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Women outvote men to build activity hall in the Solomons

David Potten's picture
The soon to be completed women's meeting hall will house various activities to help women develop themselves.

(Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog post)

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.

The Solomon Islands is not known for “gender equity” - women generally play a subordinate role in Melanesian societies, so it was a surprise to find a women’s' project getting top priority. In a region where most people put health posts, schools or water supplies at the top of their lists it was a surprise to find a women’s' meeting hall getting top billing to be implemented under the Rural Development Program – a Solomon Islands Government project supported by the World Bank, Australia, the European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The story behind it was that first the local women had planned together in this village. When the meeting was held to discuss the village's choice of project every woman had come to the meeting and outvoted the men who had wanted one of the more “conventional” projects.

The program’s activities are all governed by majority votes and democracy won. Then, when the whole zone had to review all the competing projects, the committee were so taken by this unusual proposal – coming from a very poor community – that they gave it first priority amongst all the local villages. The women’s community hall was now practically complete and already used for meetings, not only for Buni Village but also for larger meetings with representatives coming to Buni village from other areas.

We had hoped to meet the women’s group in Buni Village but no-one appeared. Our hypothesis was that it was either (i) because we were later than expected or (ii) it was time for the women to be preparing the evening meal for their husbands who would be returning soon from their gardens in the interior of the island or (iii) unlike ourselves they were not going to come out in the pouring rain. It was probably a combination of the three. The rain certainly did not stop the village children returning from school from grouping excitedly around the community hall to see these unexpected visitors.

We returned to the boat for the last leg across the lagoon to Munda. The rain was easing off, and it had just about stopped as we reached the jetty close to our guest house. To my amazement there was a hot water in the shower (solar power does wonderful things) and once we had peeled off our soaked and salty clothes and showered we were ready for Sol-brew beer.

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