Prime Minister, Julia Gillard outlined the program at the Forum summit in Cook Islands before she returned to Canberra following the deaths of five Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Aid agency, CARE Australia a global leader in women's empowerment says the ten year program will help overcome gender inequality in the Pacific which is pervasive, persistent and deep rooted.
Speaker:Dr Julia Newton-Howes, CEO, CARE Australia
NEWTON-HOWES: I think that 320-million over ten years is a very sound investment. It's a significant amount of money and very importantly it's over a long term timeframe, because these issues can't be tackled quickly. It does take a long term investment.
COUTTS: And what will we tackle first, is there a priority list?
NEWTON-HOWES: Well, we've seen a series of things come out of the Prime Minister's office and Ausaid on this and we've been involved in some of the consultations. I don't think there's a road map. Issues that have been nominated are mentoring and supporting for women to enter parliament and hopefully that will also support women at lower levels of government as well, helping women into the economy, helping them in the informal economy and very importantly in the Pacific where there are high levels of gender-based violence, they'll be greater support for women who have been survivors of violence.
COUTTS: Well how will this money actually change that, because there's been a lot of education programs and a lot of organisations all working very hard to overcome the domestic violence and women issues and getting women into parliament. So how will this money change any of that?
NEWTON-HOWES: You know Geraldine, that's a really good point when you say there's been a lot of initiatives already clearly there have, but most of Australia's aid as aid from other countries is negotiated with governments, so when the Australian government agrees with governments in the Pacific or elsewhere, what they'll do. They agree that with governments. We know that Pacific governments have the lowest representation of women anywhere in the world. So what we're doing is negotiated with men on mens' priorities, so issues of gender have never been a major strategic priority for the Australian government in the Pacific.
This initiative looks as though a change will happen and now, womens' voices, womens' priorities, will become a strategic priority for Australian aid in the Pacific and that's a significant change.
COUTTS: And getting attitudes to change as well and that's slowly happening I think, but it also must involve the leaders, the chiefs and the men of the communities?
NEWTON-HOWES: I think that's really important. It's not only about working with women as individuals. It's not only about improving the skills and capacities and capabilities of women. It's incredibly important to change social attitudes and there's many ways of doing that. Obviously women promoting women as role models, successful women in a whole range of different ways, but working with community leaders to challenge harmful, social norms which make it OK. Even many women consider that it's OK for men to hit their wives and so forth, challenging those harmful, social norms must involve changing attitudes of men and of boys, not only working with women.
COUTTS: In the Pacific, they've had difficulty even with positive discrimination programs to get reserved seats for women. Australia, of course, is getting better, but it's taken a lot of time. So is positive discrimination the way to go or are there other programs that women just need to win it on merit, which is what women tend to be saying themselves these days?
NEWTON-HOWES: A lot of women say, hey, we've got to get there on merit, but I'm sorry when you look around at who gets into parliament it's clear that it's not just about merit. So I think the evidence globally is that reserving seats for women will result in women getting elected. Once they've been elected and demonstrated the value that they bring, then it's possible often to take away reserved seats. But initially, the success in getting greater numbers of women in parliament in many, many countries has come through reserving seats and we can see that in the French territories in the Pacific, because in French Polynesia and New Caledonia, because French law from 2000 required women candidates and women in parliament. We now see almost equal representation of men and women in those countries. So clearly, reserving seats, making quotas works and once you have women demonstrating their capacity in these jobs, then you'll find that the electorate will increasingly elect women.