Bula Vinaka and a good evening to you all.

I would also like to acknowledge the Fijian Government for its warm hospitality.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to join you today in the launch of the inaugural progress report from Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development.

Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (or Pacific Women for short) is Australia’s flagship gender equality investment in the region, supporting women in 14 Pacific countries – regardless of their income, location, disability, age or ethnic group – to participate fully, freely and safely in political, economic and social life.

The program helps Pacific Island countries meet the commitments made in 2012 by their Leaders in the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Gender Equality Declaration.

It is therefore a significant milestone to be launching this report jointly with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat - the home of the Declaration.

It is also a proud moment for me personally, as one of Australia’s White Ribbon Ambassadors, to officiate this launch during the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence. 

The report shows, in the first three years of implementation, Australia’s biggest investment through Pacific Women has been in the area of addressing violence against women.

Ensuring greater gender equality is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

Nations thrive when every woman and girl has the right to live free of gender-based discrimination, and can participate in education, politics, business and society as equals.

One of the core principles of Pacific Women is that change must be shaped and led by Pacific communities.

Across all 14 countries, individual Pacific Women country plans were developed in close consultation with Pacific women and men, their organisations and national governments.

The key message from these consultations suggests values and attitudes of men and women are significant barriers to gender equality in the Pacific, and that the local context of women’s experiences needs to be understood. 

So Pacific Women is premised on meeting the individual needs the women, men, children and communities in each country, working in collaboration with partners.

An Advisory Board of prominent Pacific women and men guides the program, with representation from across the Pacific and from a wide range of organisations.

I am pleased to have three members of the Advisory Board in the room tonight: in addition to Ms Andie Fong-Toy, we have Mr Colin Tukuitonga and Reverend Sereima Lomaloma.  Thank you for your partnership and commitment to Pacific Women.

Ladies and gentlemen, the inaugural progress report of Pacific Women showcases some of the early achievements of the program.

It also highlights the wide range of partnerships developed with Pacific governments, regional and multilateral organisations, community and faith based groups, the private sector and academia.

Over 50 case studies and stories feature the voices of Pacific women and men, to highlight country and regional activities and events.

For example, in Samoa, where I will travel this week, the Samoa Victim Support Group has established a community alert system which involves more than 400 village representatives in 166 villages across the country.  As part of this innovative program, mobile phones play an important role in giving these villages access to the Support Group’s services.

In Solomon Islands, one man describes how his views towards gender equality changed after participating in the Channels of Hope for Gender Program.  He said he was once a violent person to his wife, children and his community.  Now, he says “I treat my wife equally and appreciate her as an individual… my children do not have fear and distrust in me anymore.”

In Vanuatu, Assunda finished school in Grade 6 to work as a cleaner on the minimum wage.  She recently received tourism-related training and ongoing business management coaching through one of the Pacific Women-funded TVET centres.  Assunda is now managing the most successful bungalow business in the province, Lakatoro Palms Lodge.

And right here in Fiji, single mother Sonam says since she completed a diploma at the South Pacific Academy of Beauty Therapy, she is able to support her son, her mother and her younger sister.

As a member of Parliament, I am delighted to see the fruit of Parliamentary Partnerships Projects in Cook Islands, Nauru, Palau and Federated States of Micronesia, to name a few.  These programs seek to increase the number of women in parliaments across the Pacific, and to build linkages between women parliamentarians in all our countries.

I’m pleased three Australian women MPs, who make such a strong contribution to our Parliament, were able to join me on this trip.

I’m also heartened by the police services in many countries, such as Kiribati, which have stepped up to partner in these worthwhile projects.  We will be visiting some of the police units focusing on domestic violence when we travel from here to Samoa and Tonga.

There are many more inspiring stories in the Pacific Women report.  Copies of the report are available for you to take home tonight and can also be accessed through the Pacific Women website.

I will conclude by reiterating gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is at the heart of sustainable development. It is not only the right development objective, but also a smart economic policy.

As long as the dignity and wellbeing of half of humanity is at risk, peace, security and sustainable development will remain out of reach.

I thank the Pacific Women team for putting together this timely report, as the world observes the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence. 

I have no doubt that the report will be a valuable resource for all involved in helping achieve gender equality and I look forward to continuing to work together on this important journey.

Vinaka, Thank you.

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