International women’s day 2024 – the enduring challenges of women in Solomon Islands

The International Women’s day (IWD) marks a significant milestone in the global stage which celebrates and recognises the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. The Origin of the International Women’s day dates back to the early 20th century labour movements and it was officially recognized by the United Nations (UN) in 1977.

This year’s International Women’s Day falls on March 8, 2024 which is celebrated globally, regionally and domestically within our shores. The theme for this year’s IWD “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress” which highlights the need to invest more for women to achieve gender equality and progress in various fronts. Not to mention, in addressing the $360 billion deficit in gender-equality measures by 2030.

However, the focus of this article is to highlight some of the current challenges women and girls are still facing in their daily lives in Solomon Islands. We have heard a lot of achievements and progress with respect to women within our shores; however, let us not forget the continuous and unresolved challenges which our young women and mothers experienced.

Education: It is encouraging to see the growing number of women and girls being enrolled in education institutions to pursue their primary, secondary and tertiary level education. In addition, with the assistance of bilateral partners such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China lending their support through scholarships encourages more women gives an opportunity for women and girls in Solomon Islands to pursue their education domestically and internationally. However, there is still more work to be done, with the high rate of school fees across the country, more women and girls are left out from the education system making it an issue that needs continuous improvement. Solomon Islands National University is easing that issue by introducing New Fee Payment Policy earlier this year which is paving way for access to education for women.

Health: The health sector of the Solomon Islands is another issue of concern for women in which the leading cause of cancer death for women is cervical. The lack of readily available mammography equipment makes it challenging for early detection and effective diagnosis. This calls for comprehensive screening and treatment strategies such as a national cervical screening programme.

In addition, despite seeing improvements, the maternal mortality rate in the Solomon Islands still remains high. The high rate of maternal mortality rate highlights the dangers women are facing during childbirth within the Solomon Islands.

Moreover the unmet need for family planning is also another pressing issue which our women are currently facing in the country. A 2023 report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that 23 percent of women in the Solomon Islands have an unmet need for family planning which often leads to avoidable pregnancies and also the risk for increased complications.

To add on, Gender based violence is still currently high in the Solomon Islands which women have experienced physical and or sexual violence from their intimate partner in their lifetime. As a result of such gender related incidence, women are severely affected both physically and mentally which further impacts their wellbeing. The number of high rape cases to women and young girls which we heard in the courtrooms outcries the vulnerability of our women and girls.

There are plenty more health-related issues affecting our women and girls, however, with some of the issues mentioned, more focus needs to be on heavy investments in healthcare infrastructure, education through means of awareness and community outreach programmes.

Politics: Whilst we have seen a growing number of women in Parliament and provincial assemblies, there still is a low representation of women within the political landscape in the Solomon Islands. This underrepresentation deems women voices in crucial decision making process.  Cultural barriers is another contributing to such situation, as deep rooted cultural norms tend to view leadership as a role for me discouraging women from entering into politics limiting their support from their respective communities. These ongoing challenges requires multifaceted solutions not limited to promotion of legal and policy frameworks to support equal opportunities for women participation in political processes, shifting of cultural attitudes through more awareness campaigns and community engagement initiatives and also to encourage political parties to adopt gender quotas to support women candidates

Economic empowerment: It is encouraging to see that women are actively taking part in the economic growth of Solomon Islands. There are a growing number of women also in our corporate sectors and various industries which paves a brighter future for women to undertake roles and responsibilities once performed by men only.

The recent PALM scheme had encouraged more women and girls to work overseas in various sectors which also indicated their contribution to the national economy of Solomon Islands through remittances which not only improves the national economy, but also their own livelihoods not limited to improving their standard of living only, but also for their families.

However, it seemed observable that more women are still under the informal sector which characterises an economy of low wages, limited job security and lack or no benefits.  Some have to go to the extent to have double jobs to sustain their living especially within Honiara to counter the high cost of living.

Moreover, cultural and legal barriers are some of the common factors which also hinder women’s access to land and financial resources which close opportunities for entrepreneurial endeavours for women.

The high unemployment rate in the Solomon Islands also left more women and girls from the formal sector which does not encourage economic contribution by women in the Solomon Islands. Therefore, more emphasis should be put into women’s access to financial resources which specifically target women-led business, also to invest heavily on skills development and training which is slowly growing in the country, addressing the gender bias within our institutions and leveraging technology and innovation for women.

Climate change: Women and girls in our rural communities across the country are now encountering some of the worse impacts of climate change within their respective communities. From increased food and water insecurity from the impact of logging activities, vulnerability to natural disaster and unequal access to resources, women are still finding it difficult to adapt or counter such situations which raise suggestions for women led initiative which focuses on climate-smart agriculture, water management and disaster preparedness.  Not to mention to bring a space for more women participation in decision making process related to climate change and investing in programs that empower women through education on climate resilient practices.

The inaccessibility of fresh water source for our rural women is also a pressing issue which adds on to the heavy burdens which our women and girls continuously face to walk longer distances to fetch fresh water for cooking and drinking.

Digital: The growing digital landscape also poses some challenges for women and girls in accessing and utilising technology effectively. Some of the current challenges we women still face are the limited access to technology due to high cost of devices, connectivity and data plans particularly for women in rural communities or low income households. This restricts their ability to utilize internet for education, communication, or economic activities. Not to mention the digital literacy gap hinders their ability to participate and engage in e-commerce and online learning. Online harassments, cyberbullying are to name a few of such of the issues our women also faced in the digital sphere.

Such issues within the digital sphere require solution as to bridging the affordability gap, promoting digital literacy and ensuring online safety through online safety measures and learning.

Investing in women is not just morally imperative, but strategically crucial. By addressing the existing challenges and fostering an enabling environment, Solomon Islands can truly accelerate progress towards a future where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive.

While progress is seen, numerous challenges persist for women in Solomon Islands, hindering their participation in various spheres. Investing in women through education, economic empowerment, political inclusion, climate-resilient solutions, and digital access is crucial to accelerate progress and unlock a brighter future for all in the Solomon Islands.

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