Pacific corrections women take action on equality

Female Correctional Officers from across the Pacific have come together in Solomon Islands to discuss the push for greater gender equity in corrections.

Women from Correctional Services Solomon Islands (CSSI) were joined by their counterparts from 11 Pacific nations, including Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu as part of the first Pacific Islands Regional Correctional Women’s Conference.

The conference, with the theme Breaking Barriers and Promoting Positive Changes, was the first of its kind in the Pacific. It saw women from across the region discussing a range of issues affecting female correctional officers in the Pacific.

Women make up an estimated to make up approximately 12% of the corrections workforce, and the conference provided participants from the 11 participating countries with the chance to benchmark their work against other services from the Pacific, and to share their experiences with their counterparts from throughout the region.

The result of the five-day conference is an impressive Action Plan, which will see female correctional officers working towards a range of gender improvements. The Action Plan includes increasing women’s representation in the Pacific correctional workforce to 15% by the end of 2012, and a range of measures to eliminate barriers to women’s promotion to senior management roles.

Co-funded by the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI, the conference was an initiative of the CSSI Women’s Network, which since its establishment in 2008, has grown into a strong promoter the interests of women in the CSSI workforce.

CSSI officer and conference participant Needy Topue said meeting her counterparts from across the Pacific was a special experience.

“Meeting fellow female officers – women in the same roles as us – has helped me learn a lot, it taught me that many of our issues are the same, all through the Pacific,” Ms Topue said.

Her colleague Catherine Kere, a CSSI officer for over 17 years, said the conference had given her a new perspective on her work and her country.

“The week has given me confidence, it has made me proud to be one of the countries that are leading the Pacific. We are breaking many gender barriers.”

RAMSI Development Coordinator Jane Lake said at the conference’s closing event that gender equity was not only vital to improving the lives of women across the Pacific, it also made business sense.

“The International Labor Organisation estimates that the Asia-Pacific region is losing up to US$47 billion annually because of women’s limited access to employment opportunities. …That is a significant loss of income and development potential, simply because women are excluded from opportunities.”

Ms Lake congratulated the women from across the Pacific who had come together for the conference, saying it was a great reflection on their drive for equity.

“While your focus this week has been on sharing your experiences in correctional services and developing an action plan for change, you are all an example and inspiration for Pacific women everywhere.”

RAMSI has provided support to CSSI since 2003, through the RAMSI Law and Justice program.