The 600,000 people of Solomon Islands live on an archipelago of over 900 islands. It ranks 156 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index 2015.LVII
The Solomon Islands Government has shown commitment to promoting gender equality through legal frameworks and policies, including through the Family Protection Act 2014 and Revised National Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Development 2016–2020. However, gaps in the legal frameworks and insufficient capacity and resources to implement actions in the policies are slowing progress.
Since becoming a sovereign state in 1978, only three women have been elected to the national parliamentLVIII, with similarly low representation at sub-national level, in senior positions in government and across the private sector. Research looking at how to improve women’s influence found that factors contributing to women’s successful leadership include scholarships, professional mentoring, civic engagement and involvement with the church and local peace-building efforts.LIX
The Economic Intelligence Unit ranks Solomon Islands 124 out of 128 countries in terms of women’s economic opportunity.LX Domestic responsibilities, vulnerability of working in the informal sector and discrimination in workplaces are challenges for women, alongside limited access to resources and poor health and education outcomes.LXI Women make up over half (56 per cent) of all unpaid workers and only one third (33 per cent) of paid workers.LXII
There are extremely high levels of family violence in Solomon Islands. Approximately two thirds of women experience intimate partner violence and one third of women are sexually abused before the age of 15.LXIII Responses from and coordination between, local and international non-government organisations, churches, women’s groups and government agencies are leading to behaviour change, as well as improved services, for survivors of family and sexual violence.
Project name: Empowering Women is Smart Business
Outcome: Economic empowerment
Project Partner: International Finance Corporation
Total Funding: $2,445,00018
Funding timeframe: 2016–2019
A new network dedicated to professional women in Solomon Islands has the objective of supporting women in their careers.
Women are more likely to be excluded from existing social networks that can help them advance their career. Dedicated women’s networks are an important opportunity for women to plan for business growth, by accessing resources available through an organised network.
The Solomon Islands Professional Women’s Network (SIPNET) is a network for professional women in business in Solomon Islands. SIPNET was formed to support professional women leaders to speak out and coach younger emerging women leaders in business. It is also a space for women to learn new skills, gain valuable insights and receive feedback on business innovation, processes, ideas and more.
SIPNET is a joint initiative of the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the International Finance Corporation’s Pacific Women-funded Empowering Women is Smart Business program. The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, launched SIPNET in December 2016. By the end of July 2017, it had already attracted 54 members. At the launch, Minister Bishop said:
‘one of our main priorities in the aid program is gender equality and gender empowerment … this network is precisely the kind of initiative that we look to support in our aid program.’
The Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was also at the launch and said:
‘the evidence is clear—investing in women is not just the right thing to do; it makes smart business sense as well.’
Initially SIPNET targeted women who are employed in the private sector or in state owned enterprises. However, more women from civil society organisations and the public sector have also taken great interest in the network. Senior women often bring junior women colleagues along to the monthly organised events, giving younger professionals the opportunity to learn and be mentored in leadership and confidence building.
Members meet monthly to hear speakers of interest, develop leadership skills and build supportive personal and professional relationships. As a result, SIPNET has bridged a gap that has long been apparent in the largely male dominated society of Solomon Islands, ensuring women have a safe place to network and grow professionally.
Ms Uta Temahua, Manager of Strategy and Business Planning at Our Telekom, values being part of the network.
‘For me it would be having the venue to congregate and focus on getting down to business without preconceived judgements about my dress, speech, tone of voice, or family life from those around me. An opportunity to connect at a positive level and find mentors who provide alternatives by listening to their experiences.’
Project name: Let’s make our Families Safe
Outcome: Ending violence against women
Project Partner: Oxfam Australia, National Council of Women, Vois Blong Mere Solomon, International Women’s Development Agency, Pacific Leadership Program and IOD PARC
Total Funding: $5,642,461
Funding timeframe: 2014–2018
The ‘Let’s make our Families Safe’ (Safe Families) project is implemented by Oxfam in partnership with the International Women’s Development Agency, the Pacific Leadership Program, as well as local non-government organisations. It mobilises communities and builds coalitions for action to change the social norms, values, attitudes, and beliefs that drive family and sexual violence.
Ms Salome Gelisae is the Safe Families Community Engagement Facilitator for Lilisiana and Siwai villages in Malaita province. She says that as a result of the project, ‘attitudes and mindsets are changing in Lilisiana community’.
Through Safe Families, the Lilisiana community has appointed policing assistants to implement village by-laws developed by the community. Safe Families partnered with the Auki Police Department to deliver training to the policing assistance to help them carry out their roles effectively, as well as to community members. The 30 participants learned about the different types of violence against women and girls, how to prevent it in their community, and the Family Protection Act 2014.
Safe Families is also working directly with families in the village. Ms Gelisae describes the change:
‘One participant had previously struggled to manage her children’s behaviour and often resorted to using violence as a form of punishment.’
Through the Safe Families training conducted by Ms Gelisae, the participant learned that hitting her children was a form of violence and child abuse.
‘The training helped her to develop a loving relationship with her children and thanked Safe Families for bringing the change into her life and that of her family.’
Safe Families is currently working in 39 communities to support change like that occurring in Lilisiana.