3. Roles of civil society and other groups

Submissions revealed a complex web of interactions between a variety of groups that play significant roles in promoting the human rights of Pacific island women and girls, including:
church and faith-based groups;
non-government organisations (NGO);
women and girls;
diaspora groups; and
men and boys.
These civil society groups based in the Pacific islands play a key role in responding practically to domestic, family and sexual violence, and other human rights issues such as gender equality.
The Australian Government states in its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021-2031 that it will ‘work with partner countries and other donors, including the UN, NATO, regional and global organisations, and civil society organisations’ and ‘also identify local civil society actors and support their priorities, particularly women’s rights organisations, women human rights defenders, women-led peace building organisations, faith-based organisations and civil society peace networks.’1
The National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021-2031 also states that the Australian Government’s actions to reduce sexual and gender-based violence aim to:
support women’s rights organisations to advance gender equality, and amplify women and girls’ capacity to speak, be heard, innovate and drive change;
support local efforts to change harmful gender norms and discriminatory practices;
strengthen local laws and institutions to protect human rights, and to protect against sexual and gender-based violence;
engage with men and boys, women and girls, and sexual and gender minorities to challenge gender inequality and find local solutions to realise gender equality; and
contribute to the evidence base of what works to change harmful gender norms.2

Civil society organisations

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) defined civil society groups as including: ‘individuals, non-government organisations, community-based organisations, union groups, faith-based groups, youth groups and social movements.’3 Adopting a similar definition, the Law Council of Australia characterised civil society groups as essentially autonomous ‘at least in principle, from both government and business.’4
The AHRC outlined that it is civil society groups that ‘provide frontline services to survivors [of gendered violence]—such as specialist sexual assault support services, and homelessness support or refuges.’5 The Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and Pacific Community (SPC) categorised civil society groups in the Pacific islands as being involved in the following service provision areas:
Primary prevention;
Training, workshop, awareness advocacy for reform;
Legal aid;
Safe shelter;
Research; and
The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) emphasised the pivotal position of civil society groups in facilitating ‘stigma-free, friendly, and accessible services’ that uphold the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls:
Young people, marginalised and vulnerable groups such as people of diverse SOGIEs [sexual orientation and gender identity expression], sex workers and people living with disabilities are often unable or unwilling to access government health services, especially for SRHR information and services. In many parts of the region, civil society groups such as IPPF Member Associations are the only ones able to facilitate stigma-free, friendly, and accessible services for these groups.7

The role of church and faith-based groups

The Committee in its 2015 report heard about the work of faith-based organisations in the region8, work which has evolved in the past 6 years to express ideas adapted to local cultural contexts. Submissions received in 2020 referred to the widespread religious populations in the Pacific islands and resultant ability of faith-based groups to influence people’s perceptions about the human rights of women and girls.
The United Nations Country Teams in the Pacific (UNCTP) stated that ‘faith based organisations are central to communities in the Pacific.’9 Caritas Oceania detailed that this centrality means that churches have influence in locations that other groups do not:
Churches in the Pacific also have extensive reach, long-established networks and a presence in locations where other actors, including police, may not be able to access. Their representatives are embedded within the community and have strong relationships at the local level, so are best placed to ensure targeting of at-risk women and girls.10
World Vision similarly noted that ‘in the Pacific context, faith leaders are among the most influential, trusted and accessible members of communities,’ and subsequently emphasised the scope for altering community mindsets:
World Vision is encouraged by Australia’s investment in faith-based communities and sees significant opportunities to better leverage faith leaders to change attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls to ensure they are respected and protected.11
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) recognised that ‘churches do have a significant service delivery effort. That’s one of the reasons we’ve supported them as well: to help them get better outcomes through their service delivery arms.’12
DFAT outlined that it had funded faith-based organisations such as House of Sarah, which takes a ‘community mobilisation approach to prevent violence against women.’13 DFAT explained that this has led to ‘community discussions on interpretations of the Bible that can contribute to a reduction in violence.’14
UnitingWorld stated that ‘there are several church leaders who translate and connect rights based concepts with biblical teachings. UnitingWorld works with prominent, progressive leaders in Pacific churches who are strong advocates of gender equality.’15
DFAT also stated that its partnership with the Pacific Conference of Churches ‘as part of the [Pacific] Step-up’ is locally led, and was ‘focused on the things that they identify as being important.’16 DFAT elaborated that:
Initially, [the Pacific Conference of Churches] did want to focus on sexual abuse and the response to various learnings from global and Australian efforts, but then, when COVID hit, they shifted that. They also wanted to have a climate resilience focus in what they did.17
UnitingWorld stated that ‘churches and church leaders are often the first refuge and source of help for women and girls in situations of violence, especially in rural settings and particularly during COVID-19 lockdowns.’18
Table 3.1 provides statistics from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG) relating to reporting and disclosure of violence against women. The data provided by World Vision indicates reporting of incidents to religious or customary leaders do occur, but there are more opportunities to increase reporting rates.
Table 3.1:  Violence against women (2019 Snapshot)
Vanuatu (per cent)
Solomon Islands (per cent)
Papua New Guinea (per cent)
Number of women who reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime
Women who disclosed experience of physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner in the last 12 months
Number of women reporting incidents of violence to customary leaders
Women reporting incidents of violence to religious leaders
Source: World Vision, Submission 22, p. 6.
UnitingWorld highlighted the feminist structure of many Pacific churches, including the Presbyterian Women Mission Union of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu and the Methodist Church Women’s Fellowship in Fiji:
Pacific churches have a parallel organisational structure for the women, and these are well organised and resourceful. Many of them are active in advancing the rights of women and girls and combatting domestic violence.19
World Vision outlined, however, that the impact of faith-based groups can be two-sided:
Faith and community leaders often serve as trusted informal service providers, especially in contexts with limited or non-existent formal services for survivors of gender-based violence, yet they often hold and reinforce harmful beliefs focusing on community mediation, forgiveness or compensation rather than prioritising women’s rights and safety and facilitating referrals for survivors through the legal system. Such practices deny women access to services, support and long-term safety.20

The role of women’s leadership

Inquiry participants emphasised the importance of generating greater agency for women to lead progress for their own human rights. The benefits of doing so were highlighted by the Fiji Women’s Fund, and Urgent Action Fund Asia & the Pacific, which stated that women’s rights organisations had largely driven ‘the changes in policy and legislation across the Pacific in the areas of domestic violence and family law or protection.’21
CARE Australia stated that ‘women’s limited participation in decision making cut[s] across and exacerbate[s] all other underlying causes of poverty.’22
DFAT stated that it was investing in ‘local level leadership … across private sector, civil society, government or regional organisations’ to ‘start to grow that next generation of change’ and ‘have enough people at the table to change policymaking or to change the culture of particular organisations.’23
The UNCTP in July 2020 outlined ‘the chronic under-representation of women in politics in the Pacific’ as the Pacific islands ‘retains the world’s lowest levels of women in parliament at just 8.8 per cent and is home to three countries that have no women in their national parliament.’24
DFAT stated it had ‘offered support to … women leaders in the region by hosting several’ dialogue events in 2020, including ‘virtual Pacific women leaders meetings throughout 2020—in May, August and December 2020.’25 DFAT also advised that following advocacy by Australia, the Pacific Island Forum from 2022 is establishing an ‘annual PIF women leaders meeting’.26
The Pasifika Women’s Alliance suggested that since ‘women shoulder the burden of supporting themselves’, they must be directly ‘included in the conversations that affect them.’27 The Pasifika Women’s Alliance further recommended that women should ‘lead program development and be part and parcel of co-designing programs to achieve context and relevance before it is implemented.’28
The International Women’s Development Agency similarly advocated that women and girls should have ‘meaningful influence in designing development cooperation programs that affect them.’29 The IPPF echoed this sentiment by suggesting that:
Addressing deeply entrenched gender discrimination and inequality requires women’s meaningful participation to achieve inclusive and effective governance.30
To generate greater agency and leadership, Tetra Tech Coffey explained that women’s leadership programs must build a wide range of skills:
Leadership capability goes beyond good networks, sectoral expertise and communication skills. Emotional intelligence and resilience are key drivers of success and help form our ability to respond to crises and other times of turmoil.31
YWCA Australia described that it had designed its ‘Rise Up’ leadership development program to build a self-expanding network of leaders in the region:
The program has a unique approach, adopting a ‘Train the Trainer’ (ToT) model, empowering young women with the knowledge and leadership skills necessary to access their own human rights, and then to train and support other young women to do the same. … The intended effect is an expanding network of young women in each community who have formally or informally developed their leadership skills. Through this model, the program itself provides a leadership opportunity that is driven by young women, for young women and deeply embedded within the community.32
Ms Jane Alver from the University of Canberra drew attention to that in the Pacific ‘spaces for feminist civil society voices to be heard are shrinking.’33 To rally against this and ‘amplify their voices and pool their resources,’ Ms Alver stated that the We Rise Coalition had been formed.34 This coalition is comprised of Pacific groups associated with the ‘sexual orientation/gender identity movement and the feminist movement.’35

