Gender in the Pacific

ILO Country Office for Pacific Island Countries is committed to promoting gender equality in the world of work together with our tripartite constituents through The Pacific Action Plan on Decent Work (PAPDW) and The Decent Work Country Programmes.

Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.

The primary goal of the ILO is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Gender equality is a key element in reaching this goal and is a cross-cutting policy driver for all ILO policy outcomes. While women comprise more than half of the labour market yet still continue to face severe problems of discrimination in the Pacific.

The ILO advances gender equality and women’s empowerment in the world of work in cooperation with other UN agencies in the Pacific, particularly through the Joint UN Gender Group. Some of the areas which we cover in our work are:
  • eliminating sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace;
  • promoting women’s empowerment in the labour market;
  • strengthening labour laws to ensure maternity protection
  • assisting vulnerable groups of female workers such as domestic workers.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace is a key issue for the ILO. Over the last decade, the pervasiveness and the cost of sexual harassment, a manifestation of
sex-based discrimination, has become a growing concern at the national and international level.

The ILO defines sexual harassment as a sex-based behaviour that is unwelcome and offensive to its recipient. For sexual harassment to exist these two conditions must be present.

Sexual harassment may take two forms:
  • Quid Pro Quo, when a job benefit - such as a pay rise, a promotion, or even continued employment - is made conditional on the victim acceding to demands to engage in some form of sexual behaviour; or;
  • hostile working environment in which the conduct creates conditions that are intimidating or humiliating for the victim.
In 2014, the ILO commissioned baseline research on sexual harassment in workplaces in the Pacific Island member States. Sexual harassment in the workplace was found to be a problem for a number of reasons, including:
  1. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not widely-recognised as a problem and there is little quantitative research, some evidence suggests that it is in fact prevalent but under-reported.
  2. Very few Pacific Island States have comprehensive sexual harassment in the workplace legislation.
  3. Employers are not legally required to have policies on sexual harassment in the workplace.
  4. Complaint mechanisms for sexual harassment in the workplace, where they exist, are difficult to understand and apply.
The ILO CO-Suva has produced a policy brief to help Pacific Island governments and social partners understand how sexual harassment in the workplace can be tackled. A sample policy on addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, which can be adapted by organizations, has also been developed.

Maternity leave and maternity protection

Raising a family is a cherished goal for many working people. Yet pregnancy and maternity are an especially vulnerable time for working women and their families. Expectant and nursing mothers require special protection to prevent harm to their or their infants' health, and they need adequate time to give birth, to recover, and to nurse their children. At the same time, they also require protection to ensure that they will not lose their job simply because of pregnancy or maternity leave. Such protection not only ensures a woman's equal access to employment, it also ensures the continuation of often vital income which is necessary for the well-being of her entire family.

The ILO works to ensure that Pacific Island countries can incorporate maternity protection into their labour law and social security regimes in line with the principles set out in the Maternity Protection Convention (No.183). Although some Pacific Island countries do provide for modest levels of maternity leave paid for directly by the employer, there are also challenges to establishing the necessary infrastructure to effectively implement paid maternity leave schemes.

Progress is being made. Most countries in the region now have provisions enabling women to take nursing breaks during working time. Discrimination against expectant and new mothers in labour law is being rolled back through modernized labour legislation. And, there is also growing interest in expanded forms of leave to enable paternity leave for fathers and adoption leave for adoptive parents.

More information on maternity protection.

Women’s economic empowerment

In 2012 Pacific Island Leaders agreed on the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration which commits leaders to implementing specific national policy actions to progress gender equality, including to:
  • Remove barriers to women’s employment and participation in the formal and informal sectors, including in relation to legislation that directly or indirectly limits women’s access to employment opportunities or contributes to discriminatory pay and conditions for women.
  • Implement equal employment opportunity and gender equality measures in public sector employment, including State Owned Enterprises and statutory boards, to increase the proportion of women employed, including in senior positions, and advocate for a similar approach in private sector agencies;
  • Improve the facilities and governance of local produce markets, including fair and transparent local regulation and taxation policies, so that market operations increase profitability and efficiency and encourage women’s safe, fair and equal participation in local economies.
  • Target support to women entrepreneurs in the formal and informal sectors, for example financial services, information and training, and review legislation that limits women’s access to finance, assets, land and productive resources.
The ILO is committed to supporting Pacific Island governments and social partners to help empower women, particularly through entrepreneurship and business development.

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Domestic workers

Domestic workers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers. They work for private households, often without clear terms of employment, unregistered in any book, and excluded from the scope of labour legislation.

Although little research has been done on women in the Pacific islands who are working as domestic workers, globally there are at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide, not including child domestic workers, and this number is increasing steadily in developed and developing countries. It remains a highly feminized sector: 83 per cent of all domestic workers are women.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are many women (both migrants and nationals working in their own country) who work as live-in or live-out domestic workers and their work may include tasks such as cleaning the house, cooking, washing and ironing clothes, taking care of children, or elderly or sick members of a family, gardening, guarding the house, driving for the family, and even taking care of household pets.

The ILO is committed to ensuring that the public is aware of their obligations if they engage domestic workers.

For more information see: