Empowering Women and Girls in the Pacific

Initiatives have been launched by the Australian government to empower women and girls of the Pacific island nations.
Empowering Women and Girls in the Pacific
A Papuan woman fills her ballot at a polling center Jayapura, in eastern Papua province, on July 8, 2009. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
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<a><img src="https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2015/09/88894984.jpg" alt="A Papuan woman fills her ballot at a polling center Jayapura, in eastern Papua province, on July 8, 2009.  (STR/AFP/Getty Images)" title="A Papuan woman fills her ballot at a polling center Jayapura, in eastern Papua province, on July 8, 2009.  (STR/AFP/Getty Images)" width="275" class="size-medium wp-image-1796890"/></a>
A Papuan woman fills her ballot at a polling center Jayapura, in eastern Papua province, on July 8, 2009.  (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Initiatives have been launched by the Australian government to empower women and girls of the Pacific island nations and eradicate physical and sexual violence in the region.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced early in September an injection of funds to help governments and non-government aid agencies prevent and respond to violence that studies show 60 per cent of women and girls suffer in some Pacific countries.

Ms Gillard also announced the appointment of Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, Penny Williams, a career diplomat. Ms Williams started in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a graduate many years ago with an Asian studies degree in Indonesian. She is fluent in three languages.

In an ABC Radio Pacific Beat interview, Ms Williams said studies show that putting women and girls at the centre of an aid programme reduced poverty and built stronger economies in the community.

Aid agencies say many women in the Pacific suffer domestic violence and high maternal death rates, do most of the work for a fraction of the male wage and have no voice in government, according to Pacific Beat.

Ms Williams hopes by empowering women and girls, the violence will end and women encouraged to take up leadership roles in business and politics.

Women’s representation in Pacific governments is the lowest in the world, just 3 per cent, according to United Nations statistics.

<a><img src="https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2015/09/76310366.jpg" alt="This photo taken 07 July, 2007 shows Australian-born Dame Carol Kidu (R) and supporters. (Torsten  Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)" title="This photo taken 07 July, 2007 shows Australian-born Dame Carol Kidu (R) and supporters. (Torsten  Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)" width="275" class="size-medium wp-image-1796892"/></a>
This photo taken 07 July, 2007 shows Australian-born Dame Carol Kidu (R) and supporters. (Torsten  Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)
Last year, the only female MP in the Papua New Guinea government, Dame Carol Kidu, sponsored a bill to amend the constitution and to reserve 22 women-only seats before the 2012 election.

PNG women’s groups have called on the current 109 members of parliament to support the bill.

Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles welcomed Ms Williams’ appointment a coup for Pacific women and girls.

“The Pacific performs as the worst region in the world in terms of female representation in government,” he said. “Today, there was not a United Nations member-country in the Pacific that had more than five per cent of women in parliament. Of 25 countries in the world with those statistics, half are in the Pacific Island region.

“We can see that is reflected in other indicators that affect women’s lives. The mortality rate, 0.6 per cent, (600 of every 100,000 women), will die by virtue of being pregnant. I can’t help but feel that these things are linked. I think there is a growing awareness in the Pacific that things need to change.”