The role of non-government organisations (NGOs)

The UNCTP stated that NGOs assist in ensuring the accountability of governments:
Non-government organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) remain a strategic partner for the United Nations in advancing human rights of women and girls because they play a key role in ensuring the accountability of governments to respect, protect and fulfil human rights commitments.36
NGOs are also involved in direct service provision. Melbourne Children’s Global Health noted that ‘[NGOs] provide primary health care in partnership with governments in the Pacific’ and that these NGOs ‘can reach marginalised young women and vulnerable groups that may not have equitable access to health and education services.’37
Family Planning NSW, for example, operates in nine Pacific island countries and has been ‘implementing gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, disability, and cervical cancer prevention programs.’38 Family Planning NSW stated its work with similar local Pacific island organisations has seen ‘over 14,000 women and girls benefit each year.’39
The PIFS-SPC stated that an ‘emphasis on service provision, driven in part by the gap in government service provision’ means that the other functions, such as accountability, training and advocacy duties, have ‘become secondary.’40
The George Institute and University of New South Wales Australian Human Rights Institute identified that NGOs have been an important accountability mechanism for gathering data on the progress of implementing Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recommendations by governments, stating that:
Each CEDAW review cycle, hundreds of nongovernmental organisations and service providers send submissions and shadow reports on government actions to the CEDAW Committee.41
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) observed that progress may not be possible without unified approaches between ‘upstream’ and ‘grassroots’ organisations:
While there is a role for government services and criminal sanctions to aid the justice response, these will be insufficient to address the problem without ‘upstream’ intervention and buy-in from grassroots organisations and community groups that can provide education, influence social values and challenge traditional thinking about men and women’s roles in society.42
NGOs also described working directly with local groups in the Pacific. In Papua New Guinea, WaterAid Australia is ‘collaborating with the East Sepik Council of Women and the East Sepik Disabled People’s Organisation to improve access to, and control over WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] for women and people with disabilities.’43 WaterAid stated its interviews revealed that:
Women interviewed felt they were excluded from decision-making about WASH services, it documented many reports that women and children were primarily responsible for collecting water and spent labour and time on this task each day and often were subjected to harassment and other forms of violence while completing this task.44

