Published on 8th November 2013
“When you look at where Pacific women are in terms of general development indicators and compare them to the rest of the world you’ll find they often sit at the bottom”, says Elzira Sagynbaeva, representative for UN Women.
Sagynbaeva, currently in New Zealand to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment across the Pacific, says both continued high levels of violence against women and the very low rates of women’s political participation present huge challenges for Pacific women’s advancement.
“Pacific countries often have the highest rates of violence against women and girls in the world with around two in three women having experienced sexual or physical violence at least once in their lifetime (compared to a world average of one in three women). In some Pacific countries that figure can be much higher,” says Sagynbaeva.
Culturally and socially this is still considered a perfectly accepted norm. “Accepting violence and the ‘right’ of a husband to beat his wife is still an enormously common view among both men and women, and tacitly accepted by many communities in the Pacific.”
This, coupled with the fact that women’s political participation in the Pacific is the lowest in the world, make it doubly difficult to move agendas of gender equality forward. “Worldwide, around 20 per cent of those represented in parliament are women compared with just three per cent in Pacific countries.”
But, says Sagynbaeva, studies show that when women are properly represented in parliament they can help to get those issues of equality, health and education on to agendas.
UN Women and VSA joined forces in February to work on projects that are helping to reduce gender inequality in the Pacific. Currently there are four VSA volunteers working in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji on UN Women projects, with more assignments in the pipeline.
“The partnership with VSA is probably the first in my 17 years working for the UN where we are working with an agency that is really going to help us to sustain our efforts to deliver our programmes.”
Elzira Sagynbaeva is one of two key note speakers* at VSA’s 2013 annual congress tomorrow.
VSA’s other key note speaker for its congress is Professor Regina Scheyvens from Massey University.