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Alison Ofotalau's blog

What will it take to inspire women’s leadership in the Pacific Islands?

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On gender equality – it is no secret that the Pacific Islands is lagging.

The region is home to some of the world’s highest domestic violence rates. Economic empowerment of women in many countries, particularly in Melanesia, is desperately low. Women lack access to finance, land, jobs and income. In my country, Solomon Islands, there is only one woman in parliament, and there are none in Vanuatu and Federated States of Micronesia – a country which has never yet seen a woman elected.

Welcoming mobile phones and internet to the Solomon Islands

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54 in every 100 Solomon Islander now
has access to some form of modern
telecommunication.

Recently my 10 year old son invited me to be friends with him on Facebook. “Hi mum I’m here too, can we be friends?” was the message I got. I was shocked and worried at the same time, and my initial reaction was fear of the perceived harm social media could do to a person as young as he.
 
We finally agreed that his father would have access to his Facebook account to monitor his online activities until he reaches 18. But the moment he gets or posts something inappropriate, the deal is off. That’s a fair deal, I told myself and interacting through social media could actually enrich my son’s life.
 
What I’m going through is also experienced by other families in the Solomon Islands. It started when mobile phone technology began revolutionizing the lives of ordinary Solomon Islanders in the last five years, when the telecommunications industry was opened for competition. Previously, only business executives and senior government officials owned or had access to mobile phones – a luxury only the rich and the influential would enjoy.

The search for King Solomon's gold continues in his namesake Islands

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The Goldridge Mine pit in Solomon Islands

History records that the first European to come to Solomon Islands, Alvaro De Mendana, in 1568 gave the archipelago its name because he believed this area of the South Pacific was where King Solomon got the gold he used to build the Temple of Jerusalem. The Spaniards did search for gold during their exploration of the islands, but somewhat fruitlessly such that they left and never returned.

Travelling great distances to improve lives of rural Solomon Islands communities

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Map courtesy of Wikipedia through a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Taking development to the outlying provinces of Solomon Islands is not an easy ride. I found this out when going on a site visit to the Rural Development Program (RDP) at the country’s far western province of Choiseul.

At the Northwest region of Choiseul province where the island faces open waters that span to the Micronesian archipelago of the Pacific lies a village called Polo. The Polo community has a primary school that was established in 1957 when Solomon Islands was still a British Protectorate, prior to independence in 1978. Since its inception, the Polo school never had a permanent classroom building until two years ago when through the RDP participatory process, the community identified the school as their main need.

Solomon Islanders enjoying cheaper calls as competition is increased in telecommunications

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Competition in the telecommunications sector in Solomon Islands has officially arrived. bemobile held its launching ceremony on  Aug 31, making it the first competitor to Solomon Telekom (known as “Our Telekom”) effectively ending the previous monopoly. This is the result of the Government’s policy of reforming the telecoms market in Solomon Islands including promoting competition, developing a new legal framework, and setting up a new regulator, the Telecommunications Commission of Solomon Islands (TCSI).