Apr 16, 2021 Last Updated 9:08 PM, Apr 13, 2021

APPROXIMATELY 80per cent of all market vendors in the Pacific are women, and these earnings make up a significant portion of incomes of many poor households.

In spite of their contribution to the local economy and to markets, women are often excluded from market governance and decision-making

“Though people see market vendors as ordinary women, their contribution in terms of the money earned and contributed to the economy is very important,” said Maureen Sariki, President of Honiara City MVA in Solomon Islands.

Women leaders of market vendor associations (MVA) from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, shared their stories of hardship and success at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women in Suva

As President of the MVA, Ms Sariki has built strong relationships with the local government resulting in market vendors now being consulted in the development of market budgets and plans.

Also from Solomon Islands, Janet Ramo, President of the Auki MVA, says that before the Markets 4 Change (M4C) project, “[the women of Malaita] don’t have an understanding and discipline of the importance of saving – many are intimidated by formal banking – also there is almost no interest and the fees are high.”

In response, Ms Ramo used the structure of the market vendor association, plus the skills learned in M4C financial literacy training to start a local savings and loan scheme and a cooperative store – improving accessibility of financial services to market vendors and encouraging saving and investment in livelihoods.

“With this project, I see myself as a business woman – I no longer look down on myself – I am happy,” added Ms Ramo.

When asked about the success of the MVAs, Ms Sariki said “market managers are now referring issues from market vendors back to the MVA to resolve, we are leaders and have the power to make decisions.”

Leisavi, from Port Vila, Vanuatu, started as a market vendor but quickly became interested in joining the MVA.

As Vice President of Silae Vanua market, she participated in trainings on financial literacy, agriculture, communications and leadership, as well as attended workshops on disaster resilience and helped organize events.

“I want to learn more, so I applied to the Australia Pacific Technical College (APTC) and I was lucky to be selected to study Certificate 4 on Community Development” said Leisavi.

These women, through the MVAs, are leading, representing and advocating for the needs of all market vendors, specifically women, working in the informal economy.

“The Northern Islands have many market vendors who want to sell at the market and the MVA helps give equal time between all in the market so it is fair for everyone” said Melody Leo, Executive Committee member of Northern Islands MVA in Vanuatu, explaining the complex rotational system that the Luganville market put in place after the MVAs met and agreed on a system that would be fair to all.

Women progress slow

THERE is a staggering imbalances in the Pacific economies between women and men which clearly reflects why progressing gender equality has been slow, more so this year which is critical to the Pacific’s sustainable economic development.

And every single woman in their own countries, in their own communities, in their own clans and families need to walk the talk and make sure that they enjoy the same economic rights as men.

Kiribati Vice President Teima Onorio while addressing the delegations at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and Sixth Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women said there was solid evidence that an increase in women’s economic empowerment wouldl lead to economic growth.

“With simply can’t afford to leave out or in some cases exclude half the population out of our economies,” Ms Onorio said.

“It is bad economic policy no matter which way you look at it.”

According to Ms Onorio, women are definitely taking the lead in the Private Sector in Kiribati.

The major private businesses are all owned by women and all the daily stalls selling food and clothes are run by women.

The chamber of Commerce records show an increase of women’s individual businesses, 1116 for females and 875 males.

In the public sector, 44 percent of the total workforce is female and 38 percent is male.

In Kiribati, women from nearby outer island travel daily to the capital by boats to sell their local foods.

They have no time to sit in markets and wait for people to buy their products but walk around with their heavy buckets of food door to door at offices and homes.

“We can never imagine what these women go through but we acknowledge their courage, sacrifice and hard work just to earn for her family,” she added.

Since women make up more than half of our population, Kiribati Government strongly support the focus on empowering women as it makes good economic sense, strengthens economic development, foster economic growth and nation building.

WOMEN’S economic empowerment in the Pacific Islands region remains a key challenge, as women continue to experience limited job opportunities, remain under-represented in management positions and face weak employment and social protection mechanisms, particularly in the private sector.

Colin Tukuitonga, director general of the Pacific Community in his opening address at the 13th Triennial Conference, said the high-level representation from various countries and territories, the participation of partners from civil society and support of their development partners was timey as they work towards finalizing their Pacific Headline Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals, under the leadership of the CROP Sustainable Development Working Group.

“This provides us with an opportunity to ensure we have the right statistics and information to measure and evaluate progress towards gender equality and track how our region is doing in terms of advancing the economic empowerment of women, against our own national and regional frameworks and at the global level,” Tukuitonga said.

The Triennial conference and Pacific Ministers for Women meeting is the only regional platform that gives women the space to deliberate on challenges relating to advancing gender equality; and to explore solutions that as a region, we can all take on board to address the barriers that continue to stall progress for gender equality in the Pacific.

Participants were reminded to consider how they can make proactive use of this platform this week, to progress their national and regional agenda for gender equality as appropriate, within their countries and territories building to the regional level and ultimately the global stage.

More than 200 women from 21 pacific island countries and territories will deliberate on ways to ensure that our region’s economies grow with strategies for women’s economic empowerment.

Since 1947, SPC has responded to their members needs for scientific technical assistance and capacity strengthening, including social science which encompasses social inclusion and gender equality.

SPC, as the oldest of the CROP family member continues to lead and prioritize the advancement of gender equality in the region, as part of our business and mandate.

A new 12-year plan to accelerate action for Pacific gender equality is top of the agenda for over 200 women from 21 countries and territories who are meeting in Lami this week.

The 13th Triennial conference of Women is the region’s biggest ever meeting of women.

After decades of commitments by governments, which produced less than hoped for results, women are keen to see more action.

While there has been significant progress for women in some areas in others women have gone backwards.

Women who earn an income are one-and-half times more likely to experience violence, than those who did not earn an income, this morning’s pre-conference consultations were told.

“That’s horrific,’ Kim Robertson, Advisor-Gender Statistics at the Pacific Community told the pre-conference consultation.

Poverty has become increasingly feminised according to Ms Robertson, with households-headed by women, widows, single mothers and other marginalised women more like to face hardship.

The first three days will see the Triennial Conference of Pacific Women consider a new plan to improve the effectiveness of government commitments to gender equality.

The plan known as the Pacific Platform for Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Human rights 2018-2030 (PPA) aims to accelerate efforts and provide concrete actions to deliver gender commitments of the region’s leaders.

The results of the Triennial’s deliberations will be put to Pacific Ministers for Women when they meet later this week.

From the 2nd of October, representatives of Pacific Island states and territories will converge in Fiji for the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of the Pacific Ministers for Women (Triennial) with the central theme ‘Economic Empowerment of Pacific Women’ and the adoption of the new Revised Pacific Platform for Action (RPPA) high on the agenda:

 “This Platform was endorsed in 1994. It was the Pacific contribution to the World Conference of Women held in Beijing in 1995,” explained Brigitte Leduc of the Pacific Community (SPC).

  “This Platform was identifying priorities for Pacific women and it covered agriculture, health, education and even violence against women. So, we’re talking about the ministry in charge of women, we’re talking about the role of civil society, we’re talking about gender statistics. There was also women’s economic empowerment, of course, and access to health and education and also women’s leadership, access to justice and the elimination of violence against women.”

 Four years on, the Triennial will receive the review report to see where the Pacific has made progress and where there are gaps.

 Tupou Vere was part of the group of civil society activists who lobbied and negotiated around the first Pacific Platform for Action in 1994, on the way to Pacific Government participation at the United Nations Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing. 

 The review of the RPPA, she says, is an opportunity to focus not just on commitments but monitoring progress:

“It will provide a framework of monitoring how we progress and that is something which we haven’t been able to do much of even at national and at regional level which is distinctively different now… and linking it to Agenda 2030 will make it much easier for us to discuss it in other intergovernmental forum where we will be meeting governments again.”

