Statement by H.E Hilda Heine, President of the Republic of Marshall Islands on behalf of The Pacific Islands Forum at the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

“Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”


New York

12 March 2018

Chairperson, Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates.

  1. I am pleased to deliver this statement on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum members namely Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and my own country, the Republic of the Marshall Islands
  2. I want to congratulate you on your election to preside over this Commission’s session and you can be assured of the support of the Pacific Islands Forum as you undertake this onerous responsibility.
  3. Chair, the Pacific is a region primarily of Small Island Developing States and a few metropolitan countries with large ocean space and resources, small land masses and populations dispersed across isolated islands and atolls. Collectively, we are one Blue Pacific Continent, spread across a third of the earth’s surface.  Our populations continue to reside in rural areas, outer islands and atolls which are often isolated with limited infrastructure, connectivity and access to services and development opportunities.
  4. These challenges are further exacerbated by our vulnerability and susceptibility to climate change related risks and increasing frequency, intensity and impact of natural disasters. To address these challenges, our Forum Leaders have embraced “The Blue Pacific” as a statement of collective identity, grounded in our intimate connection to the Pacific Ocean. The Blue Pacific Identity is our joint call for collective action at country and regional level to overcome our structural and geographic challenges and isolation.
  5. Importantly, this will ensure that we share equally in the benefits of development focusing on the most marginalized populations especially those in rural areas so we can deliver on our promise to leave no Pacific person, especially no woman or girl behind.
  6. We therefore commend the theme for this Commission’s session focusing on the empowerment and development needs of our rural women and girls. This is especially important considering the impact of climate change related disasters that disproportionately affect rural Pacific communities where rural women are doubly impacted and fare worse than rural men and urban women due to their unequal status and often isolated and fragile locations.
  7. In the Pacific, rural women are active in key sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, and tourism. In fact, around 75% to 90% of all market vendors in our region are women, so when a disaster hits the livelihoods of these women and their families are impacted, -creating a huge economic loss for our region.
  8. There is a high concentration of women in the informal economy and rural women in unpaid and unrecognised work. Rural women are often disadvantaged by practices relating to access, ownership, inheritance and control over productive resources. Barriers include limited leadership and decision making opportunities. For example, in 10 Forum Island Countries we have seen only a 3 percent increase over the last five years in women’s representation in local government. Other barriers include limited access to credit and finance, economic opportunities, decent work and social protection, high prevalence of violence against women and strongly embedded social norms and attitudes in our societies.
  9. In this regard, the Pacific welcomes the recommendations of the UN Secretary General’s report which recognises that rural women are more affected by food and climate crisis, extreme weather events and gender based violence compared to the rest of the population. We also thank the Expert Group for their report and views on climate induced migration, which will impact our region where many of our people live in rural and remotely located outer islands.  2 out of 3 Pacific women experience violence in their lifetime and access to basic justice and health services remain a challenge for rural areas.
  10. While we live with these challenges, we have taken steps to address attendant risks head on. The Forum supports the acceleration of our gender equality commitments through the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the SAMOA Pathway and our Pacific Sustainable Development Roadmap which calls for partnerships around means of implementation and strengthening of accountability mechanisms. In addition, Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration supported by the Pacific Framework for the Rights of  Persons with Disabilities and related regional platforms  aim to improve the lives and livelihoods of rural women and girls, called for in SDG1 on poverty reduction, SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG10 on addressing inequality and SDG 13 on climate action.   It is imperative we put all possible effort into implementing our regional gender declarations and strengthen our political will.  Therefore, we commit to further mainstreaming distinct gender components into all key regional policy outcomes and fora.
  11. The Pacific Islands Forum’s Framework for Pacific Regionalism and the landmark 2012 Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration underpin our collective and country level efforts in support of gender equality. Chair, we are committed to supporting rural Pacific women in key areas of:  gender responsive government policies and programmes; decision making and leadership; economic empowerment; ending violence against women and education and sexual reproductive health services.
  12. The Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific which is an integrated approach to addressing climate change and disaster risk management prioritizes the most vulnerable communities such as rural women supporting equitable participation, protection of human rights and resilient development for all.
  13. In addition, we are promoting regional initiatives that advance the rights of rural women through access to health, improved connectivity, appropriate, and accessible ICT, economic and social opportunities and better returns for women in the fisheries and agriculture sector, labour mobility opportunities, and realisation of the rights of rural women and girls with disabilities.
  14. Our efforts to empower our rural women has yielded measurable progress. We are pleased to share positive progress in the area of gender parity in primary education in most Pacific countries and improved legislative frameworks to support our efforts to end violence against women. This is reflected in the higher numbers of women reporting domestic violence and accessing crisis services as well as increases in the number of women able to access financial inclusion programmes. We also recognise the role rural women play in the prevention of all forms of violence.
  15. Because of its high burden, we have invested in combating cervical cancer as a region, particularly through ensuring more affordable access to HPV vaccination for women and girls through the regional bulk procurement mechanism administered by UNICEF. This work is supplemented by the Asian Development Bank across a number of countries in our region and we are making positive progress in terms of access to vaccines, as well as a correlated decrease in incidence in cervical cancer.
  16. To monitor this work, we are also accounting for our gender equality efforts through regular monitoring and reporting of the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration to our Pacific leaders.
  17. Chair, we recognize that rural women and girls are among the most vulnerable, and if we are to achieve the 2030 Agenda, we need to provide a conducive and enabling environment that empowers them to be meaningful partners in shaping and transforming the world into the future we want. This would involve the following key elements:
    1. We call for recognition of the economic, poverty, disaster, climate and security related challenges faced by our Blue Pacific Continent and its rural women and girls particularly those facing intersecting forms of discrimination including women and girls with disabilities and ensure the Agenda 2030 leaves no Pacific rural women and girls behind;
    2. Strengthen and invest in sustained partnerships that includes civil society and private sector around current regional frameworks such as the Pacific Sustainable Development Roadmap, Framework for Resilient development and the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration which have the potential to transform the lives of rural women and girls;
    3. Invest and promote global and regional cooperation towards programmes that aim at: transforming social norms and addressing systematic discrimination faced by rural women in Pacific societies; build the resilience, leadership and empowerment of rural women, impacted by climate change and frequent and intensifying disasters; and support better connectivity, access to ICT, better infrastructure, safe transport and provision of essential health, justice, decent work, economic empowerment services including services for rural women subject to gender based violence; and
    4. strengthening of institutional systems, capacities and financing for data, targeted programmes to uplift the social, economic and political status of rural women and girls in the Blue Pacific continent

I thank you Chair.

Share Now: