News from the Network
Engagement key to empowering Pacific women
Story by Jane Lindhe
"She probably did something to deserve it' is the common response to the reporting of family violence in the Solomon Islands. With devastatingly high levels of family and sexual violence, Maribyrnong City Council visited the Honiara City Council to provide examples of how to empower women in leadership roles and to, in-turn, help to prevent family violence in the Solomon Islands.
Partnering with the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) Pacific through the Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women (FLOW) Program - an initiative set up by the Netherlands Government and Pacific partners, Maribyrnong was selected to work with Honiara City Council in the area of gender equality and violence against women. Whittlesea City Council was also selected by the program to carry out the same program with Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.
'We saw value in approaching this project because we do so much work in this area and we wanted to share our experience,' Maribyrnong Acting Director Community Wellbeing Lynley Dumble said. 'It was also obviously valuable for us to be involved in this because this is an issue affecting so many people.'
In June 2015, Ms Dumble and Project Officer Gender Equity in Sport Luke Ablett spent a week in Honiara working with council on gender equity issues, which followed council's first visit in 2014. Three staff from Honiara City Council and Guadalcanal Provincial Government also spent a week working with Maribyrnong in October 2014.
'Family violence and gender equity has been a key area of focus for Maribyrnong for about a decade,' Ms Dumbe said.
'The statistics on the prevalence of family violence and sexual violence in the Solomon Islands is unclear, with many incidences going unreported and others not formalised, however anecdotal evidence suggests most women experience some type of violence during their lives.'
The introduction of the Solomon Islands Family Violence Act last year has increased awareness of the issues surrounding violence against women.
'Its a very slow process, - with family violence almost accepted in the community - but the Act has changed some of the thinking around the issues,' Ms Dumble said.
A key focus for Maribyrnong in working with Honiara has been the engagement of women in local government, sporting clubs and businesses. Currently there are no women councillors on the Honiara Council with voting rights.
'While more women are playing sport in the Solomon Islands, they are rarely thought of when it comes to the organising or building of sporting clubs,' the former Sydney Football Club player said. 'Involving women in decision-making processes plays a big part in overcoming gender equality. A good example of this is the change rooms, which were so run-down they were basically unusable. So, instead of changing in the facility, the women would change behind some trees on the oval and form a guard around eachother to protect themselves.'
A male architect was engaged to draw up a design for new change rooms, however no women were involved in the process. The result was a male-specific change room with open showers and little privacy - the opposite of what women want in a change room.
Mr Ablett took the plans to some of the women in Honiara who use the facilities and asked them what they needed. 'Partitions or doors between showers, separate cubicles and those kind of things were really simple, practical requests they needed," he said. 'When we too k the plans to the designers, he didn't mind incorporating those things - they just never thought of asking women what they actually needed.'
Ms Dumble said working with Honiara has taught council that family violence and gender inequality are international issues that do not discriminate.
'We may have bigger budgets, more sophisticated technology and better services here, however many of the challenges we face in Australia about changing community attitudes and addressing gender inequality are not dissimilar from the Solomon Islands,' she said.
'But when you strip everything back, there is still a lot of inequality when it comes to women. That is something we all have an interest in working together to improve.'