lack of good quality gender disaggregated data and also internet connectivity.
Under our Framework for Pacific Regionalism, Pacific Leaders have prioritised Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a critical infrastructure for Pacific island development. It is the right time for ICT solutions oriented entities present here to consider investing in the Pacific islands. We need to support access to ICT for women to gain better access to markets and business opportunities. SheTrades could assist in linking women entrepreneurs with the tourism, fisheries and food sectors.
The private sector can be a strong force for change and agencies such as ITC could support gender empowerment and equality though capacity building of women entrepreneurs in the Pacific. We need to work together towards a transformative change to promote economic empowerment of women.
In conclusion, an empowered woman can be powerful beyond measure, and we all have a role to play in making it happen. The Pacific looks forward to the SheTrades support to help us make it happen for our women.