Saving our women and girls
July-September 2017
By: Meg Taylor

Women are one of our greatest assets in the Pacific Islands region. Over the generations, in communities throughout our vast oceanic region, our women have been valued for their vital roles in home and community life, as mothers, wives, caregivers, transmitters of traditional knowledge and as decision makers. Losing our women and girls, who contribute so much to the development of our families, our communities, our broader societies, to a preventable killer in cervical cancer is not only grossly unjust, but it has a material impact on our sustainable development.

We all know women who have been affected by cervical cancer. And despite the medical advances that have been made to combat this disease, in the Pacific we continue to fail our women and girls by not making the required preventive vaccinations available. In our setting, the impact of cervical cancer is felt most acutely in the poorest of our countries and among the poorest women across our countries. Pacific Island leaders have taken up the fight against this disease in my region, as they understand the harm caused by cervical cancer to our women and girls, and their families and communities. In 2015, leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum made a decision to prevent cervical cancer across our region. It was a health as well as moral imperative, given the number of lives at stake and given that the disease is entirely preventable. And this political will to do something has been so crucial to ensuring we make progress against this disease.

Regional approach to a regional concern

The Framework for Pacific Regionalism, endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum leaders in 2014, represents our renewed emphasis and focus on regionalism as a means to achieving our sustainable development goals and aspirations, as these have been expressed through the vision of our leaders for the region. Inclusivity is an underlying principle that drives regionalism in the Pacific. The broad concerns and issues of ordinary citizens, including women and girls, must inform regional priorities that Forum leaders adopt. And the regional solutions to our development challenges in the Pacific must be relevant to people throughout the community and across the region if they are to be meaningful and impactful.

The issue of cervical cancer was identified through a regional public consultation process that has been established under the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. The Specialist Subcommittee on Regionalism, tasked with making recommendations to our leaders regarding issues requiring regional action, referred the issue of cervical cancer to the leaders, noting that the burden that cervical cancer places on the Pacific region is substantial and the current response insufficient. In their advice, they noted that a regional approach, particularly through countries engaging in collective or bulk procurement of cervical cancer vaccines, could make the difference and save the lives of many women and girls. But they noted that such a collective approach would require the political will of Pacific leaders to drive momentum and action in response to this issue. Based on this advice, Forum leaders directed regional agencies to work together.

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