26 Nov 2013

New law book expected to speed up progress on gender equality

1:02 pm on 26 November 2013

Pacific Island countries should be better equipped to close gaps in their laws affecting women after the launch of a new law book.

"Human rights lawyer Imrana Jalal wrote Law for Pacific Women 15 years ago and revealed the extent of legal discrimination against women in the region."

Sandra Bernklau of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community says the update will be a good lobbying tool.

SANDRA BERNKLAU: Although it's been written now in 2012, launched in 2013, you can see that it's not a huge volume. There has been enormous progress made in some areas of law in the Pacific, especially around addressing domestic violence, addressing affirmative action in women in leadership. There's been movement there. But there's also been huge gaps - areas such as employment, citizenship, property rights, family law. There hasn't been huge movement. So the book offers policy makers, leaders, womens activists a guideline, a baseline, where are we at right now with how women experience the law in the Pacific?

SALLY ROUND: And how will that help them, going forward into the future?

SB: Because it will give them an idea of where exactly the gaps are. And it's a good lobbying tool. It looks at what laws have progressed, so they may not need to worry about that. But they may need to worry about complementary legislation, for example great progress in domestic violence. But accompanying legislation, such as family law, where you're looking at marriage, divorce, adoption, property, maintenance of children, all of those areas under family law, if you don't have that women would be very reluctant to leave, for example, a violent relationship because their economic security would be at risk. When you don't have equal access to property, housing, it puts women at risk. It gives people an idea of where those gaps are and where they may need to focus their next area of legislative reform.

SR: And where is this being done successfully in the Pacific, where there is complementary legislation that is helping women?

SB: The Fiji Family Law Act was an excellent example of that. And I think other countries are taking things on a step-by-step basis. So they're thinking 'OK, shocking statistics on violence against women, violence in the home, so let's work on domestic violence first. Let's get that right, let's implement that and then let's take the next step'. And then there's also other concerns - employment legislation, maternity leave, sexual harassment in the workplace, all of these are being highlighted. So I think it's very overwhelming for smaller countries - 'Oh, my goodness. We have to work on all of this legislation. This is really over the top'. But they're all making enormous progress and there's huge commitment to progress legislative reform.