The role of Pacific governments

The UNCTP described the work of Ministries of Education, Youth, Health, National Statistics Offices, and National Human Rights Institutions across Pacific island countries as having exercised the levers they hold for progressing human rights.45
The PIFS-SPC stated that national governments are instrumental in the advancement of women and girls human rights as they are ‘primarily responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights, through national policies, legislation and ratification of international human rights instruments.’46 The PIFS-SPC recognised that:
… there is growing appreciation amongst Pacific Island governments of the importance of human rights and the positive role they can play in helping to achieve sustainable development outcomes.47
The UNCTP identified that governments set the context in which human rights issues are discussed in the region. The UNCTP observed that through the work of Pacific governments, SRHR has come to be treated as a norm:
Ministries of Health across Pacific countries are critical advocates for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as part of universal health coverage. The provision of SRHR services through the Ministries of Health ensures ongoing protection and respect of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. This has ensured the strength of Pacific language on the normative language used in Pacific wide outcomes statements and documents. There is largely consensus across the Pacific of the use of normative language around Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).48
The PIFS-SPC detailed the status of human rights treaties ratification in the Pacific, as at 15 July 202049, and stated that while there had been positive movements, implementation of CEDAW ‘remains a challenge’:
The rate of [Pacific island countries] reporting against treaties has increased significantly in recent years while participation in the Universal Periodic Review process has been positive although implementation of recommendations from the Human Rights Council and treaty bodies remains a challenge, as has the domestication of human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).50
The PIFS-SPC stated ‘in the last 10 years, the majority of Pacific Island governments have adopted domestic violence legislation that provides protection orders to assist those affected by family violence.’51 The PIFS-SPC identified that under-resourcing led to a low level of dissemination of the legislation on the ground:
Despite these legal reforms, implementation and the actualisation of protection remains a stark challenge. In many countries, implementation of domestic violence legislation remains critically under-resourced, resulting in low awareness of the legislation even among those responsible for its implementation.52
The Law Council of Australia noted that while legislative reform had occurred in areas of the Pacific, there is an ‘implementation gap … linked to a lack of capacity in government and judicial institutions, and shortcomings in the standards adhered to by prosecutors and law enforcement officials.’53 The Law Council of Australia further stated that this lack of capacity had a basis in under resourcing:
Insufficient funding, coupled with an increased demand for services, hinders the capacity of courts and tribunals to resolve matters swiftly and fairly, to the detriment of women and children. Due to critical under-resourcing, federal courts and tribunals are under immense and chronic pressure and are struggling to meet demand. The Law Council notes that due to resourcing pressures, many of the members of the judiciary in [Pacific island countries and territories] are expatriates from Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth nations.54
The Committee was advised that the Attorney-General’s Department had worked with law officers in Pacific island countries, through work that:
… has supported the [Pacific Islands Law Officers’ Network Sexual and Gender Based Violence] working group to develop General Principles for Obtaining the Best Evidence from Vulnerable Witnesses to [Sexual and Gender Based Violence] Offences and raise awareness of special measures, such as screens and support in court to protect vulnerable witnesses, including children.55
Femili PNG stated that working in partnership with the public sector in PNG had led to successes. It detailed that at the individual client case level, it brings together ‘the police, the courts, maybe the child welfare officer’ for meetings. At a higher level, it has relationships with the head of agencies.56
Femili PNG also stated that ‘providing resources for the public sector … on a small scale’ is a secondary role played by Femili PNG:
We have a very small resourcing fund, but we will provide practical support for these agencies. It might be toner or paper for the printer, because they just don’t have the budget to print the paper to give you the restraining order. Petrol for the police car is a common one.57
DFAT recognised the value of the SPC as a ‘regional mechanism’, through which Australia, New Zealand, France and the US as foreign aid donors are able to work closely with Pacific nations.58 The PIFS-SPC called for continued investment ‘in regionalism and the regional architecture, namely PIFS and SPC. These organisations are of the Pacific and for the Pacific.’59

National human rights institutions

National human rights institutions were described by the AHRC to generally operate as ‘independent, statutory bodies that play a key role in the implementation of human rights in a country’.60 The UNCTP identified that national human rights institutions operated ‘in Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and Tuvalu.’61 The PIFS-SPC stated that that ‘at least four other [Pacific island countries] are at various stages of assessing whether they should establish NHRIs.’62
The AHRC identified that ‘only Samoa has an “A status”‘ accredited institution.63 The AHRC explained that ‘A status’ accreditation under the United Nations Paris Principles means that the institutions ‘are able to participate independently of their state with the UN Human Rights Council and its mechanisms … [and] also have participation rights to some UN General Assembly bodies.’64
The AHRC elaborated on its advocacy for Pacific governments to establish national human rights institutions:
[National human rights institutions] provide an objective appraisal of human rights in a country and work with government, business and civil society to foster change and the realisation of human rights. … The [AHRC] has long advocated for the establishment of [national human rights institutions] throughout the Pacific and believes that the promotion and protection of human rights in the Pacific would benefit immensely from their establishment.65

