Women’s welfare directly affects children

Pacific Island leaders are often given to wax eloquent on the respect that Pacific culture accords to women. Polynesian women have often gone on record saying that their culture “puts women on a pedestal”. But statistical studies across almost all indices that have to do with women’s – and therefore children’s – welfare belie this rather emphatically. Whatever affects women affects children, the entire household, the village, community and country putting at risk a number of aspects of human wellbeing. Unfortunately, few in the overly male-dominated political leadership acknowledge this, particularly in the Pacific region.

Improving the lot of women must be every nation’s priority. Though there have been encouraging signs of greater gender awareness overall, the Pacific has a long way to go. Reports from a whole range of international agencies make for disturbing reading. Amnesty International has said in a report that the Pacific is one of the world’s worst regions to be a woman. Seventy per cent of women and girls in the region face sexual violence, it says. Global NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) said in 2013 that 70 per cent of women in Papua New Guinea would either be raped or physically assaulted in their lifetime. According to World Bank research, in the Solomon Islands, 64 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual partner violence.

In Australia, indigenous women are five times more likely than nonindigenous women to be subject to domestic violence, 38 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault, and 10 times more likely to die from assault, the report says. Sexual violence in women is recognised as the biggest gender related issue in the Pacific. Last month, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report said that 60 per cent children in the Pacific Islands region died before their fifth birthday mainly due to preventable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and newborn deaths. Newborn deaths make up on average 40 per cent of deaths recorded for children below five years of age. Women’s welfare directly affects children and therefore the very future of any country.

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We Say is compiled and edited with the oversight of Samisoni Pareti.


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