Pacific girls raised to feel inferior, United Nations told – but work to boost their rights is underway


A Pacific political leader has told the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) that the region’s girls are raised to feel inferior to boys and men, with culture and custom often invoked to justify discrimination and violence against girls.

“The girl child is, in many countries, typically at the bottom of the hierarchy and socialised to a sense of inferiority,” said The Honorable Willy Telavi, Tuvalu’s Minister for Home Affairs.

One of three Tuvalu Government representatives at CSW, Mr Telavi was delivering a statement on February 28 before several hundred political peers on behalf of Pacific Islands Forum countries.

He said that other factors putting girls at risk included the use of custom, culture and tradition as justifications for discriminatory and violent treatment; early and forced marriage, especially in Melanesia; limited access to education; teenage pregnancy and the consequent impacts on health and education; and social acceptance of violent punishment of children.

“As a consequence,” said Mr Telavi, “the situation of the girl child in the Pacific is characterised by a growing incidence of girl children in child labour, higher health risks, including exposure to HIV and AIDS, continued growing rates of teenage pregnancy, low self-esteem and psychological damage among girls.”

There was increased risk of sexual abuse and “high and growing rates of commercial sexual exploitation of girls.”

The 51st session of CSW, which runs for two weeks every year, is the world’s principal policy-making body on women’s rights. The session at which Mr Telavi spoke featured member states’ progress reports.

In the Pacific, good initiatives to boost the status of girls were underway in partnership with regional, donor and civil society groups, he said. They included an in-depth study of violence against women and children in Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, whose results would feed into policy across the region.

Research was documenting the lives of Pacific women, including those with disabilities, and a proposed study would look at cultural barriers to equality, particularly within indigenous communities.

Basic education and literacy was being boosted by Pacific Islands Forum ministers of education.

However, said Mr Telavi, it was crucial to “actively engage men and boys in efforts to reduce inequalities, including in the everyday life of the family.”

The work of non-governmental organisations earned huge praise. “We commend their untiring efforts at both regional and national level which has contributed to greater awareness, positive changes and empowerment of women and girls.”

He added that Pacific states needed to be aware of emerging issues brought about by globalisation.

These included the impacts of new trade agreements on women, human rights of migrant workers, and the trafficking of women. “There is also concern for the increasing phenomenon of young women and school-aged girls entering the commercial sex trade, particularly to support transient vessels in the fisheries and maritime sectors.”

Understanding and dealing with these issues, said Mr Telavi, required close regional cooperation.