Making it happen: empowering women and girls across Solomon Islands

An op-ed article from RAMSI Special Coordinator, Ms Justine Braithwaite, to mark International Women’s Day 2015

 

In 1995, 189 countries, including Solomon Islands, agreed under the Beijing Declaration to work towards “equality, development and peace for all women everywhere”. Twenty years on, the world has done much, but still not enough to achieve these goals.

Celebrations to recognise International Women’s Day will take place today in Honiara. This year’s theme is “Empowering women and Girls in Solomon Islands – Making it happen”. This is a call to all of us – men and women – to fight to end gender inequality and recognise women for all they have achieved for Solomon Islands.

Governments need to play a central role in this fight. That is why it is so important that in its recent Policy Statement, the Democratic Coalition for Change Government undertook to “strengthen and support gender equality and eliminate gender violence”. This is a national commitment that must be supported by all stakeholders, be they communities, chiefs, churches, provincial governments, civil society, international organisations and donors.

For our part, RAMSI is working hard to ‘make it happen’. RAMSI Participating Police Force officers work hand-in-hand with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) to help eliminate gender-based and family violence in Solomon Islands.

Solomon Islands, like many other countries, is struggling with disturbingly high rates of gender-based violence. Around two-thirds of women here experience violence first-hand at some point in their lives.

The impact of violence on women’s lives is devastating and affects the well-being of entire communities. It breeds insecurity, contributes to poverty, and adversely impacts on development and the nation’s economic growth.

RAMSI police are providing training, educational tools and logistical support, to help the RSIPF build stronger linkages with communities and to tackle violence within the home. This is core business for the mission, as without stopping gender-based violence, Solomon Islands will not be able to achieve equality, development and peace for all women.

Last week the RSIPF held a National Conference on Family Violence at the RAMSI base. This brought together around 40 participants from all nine provinces. I was fortunate enough to attend several sessions and talk with officers who work on the front line every day in the campaign against violence in the home. Their work is critical. They attend and investigate reports, keep victims and families safe, engage with communities, and hold offenders accountable.

The Hon. Prime Minister Sogavare showed his strong commitment to this issue by taking the time to come and address the conference participants. He made a strong and definitive statement, labelling the rate of family and gender-based violence in Solomon Islands as “sickening”.

Hon. Prime Minister Sogavare rightly pointed out that it is not just a matter for police, and that a “whole of society approach is needed”. It is the responsibility of all of us to do our part to ‘make it happen’, as we must all ensure our homes and communities are safe places. I ask that all Solomon Islanders do what they can to support their police force and put a stop to gender-based violence. As the Hon. Prime Minister put it, we all need to say “Naf Nao”.

Everyday women all around us are improving Solomon Islands society, helping us inch closer to the goal of gender equality. Whether they work in homes, villages, churches, businesses, or government, women in Solomon Islands make vital – and often unrecognised – contributions to our communities.

To show your support for the women of Solomon Islands, wear purple kaleko today. If you’re in Honiara, come along to the National Art Gallery and participate in the program of events organised by the Honiara City Council. And let’s work together to help Solomon Islands achieve its full potential, and promote a strong and peaceful nation that will not tolerate discrimination or violence against women and girls.