Village life in Solomon Islands is one of abundant self-sufficiency. Villagers eat what they grow in their gardens. The rich soil of the volcanic islands allows for an excess to be grown. Villagers take this excess to market to earn some cash to acquire items that can’t be produced in the village. There is time for work, rest and community celebrations and activities. Often children do not attend school.
But many families and young people are moving to the cities, losing connection with their clans and putting pressure on the availability of food and housing.
Everyone knows her or his place in the village hierarchy, and life is very structured. In comparison to life in Australia, there are a lot of rules governing social behaviour – for example, in how younger people behave with older people and how the sexes interact with each other. The chief makes the decisions for the village and people pay him a great deal of respect. Women often have little say in decision-making.
Some women are very concerned about the consequences of their low status, including their powerlessness in decision-making and the high levels of domestic violence. Let’s meet Miri who is working to improve the status of women in Solomon Islands.
Forestry and environment protection
Miri has trained as a human rights paralegal (partly funded by Australian Aid) and is very concerned about the logging of rainforests by large international companies. Logging is significantly damaging the environment and benefiting the community very little.
In her clan, as is the case across Solomon Islands, it is not acceptable for women to speak in public. Miri is the best educated in her clan and, because she works in the city, she has greater access to information than the rest of her family in the village. When a large meeting was organised in her clan’s area to discuss some proposed logging of the rainforest, Miri attended. Although it went against custom, Miri wanted to speak. The men in her family didn’t want to speak. Miri asked the men for permission to speak and asked their forgiveness for any offence she might cause. Because she showed the men respect, they allowed her to speak.
Miri asked the people at the meeting to consider not only themselves and their children but also their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s children. She told them that any money they received from the logging companies would be spent in a very short time. In addition, while the people present might benefit, their grandchildren would blame them for the ruined environment, the erosion and even for their contribution to climate change.
Some men who wanted to log were very angry with Miri for speaking. However, her father, uncles and brothers were very proud of her. Her father was crying as he told her that he never knew that she was so brave that she could speak in public, and was capable of speaking so convincingly. She had represented the family well.
Little by little women are being permitted to speak in public. In February 2010 a survey conducted by ANU Enterprise showed that over 80% of the population of Solomon Islands think that there should be more women in parliament. Proposed legislation to reserve a number of seats for women was not enacted before the August 2010 elections. Only a small number of women stood for election and none were elected. There is still a long way to go to improve the involvement of women in decision-making.
Step-by-step the women of Solomon Islands are showing that they are capable of doing many things that they had previously been excluded from. Others can see that the culture survives and even thrives with the greater participation of women.