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'In my country a woman’s voice is rarely heard' ~ Dame Meg Taylor

Dame Meg Taylor
Source: RNZ Pacific)

Port Moresby, PNG — Papua New Guinea's Dame Meg Taylor has been an athlete, lawyer, and diplomat as well as the first woman secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) from 2014-2021.

Speaking to RNZ Pacific this week about International Women's Day — today, March 8 — Dame Meg reflected on the progress made and the need for greater participation of women in the public sector in the region.

When asked about work she had done, in relation to addressing the issues that International Women's Day raises, Dame Meg was self-deprecating.

"Well, I should say that I don't think I've done enough at all," she said.

Dame Meg praised the work of Dr Fiona Hukula, who works with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat on gender issues, in particular the Pacific leaders revitalized gender equality declaration.

"So on that side, I felt guilty when [Dr] Fiona approached me and said, 'what did you do about it?' and I had actually done nothing. And I'm being very honest about that. I'm very ashamed of that.

"But I'm very proud of the work that the Forum has done on this broader policy component of the work that the PIF does, and for the region."

Despite the declaration being endorsed by Pacific leaders in Rarotonga in 2023, Dame Meg suggested the real work was yet to come.

"Now it's going to be the tough work of implementation, particularly around the issues of social inclusion for women, economic opportunities, gender equality."

Dame Meg observed that while in some Pacific nations, such as Samoa with its first woman prime minister, women can achieve places of authority, this was not the case in Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia.

"Here we are this day, where we see a lack of serious participation in the public sector, of women in the parliamentary system, or in our political system."

But despite being absent from the public sector and government, women in Papua New Guinea have found success in the private sector.

"The fact that women in the private sector in Papua New Guinea is very, very strong, and particularly at the senior levels of our company and our board."

Dame Meg described the exclusion of women from government [in PNG] as deeply rooted in custom.

"But at the bottom of it all is culture, where what happens in our culture, in my country, patriarchy is bigger than ever. A woman's voice is rarely, rarely heard."

Dame Meg also lamented that women in Micronesia and Melanesia remain at heightened risk from domestic violence, particularly in Papua New Guinea, where she felt that the situation had "gone back in time".

"The issues of the violence against women, the sorcery, violence in my own country. It's disheartening, and it's almost incomprehensible.

"And you look at young women and girls, and just say, what kind of future have we fashioned for them?

"International Women's Day, for me personally, is not one on deeper contemplation of what has gone wrong. And where many of us senior women can really use our voice and energy to kind of strengthen the systems that we have in our country, to make sure that the next generation [is] safe."

While she conceded that some progress had been made, the struggle to ensure the participation and safety of women was an ongoing one.

"I think this kind of work is continuous [until] when the time arrives, where we don't have to keep doing this. I mean that was the whole purpose of International Women's Day — to get focus on issues that we are continually turning over and over again, generation after generation.

"I think that we've got to push harder. I hope that the declaration through PIF really comes out strongly that there's got to be a full stop."

When asked about what women should take forward from International Women's Day, Dame Meg said it was to take an honest look at both the progress made and the serious issues that still need to be addressed.

"I think we have to be honest and not just talk about that. It's wonderful to have International Women's Day and celebrate. I think that in many countries, there's an opportunity to celebrate and I congratulate our sisters all around the world.

"[In the Pacific] I think we're struggling in many aspects of our society, particularly when there is violence in families, and how women are targeted. I don't think the figures have improved in many of the countries where we see this at a heightened level.

"I think we've got to be honest about International Women's Day and say what is it, what are the challenges that we still have? What are the situations in our country?

"But I have great hope in the strength of young women coming through, and the responsibility of us senior women to make sure that that their journey is not a treacherous one."