“It’s not only affecting your family, it’s affecting the nation”: Rose Isukana’s journey

September 16, 2014

It’s not surprising that powerful women role models are scarce when only one woman sits in the Solomon Islands 50-seat parliament. Rose Isukana, Treasurer for Women’s Rights Action Movement (WRAM) is working to change this. Rose is passionate about helping her people to see the connections between their everyday lives and their government’s policies and responsibilities.

For in a country where almost two out of three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner, increasing women’s visibility in power structures will help not only transform attitudes but also lobby to resource violence prevention, crisis and response services.

Suzi Chinnery, IWDA Pacific Senior Program Manager talks to Rose about her personal journey.

“In 2009 I was involved in a nationwide study on domestic violence. When we started to disseminate the findings, talking about why women can’t leave [their partners], and the impact of this on children, it made me wonder about the future. Where are we headed if we continue at this rate?”

“I believe in having women in leadership and decision-making. We come from cultures where women don’t raise their voices. You keep quiet even though things are pinching you. But the fact is – it’s not only affecting your family, it’s affecting the nation.”

Rose, along with a group of like-minded friends, founded Women’s Rights Action Movement in August 2012. They believed in the importance of not only holding government to account, but also of educating Solomon Islanders about their rights and current government policies.

But things haven’t always been so simple for Rose. “There are people in my family who say, ‘Oh Rose speaks about politics and she shouldn’t do that,’ but people don’t know that the policies of the day affect their lives. I’m not doing this for me, but for Solomon Islanders.”

WRAM walks a fine line between supporting the government to do its job and speaking out publicly against the government on behalf of Solomon Islanders. So far, the relationship has been mutually rewarding, earning WRAM not only the respect of their peers, but visibility at the table – meaning that they are seen as a knowledgeable authority on many issues.

Rose foresees a major challenge surrounding civic education, particularly when people struggle to see the connections between government policies and their own lives.

“It’s hard, I feel miserable where people don’t see the link or don’t understand. The government will often say, ‘But the communities don’t even know about this issue,’ and that’s where we are going to get stuck.”

Rose believes that a collective approach is best where, “ongoing civic education within rural areas will help keep track of issues. There are little things we can do even though we might be sandwiched in the middle. We push them [the government] but they keep quiet because no one is pushing, unless we come with a list of people behind us.”

Despite the hard work that WRAM puts into promoting women’s rights, recognition for their efforts is low. But that won’t stop Rose and her organisation. They are more determined than ever to bring gender equality to the table. “Here the recognition is hard to get. Then people like you are here and working with us, and it brings confidence to the whole thing, and a sense of knowing you are doing the right thing and it’s all right, keep doing it.”