Good afternoon everyone. I am thrilled to be here today at the fifth Papua New Guinea Women’s Forum. I would like to begin by thanking Ambassador Ebert-Gray for your continued leadership in this space and by acknowledging the women of Papua New Guinea who are here in full-force today and who work tirelessly to improve the rights and status of women and girls every day.
I would especially like to acknowledge Papua New Guinea’s Veronica Simogun, whose work to protect women from gender-based violence became known worldwide when she won the 2017 Department of State’s International Women of Courage Award. We recognize there have been outstanding women nominated every year from PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and we salute all these courageous women.
For those of you who don’t know, I previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy here in Papua New Guinea. During my years in this position, I was continually impressed and inspired by the women activists, community leaders, civil servants, and entrepreneurs I encountered, and I am so happy to be back for this year’s Forum, and pleased to see so many familiar faces in the audience.
This Forum is a powerful space for the women of Papua New Guinea and the surrounding region, as well as for those of us who consider ourselves to be your allies in the cause to advance the social, economic, and political status and rights of women and girls.
The theme of this year’s Forum is ‘Empowering through Partnership’ and the United States is proud to be a committed and long-standing partner for advancing the cause of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Papua New Guinea.
Women’s economic empowerment, the focus of today’s sessions, is a priority for the United States. We firmly believe that when women are empowered economically, there is greater economic prosperity and stability around the world, and all members of society stand to gain. Women’s participation in the economy serves as an important driver of global economic growth, job creation, and economic prosperity.
Countries cannot succeed if women are excluded nor when they continue to face barriers that hold them back from fully participating at all aspects and levels of economic life.
We know this to be true because studies have shown time and time again that when women are economically empowered, they reinvest in the needs of their communities and their families, creating a more stable and prosperous environment. Yet,despite the evidence, women continue to face major challenges when entering and participating in the workforce. From increasing access to capital to improving opportunities for participation in the workforce, and providing capacity building and skills training – there is much still to be done. The United States fully supports these efforts and earlier this year we launched the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), the first ever whole-of-government approach to global women’s economic empowerment. This Initiative aims to economically empower 50 million women in the developing world by 2025 through three key pillars: (1) Women Prospering in the Workforce; (2) Women Succeeding as Entrepreneurs; and (3) Women Enabled in the Economy.
To promote women’s economic empowerment here in Papua New Guinea, and in line with the W-GDP initiative, the United States supports the Women’s Business Resource Center in partnership with Australia.
This center is celebrating almost three years of ground-breaking work and has empowered more than one thousand women by strengthening their leadership skills and deepening their knowledge on business, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement topics. The United States is pleased to maintain its support for the WBRC and the services it provides to women in Papua New Guinea.
The United States also supports the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs in partnership with Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, and the Pacifika Women Network. This program provides Papua New Guinean women the opportunity to learn business fundamentals, including creating business plans and raising capital, with the goal of building a better future for their families and communities.
We are proud to support such exciting and innovative work to encourage women’s economic empowerment here in Papua New Guinea.
However, we can’t talk about women’s economic empowerment without also raising the issue of gender-based violence. We know that this is a serious issue here in Papua New Guinea and that gender-based violence, whether it occurs in the home or in the workplace, can hinder women’s economic empowerment.
The United States works with governments, international organizations, members of the private sector, and civil society groups to promote and advocate for women’s rights in and outside of the workplace across the globe in order to end gender-based violence and harassment, including right here in Papua New Guinea.
Experiencing physical or sexual violence or harassment in the workplace can discourage and impede women’s economic engagement in their communities. In turn, women who experience gender-based violence in their homes or relationships may miss days of work and struggle to maintain a steady source of income. In 2016, the UN estimated the global cost of violence against women to be US $1.5 trillion, the equivalent of approximately two percent of the global GDP.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their families without the fear of being harassed or assaulted. Addressing deeply entrenched social norms is critical to advancing women’s participation in the economy and overcoming the barriers that hold them back.
This is why our efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment must also address the social and cultural norms that inhibit their economic participation in the first place. Similarly, we must also address the cultural barriers that prevent girls from receiving the education they need to participate in the economy of tomorrow. These include domestic violence, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation and cutting.
I encourage you all to focus your efforts not only on individual women, but also on their families, households, and entire communities to establish a supportive and enabling environment for the achievement of full economic empowerment.
I will close here by saying that although this work is not easy, it is critical and it is worth it. Women have a key role to play in the future and prosperity of Papua New Guinea and as we have seen time and time again, when women do better, families do better, communities do better, and countries do better.
I again commend each one of you for your efforts and reiterate that the United States is, and will continue to be, your partner to advance the social, economic, and political status of women and girls in Papua New Guinea.