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

MEDIA RELEASE March 10, 2000


Of all the seven countries of Micronesia, not one has ratified the international Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) - but that could soon change.

Women of Micronesia attending an SPC-organized sub-regional meeting in Tarawa, Kiribati this week have indicated that one of their goals will be to examine their constitutions and support moves from their countries to ratify CEDAW. A total of 169 countries have signed the United Nations convention, described by many as a bill of rights for women.

And the governments of the UK (DIFD) and Canada (CanadaFund) are keen to support a stronger Pacific presence among signatories.

So far, five Pacific countries have ratified the convention - Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Tuvalu. If the host country for the Micronesian sub-regional meeting has its way, Kiribati may be next.

But the road to ratification is paved with problems. Government Prosecutor in the Kiribati Office of the Attorney General, Pole Tebao says one such issue facing Pacific Islands' women is trying to convince their governments that CEDAW is worth endorsing

Speaking during presentations that have explained CEDAW and how it works to the sub-regional meeting, Ms. Tebao said while her office was prepared to support CEDAW ratification by Kiribati, one obstacle was selling the idea to government.

"In a male dominated society, CEDAW is seen as a threat. Even women themselves see it as a threat, because there is a limited understanding of what it is about," she says. She says one way of getting round that problem would be training for the Kiribati National Council of Women, community groups and the media on the convention.

She says there's a need to have the 30 articles of CEDAW translated into I-Kiribati for public consultation long before the process of preparing documents for Cabinet by the Ministry of Environment and Social Development begins.

In the case of Kiribati, where more than half the country's 77,000 inhabitants are women, the government is more likely to have public support for ratification, Ms. Tebao said.

"Once people understand and know what CEDAW is, they can push for ratifying through ministerial secretaries who have the ear of ministers," she said.

She has actively pushed for attention in the Kiribati courts to CEDAW. In a rape case brought by her office last year that resulted in a seven-year jail conviction -- the longest term in the nation's history for the offence -- Ms. Tebao had asked the court to consider doing away with the Common Law rule of Corroboration which requires judges to rely on independent evidence rather than the testimony of women who are complainants in rape cases.

She had asked the court to apply article 15 of CEDAW, which calls on states parties to accord women equality with men before the law, and argued that the rule of Corroboration discriminates against women

"The court did not want to deal with the matter, saying the rape case being used was not a good test case," says Ms. Tebao.

But her passion for the equality of women before the law does not mean CEDAW itself will not escape questioning. Ms. Tebao says if Kiribati ratifies CEDAW it should express reservations on the articles that deal with cultures/traditions and nationality, until it is ready to accept those requirements.

Also speaking to the sub-regional meeting on Kiribati and CEDAW, Kiribati's Legal Rights Training Officer Anne Kautu said constitutional change is important, but that it begins with public awareness of what the convention is all about.

She agrees with the issues raised by Tebao, but says attention must be given to cultural attitudes, "which define domestic violence as a private matter, and as a part of culture."

Ms. Kautu says even if constitutional change comes, it is public education and understanding, which will assist Kiribati in its journey towards ratifying CEDAW.


MEDIA RELEASE March 10, 2000


Women from the seven countries of Micronesia will this weekend close a sub-regional meeting which has put activities for women in their home islands in the spotlight.

Tarawa, Kiribati has for three days been host venue for a joint SPC/Kiribati government initiative to bring together women from Nauru, Palau, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam and the host country.

Delegates have met under the theme "Enhancing Equity and Development Towards 2000 and Beyond," and raised many of the problems they face towards realizing this aim.

Among the issues, the lack of open communication and consultation among different sectors dealing with women in their own countries has been highlighted as a problem. Political instability, the economic reform process -- even women themselves through cultural and traditional attitudes -- have also been noticed as areas that need urgent attention.

Today, the fact that none of the Micronesian countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was also brought to the fore.

RRRT Legal Resource Trainer Wati Seeto gave detailed explanations of the Convention, which has been hailed as a blueprint for the equality of women.

Seeto is attending the sub-regional meeting with support from the governments of the UK (DIFD) and Canada (CanadaFund).

