Remarks at the Rarotonga Dialogue on Gender Equality
Secretary of State
(In progress) Ambassador Frank (inaudible) and 30 years of service and commitment on behalf of the United States here and elsewhere throughout the world. And I wanted to thank all of you for gathering here – some of you I have met before, others this is my first time. But to all of you, it’s a great pleasure to be here in the beautiful Cook Islands with leaders from government, civil society, and multilateral organizations, all committed to improving the status of women in the Pacific.
I particularly want to thank the Government of Australia and (inaudible), and New Zealand – thank you Amanda for your support – and the other Pacific Island countries, as well as the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, the Secretariat of the Pacific community, UN agencies, and the World Bank, for all of your leadership in promoting gender equality. I also want to recognize Australian Ambassador-at-Large Williams, New Zealand AID program director who I just mentioned Amanda Ellis, Deputy Secretary General Troy and Minister Toni from Papua New Guinea.
But most of all, I want to thank all of the Pacific women who are here and all whom you represent because we could not put millions of women into this small space, but you are here on their behalf. And I’m delighted that you could be with us because it is my firm belief that women in the Pacific Islands constitute a great reservoir of untapped talent and ability.
Now every country can do better on this front, including my own – there is no doubt about that – but progress for gender equality in the Pacific has not kept pace with the rest of the world. And we have to recognize that. But we also are here to do something about it. Look at the numbers: Research from the World Bank and local organizations shows that the Pacific has the world’s lowest rate of women participating in legislative bodies or holding executive roles in the world – less than 2 percent. There are only seven countries in the world that have no women in their parliament, but four of them are located here in the Pacific. Up to 60 percent of women in the Pacific report being the victim of gender-based violence or sexual abuse. Maternal health statistics are also poor, and women face greater barriers to starting businesses and participating in the economy.
Now these facts illustrate a problem that doesn’t just hurt women and girls; it hurts everybody. It holds back entire societies. Because when women are unequal participants, economic growth is undermined. Development is stymied. Communities and countries are robbed of the contributions that women could make.
But the good news is that there are also impassioned leaders in this region, including those around this table, pushing for change. And role models like Adi Tafuna’i, who co-founded an organization called Women in Business Development Inc, Samoa and that was to help their women in Samoa how to unleash their economic power. So supporting and promoting gender equality is a core part of the United States commitment to the Pacific.
On my visit to the region in 2010, we helped launch the Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative with Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the World Bank. That has spawned a series of meetings addressing women’s political participation, economic opportunity, health care, and gender-based violence. I’m happy to announce that the United States will contribute $200,000 this year in voluntary funding to the UN Women’s Trust Fund to end violence against women. We’re also committed to developing a new network of women leaders in the Pacific that we are calling the Rarotonga Partnership for the Advancement of Pacific Island Women. Together with the East-West Center based in Hawaii and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, we will work with academic institutions and private partners across the Pacific to help build the capacity of women leaders and strengthen the leadership training. I want to thank Charles Morrison and everyone at the East-West Center for helping to make this possible.
Our pledge to promote gender equality across the Pacific, extends far beyond this meeting, so today what I’m hoping we can do is to share ideas and identify areas that need more attention because this is something that we feel very strongly about as all of you do.
So with that, let me thank you for joining us today, and I look forward to hearing the ideas and the opportunities that you can share with all of us. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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