Australia must continue to support women’s leadership in the Pacific

ActionAid Australia has made a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s inquiry into the human rights of women and girls in the Pacific.


ActionAid Australia works in partnership with Pacific women’s organisations and other regional partners through the Shifting the Power Coalition, which supports Pacific women’s leadership in humanitarian action. This includes FemLINKPacific and Transcend Oceania in Fiji, Nazareth Centre in Bougainville, Talitha Project in Tonga, Vanuatu Young Women for Change in Vanuatu, Vois Blong Mere in the Solomon Islands, and the YWCAs of PNG and Samoa, along with regional organisation Pacific Disability Forum. The Coalition reaches more than 40,000 women across six countries in the region. ActionAid also works directly in Vanuatu, supporting a network of over 4800 rural women, through the forum Women I Tok Tok Tugeta.

The strong focus of Australia’s aid and development programming on gender equality and women’s empowerment within the Pacific is welcome.

The region has some of the highest per capita rates of gender inequality in the world, including high rates of violence against women, continuing barriers to women’s economic participation and empowerment and women’s marginalisation in political leadership and decision-making processes. Pacific women are also on the frontline of the climate crisis, with rising temperatures increasing the number and severity of disasters, worsening food insecurity and compounding existing gender inequalities. The emergence of the COVID-19 means that Pacific women and girls are now facing the triple threat of the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, the worsening impacts of climate change, and the perpetuation of gender inequality.

Despite these challenges, Pacific women are powerful agents of change.

ActionAid’s experience working with women across the region shows that when women are supported to claim their rights and challenge the structures that affect them, they are a powerful force in transforming their communities and working towards the realisation of a just and equal society. It is crucial that Australia continues to foster this leadership through targeted interventions to address gender inequality and sustained funding for frontline women’s rights organisations. Additional work is also needed to ensure policy coherence across the Pacific Step-Up so that gender equality objectives are mainstreamed into all Step-Up initiatives to ensure equitable benefits for women and men.

Read ActionAid Australia’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s inquiry into the human rights of women and girls in the Pacific here.