Australia launches initiative to empower women

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, August 30, 2012
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The Australian government Wednesday announced a major initiative to empower women and promote gender equality in the Pacific island states.

In a speech at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Initiative with funding of 320 million AU dollars (330. 78 million U.S. dollars) over 10 years.

The initiative to expand women's leadership and economic and social opportunities in the region would include measures such as:

-- provision of mentoring and training to female members of parliament and candidates to help women influence national and local politics and run in elections;

-- making markets safer places for women to work and providing business training and better access to finance for female vendors, benefiting more than 30,000 female market vendors;

-- helping Pacific women to feel safer in the community, by expanding services for survivors of violence.

The measures to prevent violence against women would include expanded health services, crisis centers and shelters, especially in rural areas.

While helping women sell their produce at market sounded like a small step, it would help drive economic development throughout the region, she said.

The initiative would also provide an information program to help change perceptions about the role of women in Pacific communities.

"Nations thrive when women can participate in politics, business and society as equals," Gillard said.

"At present, women in the Pacific hold just 5 percent of parliamentary seats and account for just one in three people in formal employment."

Violence against women and poor maternal health outcomes persisted in the region, she said.

"Promoting gender equality is about addressing these injustices. It is also a smart economic decision," she said.

Investing in women in the Pacific region would bring dividends to the entire region, including Australia, in terms of stability, prosperity and productivity.

The International Labor Organization estimated that the Asia- Pacific region lost up to 47 billion U.S. dollars annually as a result of women's lack of access to employment opportunities.

Australia's tenure on the United Nations Women Executive Board from next year would further strengthen Australia's commitment to women's empowerment.

PIF Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade thanked Gillard for Australia's "major, major initiative."

The prime ministers of the Cook Islands, Samoa and Papua New Guinea also expressed their appreciation and pledged to work towards greater gender equality in their nations.

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