 It is also a time to consolidate global and Pacific commitments already made to women’s human rights:

“It’s an opportunity for us to revisit the agreement made at the regional conference of Pacific women, the outcome document, to the Moana Declaration to the regional disability rights framework,” explained Leduc. “It’s also to bring this all together and talking about specific measures to progress and what was discussed a lot this morning was about the importance of knowledge and raising awareness and sharing information so that’s probably going to make its way in the new Pacific Platform for Action.”

 Pacific Feminists are Rising to the Occasion: 

 Successive Triennial Conferences have provided an important space for the participation of civil society organisations and the conference will also encourage greater partnership between governments and development partners to support the participation of civil society representatives on official delegations, so that there is a stronger, more amplified Pacific voice at global discussions – namely, through the review of the RPPA.

 The Triennial was last hosted by the Government of Fiji in 2004, and Nalini Singh, the Executive Director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement welcomes the conference back on home ground:

“We’re excited that the Triennial is being held in Fiji in our home ground and we get to welcome hundreds of amazing activists and advocates for women’s rights to our country and that we will be able to engage with many them,” shared Nalini Singh, Executive Director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM). “Many of them are our friends and there will be many new friends.”

 “I think we have a unique opportunity right now moving on from the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) into the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals),” said Singh. “You still have the Pacific Platform for Action (PPA) as a relevant document (but) we know that we have not achieved all aspects of what we had outlined in the PPA. This presents to us a renewed opportunity to recommit to ensuring that we do deliver on all the areas that were identified in the PPA in the original document and link it to Agenda 2030 and see how governments put in their commitment towards ensuring that that is achieved and not just set aside as a licensing document that our governments have agreed to again.”

 As civil society prepares to engage in the Triennial, Pacific feminists in particular the We Rise Coalition which includes Diva for Equality, FWRM, femLINKpacific and the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) will be coming prepared with the Pacific Feminist Charter – the inaugural  Pacific Feminist Forum (2016):

 “The Triennial will be one such opportunity (to apply the Pacific Feminist Charter) because we will have those gatherings of child women’s rights advocates and activists and we believe that sharing with them the Charter will help us amplify the message of the region,” outlined Singh. 

 The Charter outlines positions on leadership, intergenerational practice and climate and ecological justice, as well as at the core stressing the value of diversity in within the Pacific feminist movement:

 “The Pacific Feminist Forum has now just become this symbol of the Pacific Women’s Movement,” continued Meghan Cooper of the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA). “It’s not just an event it’s the symbol of the mobilizing of Pacific feminists or feminists from across the Pacific to this one moment in time and how you were then able to turn the mobilization of those women into a common document that has some pretty progressive stuff in there.”

 “If you’re looking at geopolitics of our region and the population that live in the unique islands of our region, the unique challenges that we are experiencing… I’m really hoping that the reviewed PPA still has the key,” said Singh. “The structural barriers that we have towards women’s empowerment and gender equality as well as touching the key emerging issues that we have in the region - for example in relation to climate change, we are looking at our ocean as the key for ecological wellbeing that will link to livelihood and nutrition and safety as well.”

“It seems like there are new challenges that are not acknowledged in the PPA, the main one just being ecological degradation but then how that intersects with so many other issues that are raised in the PPA and we know that that’s such a big prevalent issue in the Pacific,” added Cooper. “We know that that is changing weather patterns and the implications of that would be really nice to see that kind of integration of the effect of that in the Pacific more integrated into the PPA… (and) the second thing was also that’s just the intersectionality was more recognition of the diversity of women that exist in the Pacific in many ways so there’s the sexual orientation gender identity, the different histories, the different ethnicities, all of those aspects of intersectionality - to see that better reflected in the PPA.”

 “So, I hope that the emerging issues are also being addressed together with the issues that we have entrenched in our region,” concluded Singh. 

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