The Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) Secretariat has urged the male-dominated Customs administrations in the region to enhance gender diversity in their workplaces, citing the potential for significant social and economic benefits.

OCO Head of Secretariat, Nancy Tati Oraka, who is the first head of the organisation in its 24-year history said, the Pacific covered many of the most gender unequal countries in the world even though there were huge benefits of being gender diverse and equal.

“It is a proven fact that low female labour force participation hinders Pacific organisations in their already challenging search for skills and a productive workforce,” Ms Oraka said.

“It is also a proven fact that companies or organizations that invest in measures to support gender equality see benefits in terms of reduced absenteeism, lower staff turnover, and an easier time in filling vacancies.”

Around 23 representatives of 15 OCO members countries are meeting in Nadi, Fiji for a workshop supported by the Australian Border Force, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and New Zealand Customs Service, that aims to discuss best practices on gender equality and workplace diversity as well as encourage members to establish their own gender equality and workplace diversity strategy, policy, processes and procedures.

New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji, Charlotte Darlow, addressed the participants on the first day of the three-day workshop on Tuesday and reminded participants that while having policies and strategies was important, it was more critical to implement them. She also urged the participants to share experiences and learn from each other to help them devise their gender diversity strategies according to the needs of their organizations.

On the workshop, the participants hear from regional agencies on best practices and standards as well as their gender equality workplan and activities. OCO members also share their gender equality and workplace diversity programs and highlight areas where they need assistance.

One of the presenters, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Principal Strategic Lead- Pacific Women and Girls, Ms Mereseini Rakuita said regional commitments still lacked impact of multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral factors affecting gender equality and the advancement of women and girls across Pacific Island countries.

“This calls for regional action to accelerate the implementation of gender equality commitments,” she said. “It is encouraging that traditionally male-dominated sectors like Customs authorities around the region are having a conversation about gender and workplace diversity. The leadership of regional organisations like OCO is critical in such ventures.”

She also outlined the aims of the SPC’s Gender Equality program which is to reach and serve the most marginalised women and girls in the region.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s Dr Fiona Hukula also updated participants on the Revised Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration that is expected to be presented at the Pacific Forum Leaders meeting in August. The original declaration was made during the Pacific Forum Leaders meeting in 2012 committed to lifting the status of Pacific women and empowering them to be active participants in economic, political and social life.

Participants of the workshop are from Cook Islands, CNMI Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Australia and Fiji.