National statistics offices

The UNCTP stated:
The strength of evidence in the Pacific of the prevalence of violence against women was a catalyst for significant and strategic investment in the region to end violence against women. The National Statistics Offices then, are central to ensuring the availability of credible data to support advocacy efforts and accountability mechanisms to ensure progress towards fulfilment of women’s human rights.66
The PIFS-SPC stated that ‘most governments rely to some extent on civil society organisations’ as ‘data gatherers and informers when it comes to generating information to guide policy or UN treaty reporting.’67
The UNCTP stated that it was working with National Statistics Offices and civil society organisations to ‘support increased administrative data collection.’68

The role of academia

Submissions were received from Australian researchers undertaking Pacific-related research, including researchers associated with the:
Australian National University;
University of Canberra;
Macquarie University;
University of Melbourne;
University of New South Wales; and the
University of Sydney.
The UNCTP stated that academics have been playing an increasing role in advancing human rights causes:
Academic institutions, including the University of the South Pacific and its growing support towards developing human rights courses, research, and academic papers, play an increasing role in the field of human rights through human rights education, human rights research, dissemination of knowledge, and outreach to other actors including [national human rights institutions] and civil society.69
The UNCTP described the need for ‘for effective partnerships’ between academia, government and other development stakeholders.70 From the Australian Government’s perspective, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research outlined that through its country offices ‘in Fiji and Papua New Guinea,’ it seeks ‘to facilitate links between Australian research organisations and research agencies in developing countries.’71
The ANU Development Policy Centre detailed its partnership with Femili PNG as an ‘innovative model’ where ‘the Development Policy Centre provides institutional and research support, on a pro bono basis, to Femili PNG.’ The Centre detailed that this fostered ‘deep institutional linkages … both from a service delivery point of view and in doing important research and advocacy’ work.72
Mr Stephen Howes, Director, ANU Development Policy Centre also detailed the role of universities to maintain ‘links with our alumni when they go back’73:
In my particular case, we have a partnership with the University of Papua New Guinea, and we have lecturers at UPNG while we're training their future lecturers here in Australia. We have an agenda to that. We recently trained the first female economics lecturer at the University of Papua New Guinea. With that institutional linkage supported by DFAT, we're able to keep those links going.74
Inquiry participants identified research gaps in the evidence base which could be improved upon with further academic investigation. For example, Melbourne Children’s Global Health highlighted that domestic violence programs draw from evidence from ‘high-income settings’ and not specifically ‘low- and middle-income countries’75:
Overall, the evidence for interventions to prevent violence from low- and middle-income countries is limited. Further there is limited evidence for effective prevention strategies for children with disabilities, the [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex] community and other vulnerable groups. However, there is evidence from high-income settings for a number of interventions to prevent violence against women and girls, including those that Australian overseas development assistance has supported.76
Such research gaps may also impact how governments and organisations proceed when implementing initiatives. In relation to adolescent health, Melbourne Children’s Global Health stated that ‘the poor quality of evidence for actions to improve adolescent health’ meant that ‘programs should be piloted and evaluated prior to being scaled-up.’77

