Press Release

Op-ed: 16 Days of Activism

23 November 2023

The author is the Resident Coordinator for United Nations in Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Kiribati. As the designated Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Micronesia, the UN Resident Coordinator guides UN’s engagement in development, humanitarian and peacebuilding activities in five Micronesian countries.


Beginning on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and concluding on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—December 10th, 2023—the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence offer an opportunity for Pacific Island societies to get involved and campaign to reduce and eliminate gender-based violence and inequalities in our communities.

Globally, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. In our Pacific communities, where respect is paramount and family is sacred, we see heartbreakingly and soberingly higher rates of such violence. In 2019, UNFPA reported that nearly 80% of women in Tonga and Samoa, approximately 70% of women in Fiji and the Marshall Islands, and approximately 35% of women in Palau and the FSM will face an instance of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

It does not have to be this way—and indeed it should not be this way.

It is worth considering, and emphasizing too perhaps, that violence is neither preordained nor is it inevitable. Violence is, ultimately, a choice—and so is it also a choice to choose to abstain from violence, to denounce violence, and to take specific action in preventing, and mitigating the effects of, violence.

Violence against women and girls disrupts stability and peace within communities and families, and triggers significant—and often unseen and difficult to measure—costs to societies in terms of justice, productivity, healthcare, education, and social protection. The links between poverty, financial stressors and hardships, and violence against women are well established, with women who are impoverished and facing financial hardship also facing disproportionately higher risks of violence.

If a government’s aim includes to acquire the financial capacity necessary to provide essential services for its citizens, including development opportunities in infrastructure and private sector growth, then governments will appreciate that violence against women and girls harms not only citizens but also a State’s capacity to exist and prosper. It is thus incumbent upon us all, including those of us in government, in civil society, and the private sector, to invest to prevent violence against women and girls.

Which leads to a helpful question: How might one support and invest in women and work to ensure that we leave no one behind?

Research shows that supporting and investing in women’s rights organizations is key to ending violence against women and girls. In this regard, women’s organizations play a vital role in providing services on a local level.

Yet, only 1 percent of gender-focused state aid is directed to these organizations globally. Only 25 percent of countries have systems to track budget allocations for gender equality.

As recently affirmed at the Pacific Islands Forum via the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, Leaders agreed that “We will place emphasis on learning from each other, drawing on scientifically based research and traditional knowledge, as well as promoting human rights, gender equality, and the empowerment of all people.”

A regional commitment to this solution, implemented through robust responses in investment and prevention across sectors such as education, health, and economic development, will do much to show our families—our ‘Aiga, our Vuvale, our Peneinei—that we are collectively one together, that women’s rights are human rights, and that our Blue Pacific Continent demands an unwavering commitment from all who call our islands home that we pledge that every girl, and every woman, can live a life free from violence.

To the Blue Pacific Continent’s citizens: I urge you to share—whether it be through Facebook or Tiktok, or at community centres and meeting houses, how you are taking action during the 16 Days of Activism to prevent violence against women and girls? Do you promote a message of zero tolerance to violence? Do you use your time to engage with grassroots organizations working for a world where women and men have equal rights? Are you questioning gender stereotypes that contribute to a culture of violence against women in online and offline conversations?

To the Governments of the Blue Pacific Continent: we, the Resident Coordinators of the United Nations in the Pacific, encourage you to take action to invest in preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.

Freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all—so let us leave no one behind, and UNITE together in promoting that women’s rights are human rights, and that no person should have to endure violence against their person, their family, or their community.

Jaap van Hierden

Jaap van Hierden

Resident Coordinator Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Kiribati
Mr. van Hierden is the first UN Resident Coordinator (RC) for the North Pacific covering five Micronesian Countries. Among regular RC duties, Mr. van Hierden has been appointed to establish the new UN MCO Micronesia in order to enhance UN’s presence in the Micronesia region.

Mr. van Hierden has over 30 years of experience in international development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding. He has been deployed to countries in conflict and those rising from Least Developed to Upper Middle-Income status. He has also taken on corporate level responsibilities in New York and in Copenhagen, regional level responsibilities in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and country level responsibilities in Sierra Leone, Cambodia and the Philippines. Mr. van Hierden graduated from Wageningen University in 1990 as Agricultural Economist.

The UN Resident Coordinator (RC) leads a UNCT to ensure the coordination, harmonization, and simplification of their support to achieve national development goals. Under the leadership of the RC, the UNCT consults with the governments to define and agree on the UN strategic responses to country development priorities.

UN entities involved in this initiative

United Nations Resident Coordinator Office

Goals we are supporting through this initiative