Regional representatives unite to address critical issues of gender equality, climate action, and social inclusion at the second Pacific Islands Forum Women Leaders Meeting in Suva.

The in-person gathering has brought together various groups, including representatives from the region’s political spaces, civil society, and young advocates who are representing youth from their sub-regions.

The Niue Minister for Natural Resources and Pacific Political Climate Champion for Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) Mona Ainuu said there is a need to highlight the topic of inclusivity in the meeting.

“To empower women and girls and enable the marginalised people through meaningful participation, in all aspects of life, including engagement in climate change action, decision making and leadership.

“For me, it is an important opportunity to recognise our women and children and those who are often overlooked, persons with disabilities and older persons, and how climate change affects them.
“I wholeheartedly embrace and applaud decisions that derive from our people’s experiences.”

She shared an inspiring encounter with an all-women fishing crew, an example of the ongoing change in gender norms.

“What an absolutely inspiring story of the Pacific Women and Girls, taking on roles mainly dominated by our men. These are stories we need to tell because we should make decisions from experiences and lessons learned because that is how our ancestors have done it for so many years.

“We learned from our ancestors who made decisions from experiences, and we teach our young the same values and understandings,” she said.

Opening remarks at the 2nd PIFWLM. Photo: PIFS

GESI champion also applauded the unsung heroes of households and communities.

“Our Women, those who carry life, those who nurture life, those who are there before, during and after life-impacting events. Those who are much more impacted because of their mobility or those who experience difficulties and challenges without complaints because they are trying to live.

“As the threat of climate change envelops us, I cannot stress enough the significance of integrating climate change into the various sectors to allow all Pacific people, not just women and girls, to strengthen whole-of-community resilience.”

She stressed the need for active and meaningful participation of these groups at all stages of climate change and disaster actions.

“Climate change, gender inequality and social exclusion are interwoven challenges.

“The Blue Pacific Continent and the world will not meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, or any other goal, without the full contribution of women and girls, persons with disabilities, young people and our older citizens.

“Pacific island countries have committed to a gender-responsive and socially inclusive approach to the climate crisis. One that recognises women’s and marginalised groups’ agency, knowledge and leadership.

“It is important to ensure and facilitate their active, meaningful participation in all stages of climate change and disaster actions. This is so any funding, actions and support is to reach and meet the needs of the most marginalised and the grassroots community. In turn, making greater impacts on our people.

“This includes Education: an important aspect of knowledge, learning and awareness for young Pacific children and youth especially in relation to the climate change crisis.

“Health: having appropriate, accessible, quality and affordable healthcare as we face the effects of climate change and other shocks; and Finance: for planning and appropriate resource allocation that supports our people and their needs including simplified access to climate finance.”

Ainuu said the endorsement of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent “is a watershed moment for us in the Pacific” as it indicates a significant step toward recognising the region’s long-term vision and priorities and the crucial role of women and children in shaping the region’s future.

“In recognising the challenges and the potential of the region, Forum Leaders have led the way for us to determine the need to chart our own course, on our own terms.

“Their endorsement of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent as the blueprint to advance Pacific regionalism for the next three decades – articulates the region’s long-term vision, values, and thematic priorities.

“I know the work underway to develop the implementation plan and monitoring framework for the Strategy has been an inclusive, consultative, and robust process, firmly centred on the needs and aspirations of our Pacific people. In doing so, it is important to recognise our women and children in all that we do.

“Accelerating gender equality and social inclusion is critical to the realisation of our 2050 vision and ensures all Pacific peoples are empowered to fully participate and benefit from development outcomes.

“As policymakers and legislators in our own countries, we must be the change we wish to see in our region whether it is through identifying measures to increase women’s participation at all levels of leadership and decision-making including political representation, senior positions in the public and private sectors and within local and communal governance systems – right across the leadership spectrum,” she said.

Youth and CSO representatives. Photo: PIFS

As a strong advocate for empowering Pacific youth, Ainuu said some passionate advocates will steer this ‘Vaka’ for us as we make our way to 2050.

“There are many young people who are not waiting for tomorrow – they are leading the way today! In the fight against climate change, in the plans for Disaster Risk Reduction, and in the ongoing push for gender equality and social inclusion.

“I gladly recall that Forum Leaders recognises the need to create space for young people to meaningfully participate and contribute to decisions that will affect their future.

“I am so pleased that we have youth representing our sub-regions.

“I wish you an abundance of positive strength to carry the flags of each country in your sub-region through your aspirations of leadership and agents of change.”

Ainuu urged innovation and action, calling for the creation of opportunities and spaces for women’s voices to be heard.

“Women and girls, in all their diversity, are already leaders in their communities and can be powerful agents of change.

“Efforts must be made to ensure that they are meaningfully represented in decision-making spaces and that their contributions are considered.

“I fully recognise the importance of engaging men and boys to progress gender equality and social inclusion.

“As women, and importantly as leaders, we have so much to give. Unfortunately, many of our women across the region have very limited opportunities or spaces to share what they think. We need to make sure that they have access to those opportunities and spaces; and if they’re not there, well, it’s time that we create them for ourselves,” she said.