STATEMENT BY DAME MEG TAYLOR
SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
UN Women Gender in Focus South-South Dialogue with the Caribbean
Thursday 15 April 2021
Greetings from the Blue Pacific.
This is a wonderful opportunity for an inter-regional conversation on an issue that is so pertinent to us and indeed, very close to my heart and I thank UN Women for the initiative to facilitate such a dialogue.
The Pacific region, like the Caribbean, is diverse in culture, language, natural environment and history. We share similar challenges and vulnerabilities as small island developing States in all spectrums of society – environmentally, economically and socially.
This dialogue today, presents a valuable opportunity to discuss the progress of women in our respective regions and moreso, the key challenges that we face in progressing gender issues and how we have tackled these in our regions.
Our Cultures and Societies
I am a Pacific Islander, but I come from deep in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. My country is vibrant with its cultures, languages and societies – indeed, our culture forms the very fabric of our society in Papua New Guinea, a principle that is common across the Pacific region.
Whilst our culture is the basis for our individual identities and a source of pride for us, I have found that it has become one of the key unspoken barriers to our progress as women in our societies.
Across the Pacific region, my experience has been that, generally, ours is a patriarchal society that is underpinned by religious and cultural attitudes towards us as women and our place in community. Our very few matrilineal societies, whilst very important lineage and issues of land, remain patriarchal in decision making and control of power. This, in my view, is the root impediment to our progress and if we are to really address this issue, then we need to significantly change the mindset to push for a behavioural change in societies.
We can institute and legislate laws and programmes, and many have done so in the Pacific region, but if we do not address the root causes, we will continue to face the same challenges in the advance of our women and gender issues.
Last week, I had the opportunity to meet 28 young ladies from 12 primary and secondary schools in Suva, Fiji’s capital, where the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is located. These young women, who are part of the student body leadership in their schools, shared with me their leadership journey.
I was encouraged by the show of leadership in each student: their confidence, candour, and ability to navigate through the daily challenges they face as young female leaders despite the great responsibilities bestowed on their young shoulders.
It was, for me, a reminder that leadership is not only about making it to Parliament, or making it to the helm of an organisation, leadership begins at home – leading in our homes, schools, place of work, and community.
It is about making impactful and meaningful change, challenging the status quo, listening and being the voice for those whose voices are not so powerful or loud. It is strength and vision, not just for yourself but for those that you serve.
Our young people will grow to lead our people and countries in the future. These are the ones that we need to grow, nurture and empower to reverse the trend, to break stereotypes – to have more Pacific and Caribbean women taking on leadership and decision-making roles at all levels.
The onus is not only on our young women, it rests with a all of us – in particular our young men. As we empower our young women, we must also educate our young men – this is also key, and we are not doing that in that in the Pacific.
We must continue to seek transformational change by nurturing, building and encouraging more young women to take on the mantle of leadership in whatever capacity and way possible, and in doing so realise their own and the dreams of others! Only then can we tear down the barriers that impede our fight for a more equal Blue Pacific continent and global community.
Leadership in the response to the triple impact of climate change, natural disasters and COVID-19
In today’s context, we must remain mindful that we in island states continually face a three-pronged crisis – the crippling impact of COVID-19, the devastating effects of climate change and disasters, and the crippling impact of the pandemic on our economic wellbeing.
These challenges have diminished the progress that we have made on gender issues in the Pacific region and we, in positions of leadership and influence today, must guard against wiping out decades of hard-won advances – both in our social and development agenda.
We who have the responsibility of leadership today must ensure that an equal representation of views and voices are heard as we navigate our current challenges and build back resiliently. It is our individual and collective responsibility to provide the enabling environment.
We live in a global environment that is constantly changing. It is critical that we do not lose sight of the compounding and intersecting barriers on women and girls full and effective participation – in leadership and decision-making to address issues that impact on us all.
The responsibility is on each of us to continue to work collectively and ensure that in the remaining years to 2030, we act decisively to close the gap and realize gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.