The role of diaspora groups

The Pasifika Women’s Alliance, a diaspora network based in Queensland, stated ‘the diaspora represents decades of migration into Australia in search of higher standards of education, health and safety, especially the health and safety of children and women who make up part of the diaspora and represent a huge repository of intellectual resources that can be utilised to develop and enhance the state of Pacific affairs, especially women.’78
The Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) ‘enables citizens from 9 Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste to take up low-skilled and semi-skilled work opportunities in all sectors in rural and regional Australia for up to 3 years.’79
DFAT noted that the PLS currently has 20 per cent female participation rate.80 DFAT stated it intends to focus on creating pathways for work in ‘hospitality, tourism and aged care, which will provide more opportunities for women.’81
The Australian Red Cross stated that ‘the PLS could be strengthened to mitigate negative risks for women and promote their skills development, education and economic opportunities’, and detailed that:
A positive example of skills development through migration was the initiative to train Kiribati nurses in Australia, which helped to build women’s capacity and leadership skills while also contributing to the Government of Kiribati efforts to diversify its remittance base through emigration of skilled people accessing the global nursing market.82
The Pasifika Women’s Alliance stated that ‘we would like to see Pacific women as leaders in our own issues to the extent of co-designing the programs.’83 The Pasifika Women’s Alliance provided an example of the contribution that the Pacific diaspora in Australia has made:
Part of this co-designing is the inclusion of the Australian diaspora through using CSOs, as contact points of Australian government, to contribute meaningfully in providing true context of our state of affairs. For example, through our links with PICQ, we were able to contribute to the 2050 gender strategy organised by the Regional CSO Forum of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.84
The Pasifika Women’s Alliance detailed the assistance that it provides to the diaspora community:
For example, some women are seeking work. We’ve got a newsletter and we basically put all that information together so they know what opportunities are available. Whatever Brisbane City Council is offering in terms of employment training, we make that available. When they come here, we should be tapping into educating them while they’re here and developing them while they’re here—for example, some of the women who are seeking asylum.85
The ANU Development Policy Centre referred to students from Pacific island countries who had studied in Australia and stated that ‘alumni overwhelmingly look back on their time in Australia with great fondness and as a key moment in their lives, so it is an asset we could build on.’86 The ANU Development Policy Centre also stated that ‘DFAT does try to keep in touch with them, and there are various alumni reunion events.’87

The role of men and boys

Some submissions also discussed the involvement of men and boys as being crucial towards advancing the human rights of women and girls in the Pacific islands. The Burnet Institute characterised men and boys as ‘partners and agents of change in changing the gendered drivers of poor health outcomes’ in the Pacific islands.88
The Australian National University (ANU) Law Reform and Social Justice (LRSJ) Research Hub recommended that the Pacific Step-up support ‘advocacy programs which both empower women and educate men to improve human rights, focusing on those which employ the pre-existing religious and customary structures that are familiar to Pacific Island communities.’89 The ANU LRSJ emphasised that:
One reason such programs have been successful is that they are more easily accepted in communities where male heads of religious organisations or customary systems dominate discussions about human rights and those which may use religious texts to justify gender-based violence.90
Cardno suggested that gender equality initiatives should ‘engage with those that are not the “usual suspects.”‘91 Cardno elaborated on the value of diversity in leadership teams:
The Balance of Power leadership team has diverse backgrounds and therefore, diverse networks. The Vanuatu Country Manager, Wilson Toa, is male. Therefore, he is able to have conversations with a range of other men in politics, churches and in traditional and government leadership positions that women would not be able to access given prevalent cultural norms in Vanuatu.92
Reinforcing the need to engage men and boys on changing social norms, Cardno stated:
A study commissioned by [DFAT’s Pacific Women program] found that some initiatives aiming to empower women economically were linked to an increased risk of domestic violence for some participants. Since women’s economic empowerment challenges unequal gender norms, it can lead to men using violence against women to reinforce their power.93
Save the Children referred to research that shows ‘children in the Pacific who were beaten are more likely to become perpetrators of intimate partner violence in adulthood.’94 Further, Save the Children emphasised that preventative strategies aimed at boys and adolescents are seeing results:
New evidence is emerging that shows programs which transform gender norms through working with boys and adolescents are having a measurable impact on reducing violence in the Pacific and around the world. There is now an opportunity for Australia to support these kind of programs to scale. A part of this world will involve preventing violence against children, which is key to ending violence against women.95

