Suva, Fiji, 04 March 2021– Oceania Customs Organisation Chairperson, Mr. Salvador Jacob says the Pacific Islands States have benefited enormously from the contribution of women in Customs administrations, who like their male counterparts, are the unsung heroines in their front lines.

“On this 2021 International Day of Women, the OCO and its members pay tribute to all women, and in particular those working in our Customs administrations who are part of the regional effort to keep our borders free of the coronavirus”, Mr. Jacob says. “Of the 14 countries that are still COVID-19 free, 11 are in the Pacific. Our Customs officers are at risk daily when processing incoming travelers and boarding ships that are bringing in cargo and we applaud them for their dedication and hard work at our borders.”

Mr. Jacob adds that most countries in the Pacific are fortunate to continue living relatively normal lives, as before the pandemic, with no restrictions in movement or large gatherings.

“Time has stood still in the Pacific- we may have experienced the economic shocks of the pandemic, but other than that, we have shops, schools, and offices open, and most importantly we can still meet and greet the Pacific way with hugs, kisses and handshakes, without fear of contracting the virus. This is possible because of effective Customs work, some of which is led by women,” Mr. Jacob said.

OCO is releasing a series, Pacific Women in Customs, which is a collection of stories of women nominated by their Customs administrations as part of its celebration of International Women’s Day.

“International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th, but we have chosen to dedicate the month of March to women in Customs,” OCO Head of Secretariat, Mr. Richard Brennan said. “It is part of our efforts to promote gender equality in what is a male-dominated industry and also in recognition of the UN Women theme for International Women’s Day, which is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”

One of the women featured in the Pacific Women in Customs series is Mrs. Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautua’alii, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Revenue and Customs in Samoa and is one of three female heads of Customs in the OCO member countries.

Matafeo Avalisa Viali Fautua’alii, Chief Executive Officer, Samoa Ministry of Customs & Revenue

“All Customs officers must be applauded for their work in keeping our borders safe,” Mrs. Viali-Fautua’alii said. “In many countries, COVID-19 has increased the workload of Customs officers who have also become quarantine officers to ensure incoming travelers are quarantined until they are proven to be free of the virus and allowed into communities. And we especially applaud our women, who have risen up to the challenge and stood by their male colleagues as equal counterparts responding to the call of duty of their nations.” The Pacific Women in Customs series starts on 8 March and can be read on the OCO website

In 2019, the OCO held its inaugural Change Management on Gender Equality workshop, which suggested there should be gender equality in all aspects of OCO’s work program. This suggestion was endorsed at the 2020 OCO Annual Conference. In 2020, OCO member countries were encouraged to celebrate International Women’s Day in their own administrations and to share their activities widely.

“I urge Pacific Islanders to remember and spare a thought for that grandmother, mother, daughter, sister, cousin who is working hard to keep our borders safe. Happy International Women’s Day,” Mr. Brennan urged.

For more information or for any queries, please contact the Secretariat or email:

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