The growing women’s movement in Solomon Islands

November 14, 2016

Women participating in the forum. Photo: Bronwyn Tilbury
Women participating in the forum. Photo: Bronwyn Tilbury

November has been a historical month for the women of Solomon Islands.

Six women’s organisations came together to organise Solomon Islands’ first ever Women’s Forum, organised by and for Solomon Islands women.

These six organisations worked together as Conveners of the Forum for the first time:

  • IWDA partner Women’s Rights Action Movement (WRAM)
  • IWDA partner West Are ’Are Rokotanikeni Association (WARA)
  • Solomon Islands National Council of Women
  • Solomon Islands Young Women’s Christian Association
  • Vois Blong Mere Solomon Islands
  • Young Women’s Parliamentary Group

The Forum was supported through IWDA’s Women’s Action for Voice and Empowerment (WAVE) Program. The Forum’s focus on solidarity and movement building is significant because women’s organisations and civil society more generally have often been characterised as weak and disorganised in Solomon Islands, particularly as ethnic tensions between 1998 and 2003 set the movement back significantly.

The Forum brought together over 65 women of all ages from the nine Provinces of Solomon Islands for a five-day long event, with the aims of fostering solidarity amongst women, jointly identifying and prioritising the key issues faced by women in the country, and strengthening the women’s movement in Solomon Islands.

In opening the Forum, WRAM Board Chair, Anika Kingmele, said “The key objectives of this forum are to establish solidarity among women and girls so it is about all of us coming together, sharing information about our Government policies and guidelines. It is important that whatever information we share and discuss specific to the issues that affect us, must be prioritised to ensure that we can realistically achieve what we want. And that through such engagement such as this forum we can strengthen the women’s movement to advance gender equality in Solomon Islands.”

Pauline Soaki, Director of Women’s Development Division of the Solomon Islands Ministry of Women, Youth, Children & Family Affairs, said of the Forum:

“There’s always been criticism that the NGO’s are weak, civil society is weak, [this Forum] is an opportunity, where strengthening these six women’s NGOs by coming together into a coalition, they can hold us Government accountable for the things we said we would deliver…This is new in the sense that you have the six women’s NGOs collaborating and bringing the women together… I’m quite impressed, I never thought these six NGOs would ever come together.”

Forum participant, Julie Makini from Gizo in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, said “I didn’t know what to expect, this is the first time we’ve had a Forum. The subject matter is things we’ve always talked about separately, but now it’s all coming together…The highlight for me was going through all the different issues, all the issues are the same, never mind the province, they’re the same. All of us realise now that we have to work together to get things done, if all of us come together as a group, there is strength there.

IWDA’s WAVE Program aims to support vital, visible and vocal women’s movements across the Asia Pacific region. Strong, vibrant movements have successfully influenced many of the gains in global women’s rights that we enjoy today. IWDA supports women’s movements because they are the best guarantee of securing and protecting women’s rights, more powerful even than national wealth, progressive political parties, or even the number of women in government.

Of the Women’s Forum Director Soaki, said “these women have very strong voices, very strong experience in their own work around women’s development, around promoting women’s cooperatives and building social capital in their own communities, it’s quite impressive.”

The Solomon Islands Women’s Forum will release its Outcomes Statement in the coming weeks, outlining the recommendations made by the Forum on key women’s rights issues. The Outcomes Statement from the Forum aims to set the agenda for the Solomon Islands women’s movement in the coming years.

We’re really proud to facilitate movement building among such strong, vibrant women, and are excited to see what comes out of the forum.

 

IWDA is committed to supporting women’s movement building activities like the Solomon Islands Women’s Forum. IWDA provides resources, supports the creation of safe spaces for negotiation and trust building, connects women working in different contexts to learn from each other’s experiences, supports women’s groups with design and technical advice, builds an evidence base for the power of women’s movements and provides moral support and encouragement when the movement inevitably faces challenges.

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