Suva, Fiji, 24 February 2022: There is a need to break the bias in Customs in the region and encourage more women in leadership positions, OCO Head of Secretariat, Richard Brennan says.

Of the 23 countries in the OCO membership, only four Customs administrations are led by women.

Women Customs officers during their orientation

“Obviously, we need more gender equality across the workforce and in leadership roles in our Customs administrations,” Mr Brennan says. “Across the region, we recognise talented women are working in all areas of Customs, and OCO is committed to see them grow professionally and lead border security, trade facilitation and revenue collection in the region.”

Mr Brennan’s comments come as 61 women Customs officers from 17 countries participate in the inaugural Pacific Women’s Professional Development Program (PWPDP) aimed at building leadership skills and enhancing Customs networks.

The virtual course, which runs until 11 March, is a partnership between the Australian Border Force, RMIT University and the OCO.

ABF Inspector Michelle Bond reaffirmed: “ABF is committed to actively advance women in Customs.  The PWPDP is all about proactive, innovative, collaborative and inclusive leadership.  Women play an important role in protecting our borders, and I’m excited to be part of this learning journey.’

Phillip Dowler, Director of the RMIT Transnational Security Centre, shared: “If we are not engaging women, we are missing out on 50 per cent of the best people.  Through our international programs over the past two decades, we’ve seen that women’s engagement in law enforcement results in much better outcomes.”

 “This is the largest training for women Customs officers ever undertaken within the OCO membership.  When women lead, we all win,” Mr Brennan says. “We look forward to providing more training opportunities and professional development programs for our women Customs officers.”

 Comments from participants:

 OCO Manager of Operations, Irma Daphney Stone who is also a participant said, “In this fast pace changing world we are fortunate that ABF, OCO and RMIT University in this partnership were able to work together to bring these ladies together. The program is a ground-breaking initiative to online learning for OCO and specially to focus on developing leadership skills for Women in Customs. I am delighted to be part of the experience as together we are stronger.”

 Fabienne Guyonnet of New Caledonia said: The Pacific Women’s Professional Development Program (PWPDP) is a valuable opportunity for me to take time to think about my own leadership journey and how I can improve it. The world is changing and new risks appear with the increase in international movements of goods. Customs organizations will need to be proactive to cope with these new challenges and I hope that this program will help me prepare for the future Pacific Customs landscape.

 Fonoti Talaitupu Lia Taefu of Samoa: “I am truly grateful to be selected for the Pacific Women’s Professional Development Program.  As the head of Customs in Samoa and following almost ten years in a Customs executive role, I believe this is a vital opportunity for me to pause and reflect on my leadership journey thus far.  I had perused through the course objectives and expected outcomes and what instantly came to mind was ‘I still have more to learn about leadership’.  This is what I hope to achieve from the program, to learn more about leadership and how to master the different type of leadership particularly in the new era in technology and staff and clientele behaviors. 

I know for a fact that we may possess more than one style of leadership, and from experience, we use these different leadership types based on the circumstance or issue we face.  I am determined that at the completion of this PWPDP program, I will be an adaptive leader so that I can lead by example and improve on areas in which I fall short of in this subject matter, through learning from the experiences of national, regional and international leaders”.

For more information, queries or interview requests, please email

About OCO: OCO is a grouping of 23 Customs administrations in the Pacific region. It facilitates regional cooperation, information sharing and capacity building of its members with the overall target of supporting economic growth and improved border security in the Pacific.


Share This