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Australian PM attends Pacific Island Leaders’ Forum meeting

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Helen Thompson
WVoN co-editor

Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is attending the meeting of Pacific Island Forum leaders in the Cook Islands this week.

She is one of three high-profile female leaders, including UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to arrive in Rarotanga for discussions based around the theme, “Large Ocean Island States – The Pacific Challenge”.

The status of women in the Pacific will be one of the main issues Gillard discusses with Pacific island leaders.

She will announce that AusAID will be providing funding for a new 10-year programme aimed at improving the lives of women in the region.

When compared with the status of women around the world, Pacific island Women suffer some of the lowest rates of employment outside the home and the highest rates of domestic violence.

They are also less likely to be voted into government as is evident in the fact that out of sixteen political leaders present at the forum, only two are women.

The AusAID programme will focus on empowering women in these three crucial areas in order to provide more economic opportunities, eliminate violence against women and preparing women for leadership roles.

Pacific Island Forum Secretary-General Tuiloma Neroni Slade, has argued that gender equality should be at the centre of  national and regional outcomes.

However, as Peter Baxter, the director-general of AusAID, points out, “we’re not going to see an improvement in women’s rights in the region unless they are being championed by men.”

As well as focusing on gender, Gillard will also discuss seasonal labour migration from the Pacific to Australia, and sustainable development of the fisheries industry, energy and tourism.

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