Members of the Diplomatic corps
Representatives of regional and international organisations
Ladies and gentleman
It is an honour to participate in this event on behalf of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, alongside such an accomplished and diverse panel of speakers.
I would like to commend the organisers UNEP and WWF on organising this event as we gather here in New York to discuss Sustainable Development Goal 14 on oceans and seas – Life Below Water. As descendants of Pacific Islanders who have lived on our sea of islands and who have been stewards and guardians of over 100 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean for millennia we like to think of ourselves first and foremost as ‘Large Ocean Island States’. There are others of us who prefer “Big Ocean States” and still others who like calling ourselves “Big Ocean Stewardship States”, which distils into the acronym the BOSS. It goes without saying that the largest of our world’s oceans is an integral part of a Pacific Islanders life, and by natural extension it also goes without saying that Pacific women have had a long history of connection with the ocean. Throughout history we have acted as navigators, stewards, fishers and decision makers – in our families, communities and countries. As we are well aware – women and girls are disproportionately affected by environmental problems, including the declining health of our ocean resources – so as we implement SDG 14, our involvement and leadership as women is more essential than ever.
In the Pacific, we strive for integrated ocean management. This concept is enshrined in our regional ocean policy instruments, which I will discuss more in just a moment. Integrated ocean management encompasses integration on many levels – across jurisdictions, between levels of government and across different sectors, and with multiple stakeholders and interest groups. It involves understanding and working with the inter-relationships between the Ocean (Our Ocean) and nearly every other aspect of life in the Pacific. It requires every person with an interest in the ocean – including women – to have an opportunity to be part of the conversations that are forged and the decisions that are made. We need to seek synergy not silos, and we can begin with recognising how achieving SDG 5 on gender equality and empowering women and girls, can have direct benefits for realising the outcomes we desire from SDG 14 on oceans and seas as well as many of the other SDGs that matter to us. We cannot and must not divide the SDGs nor treat them differently as they are connected and important to achieving our overall development aspirations.
In the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Gender Equality Declaration, Leaders recognised that gender inequality is imposing a high personal, social and economic cost on Pacific people and nations, and that improved gender equality will make a significant contribution to creating a prosperous, stable and secure Pacific for all current and future generations. Just two months ago, Pacific leaders made a statement to the Commission on the Status of Women which specifically highlighted the importance of protecting our Ocean, seas and marine resources and the important role of women and girls as drivers for economic opportunities, health and livelihoods.
As one of our few resources, the ocean (because of its size and place) represents significant economic, educational and leadership opportunities for women. For example, Pacific women account for 56% of the annual small-scale fish catches that result in an economic impact of 363 million USD.
Today we are here to discuss the role of women in ocean leadership. Having more women in leadership is a powerful means of improving opportunities for women on a large scale. But we know that women’s representation in Pacific legislature remains the lowest in the world; and that women’s economic opportunities remain limited.
Leadership can take many forms. We often think of leaders as senior people in business and government, but they are also in our communities, at schools and in families. A recent case study in Fiji found that as primary caregivers and fishers, women taught children to follow fishing practices that are sustainable and nurture the culture of marine stewardship and marine citizenship. At the other end of the spectrum, Pacific women have played an active role for us in international processes, such as ensuring that language on oceans were reflected in the agreed conclusions in the last session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. And there are also outstanding practice examples of Pacific women making positive contributions at both legal and technical levels to delineate maritime boundaries as well as prepare and defend submissions to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, of their countries.
In preparing for this event I have been able to read the profiles of some motivated and intelligent womenthat are leading ocean action, and I thank SPREP and the organisers of this event – UNEP and WWF – for the opportunity. If you have not already done so, I would highly recommend that you pay the site a visit, and that you share it widely. The page features a collection of highly diverse and talented women, working in everything from oceanography to academia and to observers on fishing vessels. Some are at the beginning of their careers and others are well advanced, but they all have one thing in common and that is they are all demonstrating leadership in their respective fields and chosen paths – and each are inspirational role models. What struck me about their stories was how many of these women have noticed positives changes toward gender equality in their own lifetime. We need to build on this momentum. Another aspect that is consistent across many of the stories was the influence of women mentors and role models in their career choice and progression – showing how events like this one, which increase the visibility of successful women in ocean careers – are vital to our continuing progress.
In the Pacific, we have a number of key mechanisms in place which can support greater inclusion and equality for women in leadership. The Framework for Pacific Regionalism, endorsed by Pacific Island Forum Leaders represents a robust mechanism for priority setting in the region. It articulates a set of Pacific values, including the full inclusivity, equity and equality for all people of the Pacific. All interested stakeholders are able to provide submissions for consideration by leaders, including if and where appropriate the role of women in oceans.
Specific to oceans, the Pacific has two primary ocean policy instruments, the Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy (2002) and the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape (2010), endorsed by Pacific Leaders. One of the Strategic Priorities of the Framework is Listening, Learning, Liaising and Leading. Under this priority, Leaders have called for a focus on capacity building and education, demonstrating our leadership on the international stage, and building networks and connections amongst people. Women can, and must, be a part of these actions.
Under the same framework, Leaders called for the establishment of the role of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner to provide high level representation on oceans. The position is currently held by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum – Dame Meg Taylor, a Pacific Island woman and national of the largest of our Islands – Papua New Guinea. Dame Meg takes her role very seriously, which includes convening the Pacific Ocean Alliance. The Alliance is a network of stakeholders that seeks to be truly representative of the diverse range of ocean interests. It is purpose built for supporting dialogue of everyone with an interest in oceans, including women and other groups who are often under-represented in leadership and decision-making processes. On behalf of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner I would encourage each and everyone of you to contact the OPOC and to join the Alliance.
I will conclude now, by asking that while we talk all things oceans over the next week, that we continue to recognize and advocate for the critical role of women as agents of change and as leaders in addressing our ocean and sustainable development priorities. There is a wealth of knowledge in this room and I look forward to hearing from the other panel members and to the discussion. THANK YOU.
E. Huffer, Women and Navigation: Does the Exception Confirm the Rule? International Journal of Maritime History 20, 265 (2008);
S. Harper, D. Zeller, M. Hauzer, D. Pauly, U. R. Sumaila, Women and fisheries: Contribution to food security and local economies. Marine Policy 39, 56 (2013);
V. Ram-Bidesi, Recognizing the role of women in supporting marine stewardship in the Pacific Islands. Marine Policy, 1 (2015)10.1016/j.marpol.2015.04.020).