• Strongim Bisnis in Solomon Islands

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Gianluca Nardi reflects on the 16 Days of Activism activities, and the discussions led by a panel of experts.
Gender based violence (GBV), and particularly intimate partner violence, affects two out of every three women in Solomon Islands. The impact is enormous not just on individuals, but families, businesses, communities and the growth of a nation.  The recent Oxfam-Strongim Bisnis study on gender norms revealed that the major barrier for women’s business aspirations is gender-based violence. It affects their ability to move around and between their business, it restricts their access to services, and it limits their voice for decision-making in the household and within the community.

To put a spotlight on the magnitude of gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment in Solomon Islands, Strongim Bisnis used the 16 Days of Activism to spark discussion, spread awareness and encourage action. The events included: panel discussions, parliament pledges, engaging the private sector (Business After 5), collaborating with a local women’s media group, and supporting a local non-profit to educate communities about GBV through drama.

The panel discussion (6 December), hosted by Strongim Bisnis and Oxfam was facilitated by Vois Blong Mere’s Josephine Teakeni and broadcasted by SIBC.  It brought together leading female activists across grassroots organisations and development actors: Dr Alice Pollard (WARA President), Pamela Abana (Anglican Church Mother’s Union President), Pamela Zoloweke (SIWIBA President), Doreen Fernando (Oxfam) and Jemma Malcolm (Australian Government).  The discussion was thought-provoking, with many challenging questions from the audience around women’s rights, traditional approaches and whether savings groups in fact encourage GBV.

How does GBV impact women doing business?
The panel agreed GBV affects every aspect of women’s life, including career development, health, social life and self-esteem, and that violence is not only physical but also psychological and financial. There was a common understanding on the fact that in certain circumstances women’s economic empowerment can trigger GBV, although it’s not among the root causes. The changing economic dynamics in a society evolving at a fast pace have also been identified as a possible trigger of GBV because of the uncertainty and the time poverty that might result in limited quality time and care with children.
Is violence a result of women being economically empowered, or is it preventing women being economically empowered?
Research reveals GBV emerges from unequal gender norms and power dynamics at home and in the communities, and the economic empowerment can trigger the violence because of control over resources. However, WEE can also allow women to be financially independent and therefore leave abusive partners and end cycles of domestic violence. In the same way, a recent study by IWDA showed that women’s saving groups does not cause GBV.

What is the role of men in addressing GBV?
The same IWDA report also suggested that saving groups should be monitored to identify risks, and that men should be involved as a prevention measure. Different models of saving groups exist that promote women’s economic empowerment, some of them exclusively for women (e.g. WARA), some of them working with couples (e.g. World Vision) and each model has specific measures to involve men and prevent GBV.
On a more positive note, while women’s experiences with partners supporting their business are mixed, some of the panelists shared very positive experiences of supportive and caring partners, demonstrating the importance and value of the right attitude from men, as well as some concrete advice for women such as ensuring women sign all paperwork (property and businesses).

What can be done?
A number of organisations in Solomon Islands are already working to prevent GBV and to support survivors of violence, making sure they have access to services. However, a lot still needs to be done to address the root causes. Despite the fact that legal protection exists, mainly through the Family Protection Act, the implementation of the legislation still needs to be improved. Women, especially in rural areas should be made more aware of their rights and provided with access to justice. We need to make sure women, who are need to escape, are getting access to shelter, police and court support to then go to prosecution. The panel also recommended women to put family assets, property and businesses in their name to avoid losing them in the event of separation.

According to SIWIBA, women in business need to be especially supported for them to be able to continue their economic activities despite threats, abuses and violence until they are financially strong enough to leave abusive partners behind. Supporting women in leadership positions, and especially in political positions, is also fundamental as it would have a trickledown effect. With limited budget and resources, more support and focus needs to be on the Ministry for Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs as the main body for driving gender equality. For this reason, women’s economic empowerment needs to go hand in hand with policy solutions to fight GBV. Programs to prevent GBV and support the victims and development programs should promote a consistent package of interventions that address these different aspects including the promotion of women in leadership positions, women’s entrepreneurship, supporting women’s associations and saving clubs. The churches also play a powerful role in advocating key GBV messages within theological/biblical teachings, and church school curriculums. making sure the church school curriculums include these key messages. The bible, as President of the Anglican Church Mother’s Union explains, is for equality.
Final thoughts
Despite the deep roots of GBV, one of the key messages from the panel is that violence is absolutely preventable but that a strong, consistent, collaborative effort from different sectors of the society is necessary, involving both women and men. GBV is an issue involving everybody.

Strongim Bisnis recognises the link between GBV and women’s economic empowerment, and focusses on interventions that support and prevent the many issues raised in the panel discussions.
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Strongim Bisnis is an Australian Government Initiative

Strongim Bisnis is implemented by Adam Smith International


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