8 Sep 2012

NZ urged to do more for women in Pacific

9:12 am on 8 September 2012

New Zealand is being asked to re-consider the way it delivers aid in the Pacific.

At last week's Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands, Australia announced it would spend some $A320 million over 10 years on the region's women.

The aid focus of the New Zealand Government over the past four years has been on economic development. It has resulted in funding to many women's organisations being cut.

Across the region, about two thirds of women have been assaulted by a partner or family member, the highest number in the world.

Women suffer more health problems, get less education, are less likely to have formal jobs, and only 5% of Pacific parliamentarians are women.

The co-ordinator of the Vanuatu women's centre, Merilyn Tahi, says nothing will improve until gender inequality is addressed.

A women's centre run by Ms Tahi's organisation in Luganville, which had been funded by NZAID since 1995, had its money cut off two months ago.

When asked during the recent Pacific Islands Forum whether New Zealand does enough for Pacific women, Prime Minister John Key said that about $12 million had been spent in the last year in aid programmes focussed on women's issues, including health, education and domestic violence.

"And when it comes to all of our aid programmes, one of the criteria that has to be met is gender equality."

Labour Party foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff says the Government's focus on economic development ignores gender inequality.

Mr Goff says New Zealand needs to ensure the rights of all members of Pacific communities are looked after.

The head of the United Nations agency for women, Michelle Bachelet, says women's situation is very vulnerable and every country needs to do more.