The Pacific is fertile ground for a self-serving "old boys' club" brand of leadership, a Pacific conference in Auckland was told yesterday.
High levels of corruption, nepotism and cronyism existed, Shamima Ali, the director of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, told a conference run by the Lowy Institute.
She said it was sad that young Pacific people could name few role models. But she told Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, with whom she was sharing a stage, he was a role model in Fiji for the opponents of the coup.
Tuilaepa and Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown boasted that the number of women in leading public service positions had improved in their countries.
But Mr Brown said women had opposed the suggestion of reserved seats for women in the Parliament.
The number of women MPs elected to most Pacific Parliaments is minimal.
Shamima Ali said that traditional power structures made it very hard to question leaders.
"We also have very patriarchal governance structures that often do not allow for questions, opposing views, and inclusiveness of men but more often of women and other vulnerable groups.
"This often provides and is providing a very fertile ground for self-serving, opportunistic and the 'old boys club' brand of leadership."
She called on Foreign Minister Murray McCully to fund organisations that promoted human rights because, for economic development to occur, the rule of law and democratic government had to be in place.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International is hoping to use the Pacific Islands Forum to turn the spotlight on the appalling abuse statistics across the region, and will today release a case study on sexual and gender-based abuse in the Solomon Islands.
The report reveals that 64 per cent of women in the country have been physically or sexually abused, with the problem badly affecting those living in slums.
Many of the women said they were too afraid to lay complaints with the police for fear of their attackers and others said their complaints to police were ignored.
Amnesty said the problem was common across the region, with an average of two out of every three Pacific women experiencing abuse.
Among other staggering figures, Amnesty said 70 per cent of women in Papua New Guinea and 68 per cent of women in Kiribati suffered domestic violence.
Since 2000, 2753 women in Tonga were victims of physical abuse - an average of 23 women a month.
Fiji Women's Crisis Centre reported that 26 per cent of women have been beaten while pregnant.
Nearly one in five Australian women had suffered sexual abuse, and in New Zealand, on average, 14 women, six men and 10 children were killed each year as a result of family violence.