Concluding comment

Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021-2031 recognises that that women, peace and security agenda can only be realised in partnership with others.96 Civil society is fundamental to the delivery of services in the Pacific islands that ensure a safe environment for women and girls. These services are deeply embedded into the practical response to domestic, family and sexual violence, ranging from safe shelters, legal aid, to helpline work.
The work of civil society is tireless and demanding. Each group has a role to play, and holds different levers in advancing gender equality in the region. The Committee acknowledges that Australia’s aid program has supported directly, or indirectly, many of these organisations.
NGOs in the Pacific face a conflict in managing their service delivery duties, and the advocacy and accountability functions that civil society organisations are expected to undertake. The Committee heard that some Australian academic institutions have been able to provide support to the advocacy functions of NGOs based in the Pacific.
A message that was repeatedly heard is that long-term progress in women’s rights issues is dependent on building the capacity for women to lead and make decisions for themselves.
Cultural change, however, requires change across all areas of society. An emphasis on ensuring the local leadership of initiatives to advance the rights of women and girls was also presented to the Committee. The Committee heard about the progress that has been achieved by church and faith-based groups, through translating rights-based ideas into the local cultural context through theology.
While Pacific governments face substantial resource constraints, the Committee heard that Pacific governments have executed an essential role in the advancement of the rights of women and girls. For example, the Committee heard that Pacific governments have achieved consensus in the setting of norms, contributing to changes in the way that the role of women and girls is considered.
The Committee also heard about the positive progress that has been made in legislative reform and treaty ratification by Pacific governments in the region. The Committee heard that the opportunities for further progress is in the implementation of this legislative reform, work that will require close partnerships with Pacific governments and civil society organisations on the ground.
Many Pacific islanders come to Australia for education and employment opportunities. The Committee acknowledges DFAT’s evidence that work is being undertaken to target sectors that will increase the rate of women’s participation in the Pacific Labour Scheme.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the tertiary education sector to maintain networks with alumni from Pacific island countries who have studied in Australia, including women and girls.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to focus diplomatic efforts on the implementation of treaties and other legislation aimed at improving the quality of life for women and girls, including political representation and involvement in decision-making.

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to work with Pacific governments on public sector capacity-building work.

