There is a lot that development practitioners don’t know about the Pacific Islands. When it comes to the laws of these small island nations scattered throughout the ocean separating Asia and the Americas, most people outside the region know even less. Add the dimension of gender to the mix and you might be met with blank stares.
Geographically, the capital of Solomon Islands, Honiara, is a hilly city, a maze of ridges and valleys.
In front of me, concrete steps descend 30 meters down the face of a ridge, winding their way down in a gravity-defying manner; nothing else stands on the slope, it’s simply too steep.
The steps are part of a system of footpaths that link communities of thousands of people below to the main public road above.
Over the past 60 years as Honiara has developed, so too have informal settlements. These are often located at the bottom of steep valleys without basic services such as roads, water and electricity.
For many, the connection seems strange at first. What do gas and mining have to do with women’s economic and social empowerment, let alone gender-based violence? The reality is that in many extractive industries areas money from extractives flow predominantly to men. This can lead to adverse results: men have more say over how benefits are used; men have more access to related jobs, and the associated increase in available cash allows them to take second wives (which can in many cases cause violence in the home between wives); some men leave their families for jobs in the industry, while some use cash for alcohol or prostitution.
These changes and stresses – also present when the benefits from mining don’t materialize as expected - can increase the risk of family and sexual violence, especially in fragile countries like Papua New Guinea (PNG).
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.
|Watch the video highlighting the report's findings.|
My mother always told me that first impressions are deceptive. Turns out, this is true also when it comes to gender equality.
I lived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, for six years, working in the World Bank’s country office on social development and gender issues. I still recall arriving in Vientiane, the sleepy city by the mighty Mekong river, and being taken by surprise of how empowered women seemed to be. I noticed women driving their motorbikes in the city, female shop owners serving delicious mango and papaya, and women in the latest business suits hurrying back to the office.
In a country where poverty has decreased by 25% since the 1990s, it was easy to get the impression that women are truly enjoying the benefits of development on equal terms with men. The laws are supportive of women as well. These have clear targets in place that promote women’s human development, economic opportunity, and participation.
|The soon to be completed women's meeting hall will house various activities to help women develop themselves.|
While leaving leaving the LoLoMo eco-resort, the rain seemed to carefully time its return for our last leg of the trip. We were heading back towards Munda, and then turned to yet another island to visit the Buni Village Women’s Project. This was project was in its first year of implementation. A large hall, together with rooms for guests, toilets (not standard in the rural Solomons), benches and a large blackboard was almost complete. The local carpenter was busy there in the building, planing wood for tables and benches.
As a junior member of the team who produced the forthcoming East Asia and Pacific companion to the World Development Report 2012 “Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific”, I was excited to present its findings in the Pacific. After spending months reading, writing, reviewing and revising our findings and content, I had a plethora of questions waiting to be answered about the impact of our work: How would our audience receive it? Will our findings, based on painstakingly collected data and research, be adapted to the reality of gender and development in their country? Will they be able to use these reports to continue working toward gender equality in all aspects of life? Will our reports help people, namely women, lead more productive and fulfilling lives?
Last month I went to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji with the rest of the team to share and discuss our findings with members of government, the media, civil society, students and our donor partners.
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This Thursday, March 8, people will be celebrating International Women’s Day all around the world. Vietnam is no exception—there will be numerous events arranged by the Government, donors, mass organizations, NGOs, colleagues, and husbands. But what are we celebrating—and how will we celebrate the event?
Last year I went to a celebration of women’s day here in Vietnam where the women’s male colleagues had written little poems about how beautiful and sexy the women looked and how the men appreciated their beauty and femininity. This was such a new and intriguing way of celebrating Women’s day to me.