Pacific women leaders discuss pandemic, equality

Discussions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls were the focus of a third meeting of Pacific women leaders on Wednesday.

The meeting was co-convened by Australia's Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne, and Fiji's Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Mereseini Vuniwaqa.

Senator Payne said that the meeting had been especially significant this year which has been dedicated to strengthening commitments to women’s resilience across the region.

“Women leaders have demonstrated their strength, dedication and vision as we shared strategic and practical solutions to protect vulnerable women and girls,” Minister Payne said according to a statement.

“Today, we reflected on 2020 and on the challenges and opportunities that have arisen through COVID-19. We discussed women’s and girls’ safety, with a focus on e-safety and the importance of education and legal protections.”

Although most Pacific island countries remain COVID-free, they have suffered economically from the pandemic. 

The meeting discussed plans for next year and included the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the hope they will bring to the region for a new era in which women play an important role in vaccine preparedness and distribution.

Sexual and reproductive health will remain as critical priorities to ensure the health of women and girls. Senator Payne said that Pacific leaders will remain vigilant about their shared priorities.

“In the course of our discussions, we committed ourselves to strengthening our partnership in 2021, working through national, bilateral, regional and global forums to drive improved outcomes for women and girls of the Pacific region,” Senator Payne said. 

A series of significant conferences next year will further progress efforts towards promoting gender equality.

Those on the agenda include the 14th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women in April (held by the  Pacific Community); the 65th session of the Commission on the status of Women in March, and if agreed by leaders, an annual Pacific Women Leaders' Meeting as part of the Pacific Islands Forum.

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