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Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ meeting attracts senior politicians

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Helen Thompson
WVoN co-editor

Two notable women politicians are to attend the 43rd annual Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting in the Cook Islands next week.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and previous US President Bill Clinton are due to arrive in Rarotonga, along with UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet. They will be participating in discussions and fringe meetings with 16 heads of Pacific Island governments as well as non-governmental and civil society groups between August 27 and August 31.

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is, “the primary body for Pacific Island leaders to discuss the political, economic and developmental issues facing [the Pacific] region”.

In 2005 the Forum Leaders endorsed the Pacific Plan for regional development and has been periodically revisiting the document to meet the current needs of the 16 member nations.

PIF argues that, “investing in gender equality is central to sustainable development, attainment of human and political security, good governance and management of resources”.

Yet women in the Pacific are still facing overwhelming challenges in areas such as participation in politics, access to education, and domestic violence.

Bachelet, who is attending the meeting on behalf of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said in a statement:

“In the Pacific region, the work on the ground in terms of women, peace and security, political and economic empowerment of women, and ending violence against women have been significant.

“Yet much more needs to be done, and I am looking forward to discussions and collaborations with leaders of the Pacific region and to attending the Pacific Islands Forum.”

Amnesty International and Oxfam New Zealand will also be pressing the Pacific Island governments to take serious steps to promote the needs of women.

Kate Schuetze, Pacific Researcher for Amnesty International, says:

“In 2009, Forum Leaders committed to eradicating sexual and gender based violence and set up a Forum Reference Group to address this issue.

“Amnesty International believes it is now imperative that leaders make clear and time-bound commitments to implement laws and policies aimed at reducing violence and discrimination against women, including by investigating and prosecuting alleged perpetrators.”

Schuetze supports the need for concrete action by saying that two out of every three women in the Pacific have experienced some form of gender-based violence.

In 2011, Oxfam New Zealand said that less than 40 percent of Pacific Island nations have laws to criminalize perpetrators of violence against women.

Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, will be launching a new report “on governance and accountability for climate finance, including a strong call for gender analysis and women’s participation”.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations working towards gender equality have complained about the lack of funding for their attendance. Furthermore, government leaders do not make gender a priority in their closed sessions.

While the US government has not confirmed the Clintons’ attendance at the PIF meeting, local residents have been witnessing the extensive logistical and security preparations for such a visit.

If the Clintons do attend they will be leading the largest and most politically significant US delegation ever to the Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ meeting.

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