Statement by Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, the Director-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), at the SPC 14th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women. She was speaking at the side event, ‘Women in ocean governance: promises and challenges (What do women bring to the table that enhance effective ocean governance?)’.

Distinguished participants,

Malo e lelei and greetings from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency.

I’m very pleased to be able to share my thoughts on the very important contribution of women to our work, even though I can’t be with you in the room, today.

Cooperation, empowerment, community …

When I think about what women bring to the table, these three words really resonate with me.

For people in the Pacific, these concepts are part of our cultural life. Women especially so, since we’re natural collaborators and often the foundation of community life.

Empowerment is still a journey in progress for women but many of us can point to at least one older woman in our lives who inspired us with their steps towards empowerment.

In my own case, my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all taught me the importance of faith, family and hard work. They also taught me the value of cooperation in making any progress. It is this foundation that has led me to my current role.

At the core of my work is leading the FFA team to facilitate regional cooperation in fisheries management and ensure the sustainable use of our offshore fisheries resources – for the fundamental purpose of maximising benefits for our people. Our people are at the centre of FFA’s work.

The most rewarding part of this work is close collaboration with members – listening and responding appropriately to ensure we jointly deliver what works best for our countries, communities and people.

Fisheries is a key economic driver in the region, with revenues from the sector accounting for over half of government income in several Pacific Island countries.

Nearly 25,000 Pacific Islanders are employed in the sector, so maintaining the largest and best-managed fishery in the world means we support the incomes, jobs, livelihoods and food security for so many of our Pacific people.

And women play a crucial role.

Research indicates that most women are found in processing (small scale and commercial) and marketing for the domestic market.

Of course, while there are many women in the sector, there are also several challenges. Socio-cultural beliefs, family obligations, lack of skills and experience, lack of direct access to credit and finance, and poor market facilities restrict women from participating or participating equally in the industry.

Gender discrimination and pay gaps are still unwelcome realities, often due to outdated attitudes and beliefs about what roles women can play.

Challenging the status quo means creating systems, structures and processes that are wholly inclusive. We need to provide support not just for income-generating activities, but also for advocacy, mobilisation, and participation in decision-making processes.

Pictured in 2019, left to right, are Tepaeru Herrmann, Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration; Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, FFA Director-General; and Pamela Maru, Secretary, Ministry of Marine Resources. Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Cook Islands.

At FFA, we recognise that through our work we can make a substantial contribution to the realisation of a better future for our women, not just in our sector, but by extension to our communities.

We have set ourselves some ambitious goals through our gender equity framework and we’re working to identify and remove barriers to the full participation by women in all aspects of the regional tuna fishery.

Some of the gender initiatives that I am particularly excited about include financial literacy training and our female crewing project. We are committed to upskilling women to have confidence with their finances and are proud to be pioneering efforts to train and put together an entirely female crew.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women is also an area we have been actioning. We are working closely with member countries to determine how the tuna fisheries value chain is being affected and the flow-on effects on women and other groups.

The research findings will inform our efforts to support the sector in recovering from the impacts of COVID, including alleviating the specific impacts on women.

We’ll also be hosting a gender forum later this year to ensure we hear more voices, have more conversations and act on more information.

We know that women in our industry have set their sights on a more enabling present and a more powerful future for themselves, their communities and their countries.

We look forward to contributing to this vision.

Thank you, Malo ‘Aupito