  • 1
    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021–2031, p. 54.
  • 2
    DFAT, Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021–2031, p. 29.
  • 3
    Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Submission 23, pp. 5-6.
  • 4
    Law Council of Australia, Submission 32, p. 9.
  • 5
    AHRC, Submission 23, p. 7.
  • 6
    Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and Pacific Community (SPC), Submission 16, Attachment 1, p. 1.
  • 7
    International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Submission 25, p. 3.
  • 8
    Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT), Empowering Women and Girls, December 2015, pp. 87-88, 95, 97.
  • 9
    UN Country Teams in the Pacific (UNCTP), Submission 30, p. 6.
  • 10
    Caritas Oceania, Submission 41, p. 13.
  • 11
    World Vision, Submission 22, p. 8.
  • 12
    Ms Danielle Heinecke, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Operations and Development, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 8.
  • 13
    DFAT, Submission 28, p. 17.
  • 14
    DFAT, Submission 28, p. 17.
  • 15
    Ms Jane Kennedy, Associate Director, International Programs, UnitingWorld, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 13.
  • 16
    Ms Heinecke, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 8.
  • 17
    Ms Heinecke, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 8.
  • 18
    Ms Kennedy, UnitingWorld, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 13.
  • 19
    UnitingWorld, Submission 29, p. 6.
  • 20
    World Vision, Submission 22, p. 6.
  • 21
    Fiji Women’s Fund, and Urgent Action Fund Asia & the Pacific, Submission 10, p. 2.
  • 22
    CARE Australia, Submission 37, p. 3.
  • 23
    Ms Heinecke, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 2.
  • 24
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 9.
  • 25
    Ms Heinecke, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 1.
  • 26
    Ms Heinecke, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 1.
  • 27
    Pasifika Women’s Alliance, Submission 20, p. 2.
  • 28
    Pasifika Women’s Alliance, Submission 20, p. 2.
  • 29
    International Women’s Development Agency, Submission 35, p. 10.
  • 30
    IPPF, Submission 25, p. 3.
  • 31
    Tetra Tech Coffey, Submission 21, p. 4.
  • 32
    YWCA Australia, Submission 24, p. 9.
  • 33
    Ms Jane Alver, Submission 6, p. 1.
  • 34
    Ms Jane Alver, Submission 6, p. 1.
  • 35
    Ms Jane Alver, Submission 6, p. 1.
  • 36
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 5.
  • 37
    Melbourne Children’s Global Health, Submission 27, p. 3.
  • 38
    Family Planning NSW, Submission 5, p. 2.
  • 39
    Family Planning NSW, Submission 5, p. 4.
  • 40
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 7.
  • 41
    The George Institute and University of New South Wales Australia Human Rights Institute, Submission 43, p. 2.
  • 42
    AHRC, Submission 23, p. 7.
  • 43
    WaterAid Australia, Submission 4, p. 2.
  • 44
    WaterAid, Submission 4, p. 2.
  • 45
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 7.
  • 46
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 10.
  • 47
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 2.
  • 48
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 7.
  • 49
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, pp. 3-4.
  • 50
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 2.
  • 51
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 6.
  • 52
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 6.
  • 53
    Law Council of Australia, Submission 32, p. 12.
  • 54
    Law Council of Australia, Submission 32, p. 13.
  • 55
    DFAT, Submission 28: Annex B, p. 39.
  • 56
    Mr Stephen Howes, Director, Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University (ANU); Chair, Femili PNG, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 17.
  • 57
    Mr Howes, ANU Development Policy Centre; Femili PNG, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 17.
  • 58
    Ms Jane Bastin-Sikimeti, Director, Pacific Gender Section, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 7.
  • 59
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 21.
  • 60
    AHRC, Submission 23, p. 8.
  • 61
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 6.
  • 62
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 2.
  • 63
    AHRC, Submission 23, p. 8.
  • 64
    AHRC, Submission 23, p. 3.
  • 65
    AHRC, Submission 23, p. 8.
  • 66
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 7.
  • 67
    PIFS-SPC, Submission 16, p. 8.
  • 68
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 8.
  • 69
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 8.
  • 70
    UNCTP, Submission 30, p. 8.
  • 71
    Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Submission 7, pp. 1-2.
  • 72
    Mr Howes, ANU Development Policy Centre; Femili PNG, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 10.
  • 73
    Mr Howes, ANU Development Policy Centre; Femili PNG, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 18.
  • 74
    Mr Howes, ANU Development Policy Centre; Femili PNG, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 18.
  • 75
    Melbourne Children’s Global Health, Submission 27, p. 4.
  • 76
    Melbourne Children’s Global Health, Submission 27, p. 4.
  • 77
    Melbourne Children’s Global Health, Submission 27, p. 5.
  • 78
    Ms Cassaundra Rangip, Vice-President, Pasifika Women’s Alliance Inc., Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 14.
  • 79
    Australian Government, ‘Frequently Asked Questions - Pacific Labour Mobility’, https://pacificlabourmobility.com.au/about/frequentlyaskedquestions/ , viewed 2 July 2021.
  • 80
    Ms Heinecke, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 4.
  • 81
    Ms Heinecke, DFAT, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 4.
  • 82
    Australian Red Cross, Submission 8, p. 10.
  • 83
    Ms Rangip, Pasifika Women’s Alliance, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 14.
  • 84
    Ms Rangip, Pasifika Women’s Alliance, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 14.
  • 85
    Ms Rangip, Pasifika Women’s Alliance, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 19.
  • 86
    Mr Howes, ANU Development Policy Centre; Femili PNG, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 18.
  • 87
    Mr Howes, ANU Development Policy Centre; Femili PNG, Committee Hansard, Canberra, 18 June 2021, p. 18.
  • 88
    Burnet Institute, Submission 13, p. 8.
  • 89
    Australian National University (ANU) Law Reform and Social Justice Research Hub (LRSJ), Submission 17, p. 3.
  • 90
    ANU LRSJ, Submission 17, p. 3.
  • 91
    Cardno, Submission 12, p. 6.
  • 92
    Cardno, Submission 12, p. 6.
  • 93
    Cardno, Submission 12, p. 6.
  • 94
    Save the Children, Submission 39, p. 6.
  • 95
    Save the Children, Submission 39, p. 6.
  • 96
    DFAT, Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2021–2031, p. 54.

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