WOMEN TODAY: TAKING ACTION

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SECRETARIAT OF THE PACIFIC COMMUNITY (SPC) Noumea, New Caledonia Suva, Fiji Islands

NEWS RELEASE March 7, 2000

TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

What can women in the Pacific do to make a difference today? Four young Pacific Island women working at SPC tell us!

In celebration of International Women's Day, a special program has been organized at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). Director-General Lourdes Pangelinan, whose recent appointment made her the first woman leader of a Pacific regional organization, will, in her speech tomorrow, pay tribute to all the women of the region. Emphasizing the work these four women are currently engaged in, she will highlight the policy SPC has put in place to ensure gender equity is firmly rooted in its activities and programs.

During the celebration, guest speaker Ms. Cecile Hillyer, Consul-General of New Zealand to New Caledonia, will bring her unique perspective as a woman and a career diplomat.

So what do these four women say?

Jeannette Walewene, a young Kanak woman from New Caledonia, employed in the SPC Cultural Affairs Programme is herself a good example of the increasing role played by many women in the region's cultural institutions. As a wife and a mother, she thinks that she can be an inspiration to Island women who have a traditional as well as a professional role. She is a testimony to the fact that women can, through their professional status, carry out activities that might be otherwise be closed to them in traditional societies, even though women play a major role in the oral tradition and transmission of traditional knowledge.

Mireille Upigit comes from the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. She works in the HIV/AIDS Section of SPC, providing important information on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases to the public. She sees her role as vital, especially for local women, whom she encourages to visit the office, for information, and condoms, so they go away better informed, and able to protect themselves. "I believe that seeing a local woman from New Caledonia working within the HIV/AIDS & STD Project, in a way reassures these women, who often would not dare go into our offices to ask for information they want to know. I hope that, in future, many more women will put aside their prejudices and feel more comfortable to come and see us."

When 19-year old Catherine Sipa left her job as a receptionist in her home island of Maré in New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands, to attend the SPC Community Education Training Centre (CETC) in Fiji, little did she know that a course elective on community radio would lead her to a work attachment with the Pacific Women's Resource Bureau to develop a community radio project. Catherine is now collaborating with the Women's Citizenship Association of Nouméa and station Radio Djido to air a fortnightly community radio program.

When Selina Vainerere was given the task of redesigning the Pacific Women's Resource Bureau (PWRB) website last year, she did not have a clue about the Internet. Now the young Cook Islander has become an old hand, having completed not just the PWRB website but the Pacific Youth Bureau (PYRB) website as well. Information on the bilingual English/French PWRB site continues to be updated and Selina now has her sights set on a degree in information technology. The PWRB website is at http://www.spc.int/women

Women and development issues

SPC Programme Officers will highlight their activities specifically targeting women's issues in the areas of HIV/AIDS, community fisheries, nutrition, cultural affairs and youth, as well as gender equity as a crosscutting issue.

Official estimates are that almost half of all newly infected HIV/AIDS adults in the world are women and that, in the Pacific, more than a thousand are currently infected. According to AIDS Documentalist Patricia Sheehan, the reality and the facts are that Pacific women who are the very fabric of human life on which families are built, are faced with the full force of the HIV/AIDS issues as it affects their society.

According to Jimaima Schultz, SPC nutritionist, despite many years of nutrition programs in the region, health problems such as obesity, diabetes and other diseases related to changing lifestyles are still escalating alarmingly. She sees that women in their roles as mothers and educators of the very young play a crucial role in getting the message across to the next generation to eat the right food and live a healthy lifestyle.

Fisherwomen in the Pacific are often the main users of the inshore reef areas. Fisheries Development Adviser Lyn Lambeth stresses the need to increase knowledge and awareness of women's fisheries activities, and others' in coastal fishing communities, to achieve sustainable and equitable use of inshore resources.

The number of women playing a leading role in the region's cultural institutions is clearly on the rise, according to SPC Cultural Affairs Adviser Yves Corbel. This is demonstrated through the rising number of women employed in the region's museums and cultural centers and the large attendance by women representing their countries and territories at the recent meeting of the Council of Pacific Arts.

The Youth Development Adviser Tangata Vainerere who has been coordinating the program in collaboration with the staff of the Pacific Women's Resource Bureau urges politicians and development planners to address all issues affecting young women and young mothers, in the areas of training, unemployment and health, but also in specific issues such as violence against women and gender equity.

Gender equity, a commitment and more than just a policy

According to Mick Lloyd, Plant Protection Adviser, SPC programs like the Agriculture Programme are committed to implementing gender equity as a crosscutting issue among all their activities. The gender equity policy within SPC is the result of the work of the Pacific Women's Resource Bureau and has received the full endorsement and support of Director-General Lourdes Pangelinan.

For further information contact:

· Women's Development Adviser Emele Duituturaga: Emeled@spc.int  · AIDS Documentalist Patricia Sheehan: Patricias@spc.int  · Jimaima Schultz, SPC nutritionist: JimaimaS@spc.int  · Fisheries Development Adviser Lyn Lambeth: Lynl@spc.int  · Cultural Affairs Adviser Yves Corbel: Yves@spc.int  · Youth Development Adviser Tangata Vainerere: Tangatav@spc.int  · Mick Lloyd, Plant Protection Adviser: Mickl@spc.int 

Telephone: +687 26-20-00

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