"The question is not what CEDAW can do for you, but what you can do with CEDAW," she told delegates at the sub-regional meeting.

She reminded them that women working for the rights of women had to know their national Constitution, especially in those areas that affect women in their countries.

Ms. Seeto explained that affirmative action legislation that favors women should only do so until they attain equality -- and then that legislation should be phased out.

She detailed how CEDAW also covers cultural practices that discriminate against women -- a section which already attracts hot debate in the region where many countries are still steeped in tradition and place a strong focus on culture.

"No other convention provides for the removal and modification of cultural practices," she said, "but CEDAW recognizes that much of the discrimination which women experience is traced to cultural attitudes, therefore it calls on states parties to remove or modify those practices which discriminate against women."

She added that the Convention does not negate all culture, or advocate that women should oppose their cultural upbringing, but that they should be allowed to challenge cultural practice so that they can retain what protects their rights, and amend what threatens their rights as human beings.

Other aspects of CEDAW, including sex roles and stereotyping, political and public life, nationality, education, employment, and equality in law, marriage and health care, were also discussed during the CEDAW awareness sessions.

The sub-regional meeting closes tomorrow (Saturday, March 11) with delegates adopting a sub-regional agenda which will mirror similar plans of action written up in Melanesia (PNG 98) and Polynesia (Cook Islands 97).



March 11, 2000


Women from the seven nations of Micronesia began their final day of an SPC sub-regional meeting based in Kiribati with three minutes of silence.

The brief but poignant interlude of silent prayer was a mark of respect for victims and families affected by the tragic fire in Tuvalu this week, which claimed the lives of 18 young female students and their dormitory .

The fire and its impact have had a profound affect on the country's relatively small population. As Tuvalu observes a national period of mourning for the mass deaths, SPC Women's Development Advisor Emele Duituturaga had asked that the session observe a few minutes silence and offer prayers for the grieving families.

Ms. Duituturaga said the sudden loss of 18 lives in Tuvalu was a tragedy for all Pacific Islands women, particularly at a time when women have united "to seek and plan to realize the vision of development for the women of this region."

She joined delegates from Nauru, Kiribati, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in extending prayers of compassion, hope and comfort for the people of Tuvalu.



March 11, 2000


From a domestic violence pilot study to the Pacific Plan of Action to future directions for the SPC's Pacific Women's Resource Bureau, a sub-regional meeting in Tarawa this week has helped pinpoint key steps in the party to equitable development for Women of Micronesia.

The Joint SPC/Government of Kiribati sub-regional meeting has brought women from Palau, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia and the host country together in just over three days of talks on priorities for the women of Micronesia.

Countries have discussed the tangled issues and come up with priority areas, ranging from Reproductive and Adolescent Health, Education, Violence Against Women, the rights of Indigenous Women, CEDAW, Culture, and Economic Empowerment.

A common call from countries was for training and capacity building.

The priorities highlighted this week draw on critical areas listed in the 1994 Pacific Plan of Action and a focus on CEDAW, the United Nations Convention for the Discrimination of Elimination Against Women. Both the PPA and CEDAW have been seen as blueprints essential to the progress of Pacific Island women.

But having identified their priorities, the message from this meeting has been put to the women of Micronesia in no uncertain terms: know what the Pacific Platform for Action is all about, and know how CEDAW applies to the legal rights of women in your country.

SPC Women's Development Advisor Emele Duituturaga has called on women throughout the meeting to coordinate their project priorities making the best use possible of in-country resources and regional donor agencies. And while she has made it clear that the SPC Pacific Women's Resource Bureau is able to offer technical support for country priorities, Ms. Duituturaga urged delegates to work to realistic time frames. She says it is impossible for all projects to be completed at the same time, across the seven countries of Micronesia and the other 14 countries served by the PWRB.

Ms. Duituturaga says it is important that women's organizations realize that donor funding is not a bucket of project support. She would like to see more work and resource sharing within and between countries.

The Micronesia sub-regional meeting in Tarawa follows on from similar sub-regional discussions in Polynesia (Cook Islands) in 1998 and in Melanesia (PNG) in 1999.

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