The main theme of her address was the central importance of women's economic empowerment and the need for good jobs for women as well as men.
Presenter: Heather Jarvis
Speaker: Imrana Jalal, gender specialist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila
JALAL: Economic empowerment of women of course it's so important globally, but for me in the Pacific it's the single most important determinant of whether women are going to adapt to the new reality. Let's face it, if you don't have money you don't have the capacity to change your life or the lives of your family. So for me economic empowerment is critical, and for that there's got to be jobs. And my question is, where are the jobs? Where are the jobs for men and women but where are the jobs particularly for women, and where are the jobs for the female head of households? What do women do when they can't feed their children, what do women do? That whole notion of in the Pacific there are safety nets that we fall back on and so on, I think that that is becoming less and less a reality. So women need to develop some kind of skills. Now I think there's going to be more and more migration out of the Pacific in search of better jobs, for men but also for women. So governments need to create jobs for people so they don't migrate. We don't want to lose, women go overseas and they never come back, and eventually they take the children with them and they take their husbands with them. Look at the Cook Islands, look how few people there are left here, Cook Islands is a good example of that. Economic empowerment is very key.
JARVIS: And as you say it's not only the creation of jobs, it's the fact that so many jobs are gendered, as you put it, explain what you mean by that?
JALAL: What I mean by gender segregation of the labour market is that so many jobs are only available for men. What I mean by that, what I mean by gender segregation is that there are some jobs which are dominated by men and there are some jobs that are dominated by women. And because of the sticky floors concept, movement is very, very difficult. And women are further disadvantaged because they don't have access to training, they don't have access to skills, they are less qualified than men so there's lesser movement between these various occupations, that's what I mean. And realistically the kind of work that men do that attracts more money and better work conditions. So women are not sufficiently mobile both horizontally and vertically.
JARVIS: And this is happening in a region where in many countries girls are actually outperforming boys at school?
JALAL: That's true, girls are outperforming boys at schools, but this is not translating into better jobs, because when they leave they either leave at high school, they've pulled out, in many cases they get pulled out for early marriage or pregnancy and so on, and they are then stuck with having to care for children and older people, and so they are vulnerable, they're not able to access the labour market, they're burdened by huge care responsibilities. So yes, this is highly problematic for them. They have the greater burden of the care economy, men don't. Men of course share in it, but they don't have the greater burden of the care economy.
JARVIS: I'm going to throw a word at you which a lot of people here and they go oh, what does that mean anyway, 'gender mainstreaming', it's a concept that going's to be thrown around a lot during the next three days. What does it actually mean in practice?
JALAL: What it means to me is that governments must put in place active programs and policies with targets that are time-bound. So what does gender mainstreaming mean? It means that they've got to have pro-active policies which are integrated into national plans, into national budgets, into all the different sectors of government, whether that's health or education or roads or energy or water or whatever, they've got to put policies and programs in there so that women benefit in all of those sectors. And that means having levels and targets.
JARVIS: And just finally this event is also about celebrating the progress that has been made. What do you think there is to celebrate?
JALAL: Well I look around and I think 25 years ago for example the NGO that I was one of the co-founders of, Fiji Women's Rights movement, the work that we had 25 years ago we don't have the same degree of work that we had then. In the sense that we started from a very, very low baseline, not just Fiji Women's Rights movement, but other organisations, other ministries of women. And to see in the last 25 years the incredible progress that has happened, the amounts of constitutions that have equality guaranteed in the constitutions, the amount of countries that have national gender machineries in place, almost every Pacific Island country has a unit or department, a ministry dedicated to woman. So that is an incredible progress. There are a number of countries that have excellent legislation in place. The challenge now is how to implement all those legal frameworks, that is the real challenge. And how to integrate gender into the sectors that are more difficult, like not just law, legal and human rights, but also in the sectors like energy and water and transport, how do we get woman to benefit from those sectors? That's one of the future challenges.