A leading judge and advocate for women's rights has urged Pacific governments to put more effort into ensuring women play a full role in society, saying that a country which doesn't make the most of its women is wasting a valuable resource.
Dame Silvia Cartwright, New Zealand's former Governor-General and an international judge, said that if Pacific countries discovered oil in their countries, "would they let it seep away without recovering it for the benefit of the whole community?
"The same is true of developing and using women's potential. If we let that seep away through inertia, lack of leadership, or adherence to dated traditional practices, we risk the good of the whole community.
She added: "How can we change this unnecessary wastage of a valuable human resource?"
Dame Silvia was speaking in front of more than 120 Pacific ministers, civil servants and representatives of civil society, development and donor bodies at the opening of the 10th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women, which runs until Thursday. It is followed on Friday, June 1, by the Third Ministers Meeting on Women. Both meetings are taking place at SPC headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Among those attending are New Caledonia's Vice-President and Minister for Culture, Women's Affairs and Citizenship, Dewe Gorodey, and women's affairs ministers from American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. A total of 23 of SPC's 26 member states are represented.
Dame Silvia, who is the meeting's chief guest, was the first female judge in both New Zealand's lower and upper courts. She was the country's Governor-General, or Queen's representative, between 2001 and 2006, and is now a member of the Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal.
Between 1993 and 2000, Dame Silvia was a member of the United Nations committee that oversees countries progress against the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has been ratified by all Pacific Island countries and territories except Tonga, Palau and Nauru.
However, some of those countries that had agreed to be bound by CEDAW's guidelines had since done very little, or nothing, to promote equal opportunity between men and women, said Dame Silvia. "Others do not bother to report."
But signing up to CEDAW, she says, "does not mean that your nation has to be the perfect one for women.
"What CEDAW does is to emphasise that women's equality in health, education, political life, in the family and in every sector of public and private life is something to aspire to. It takes constant work, regular review of women's progress and determination to improve their lives."
Governments which take action for equality encourage women everywhere. "We feel we have been heard and that [equality] is not a private battle fought one-by-one, by lonely, desperate women."
Earlier, SPC's Director-General, Solomon Islander Jimmie Rodgers, told delegates that they had "a collective responsibility to help chart the roadmap that will hasten our progress towards the goal of gender equality and equity.
"The decisions we make at this meeting will impact both the current and future generations of Pacific Island people." SPC, 27/05/07.