2nd November 2017
From the High Commissioner’s Desk - Changing Lives from the Markets
This week, after a long drive some 60 km to the north east of Honiara, I visited the beautiful community of New Tenabuti to hand over a solar-powered charging station, lighting and battery kits to the Ghobulonga Women’s Association. The hard work of these wonderful women is benefitting three villages - Gheghede, Ghesa and Ghovu. With solar power, they will save money on kerosene, have lights in the evenings, their children can do homework, and they can spend more time growing and selling fruit and vegetables.
These women, like so many women across Solomon Islands, play a critical role in the national economy. They are responsible for the majority of fresh fruit and vegetable marketing, as growers and sellers of produce and as bulk buyers and retailers. Between 75 and 90 per cent of vendors in Pacific marketplaces are women, and their earnings often make up a significant portion of many low-income households.
Australia is proud to fund the UN Women’s Markets for Change Program in Honiara and Auki, and recently extended to Gizo. Markets for Change works with market vendors and local government to make markets safe, non-discriminatory environments for women (and men). Market vendor associations have been set up in Honiara and Auki, with 339 and 62 members respectively. The program provides financial literacy training and services, training on food handling and hygiene, training for council representatives and market management.
Since March, when I awarded the Honiara and Auki market vendors associations with this year’s Australian High Commissioner’s International Women’s Day Award, they have only grown from strength to strength.
In October, the presidents of the Honiara and Auki market vendors associations represented Solomon Islands at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women in Suva. They shared their personal experiences of success and hardship. And Australia was proud to celebrate International Day of Rural Women in Honiara and Auki alongside the market vendor associations.
Regular readers of my column would know that one of my priorities is to work with the Solomon Islands Government to maximise the benefits of cruise ships. With this in mind, and in partnership with the Western Provincial Government, we have committed to redeveloping the Gizo market to improve the market amenity for market vendors, residents and visiting tourists.
Extending Markets for Change to Gizo will allow the voice of market vendors – who are predominantly women – to have their voice heard in the design and rebuild of the market. This will ensure that women will benefit form a clean, safe and healthy working environment, that meets their needs, and ensure that more Solomon Islanders benefit from the economic advantages of being part of a new marketplace, located at the hub of tourist activity in Gizo.
Thousands of communities in the Pacific region rely on money sent from friends and family who live and work in Australia. Remittances fund essential services like education and health, and can help entrepreneurs establish small businesses and create jobs. These economic links with the region benefit Australia and our industries, and help Pacific Islanders build their skills, experience and savings to improve livelihoods.
The Australian aid program supports price-comparison initiatives like the Send Money Pacific website, and promotes new technologies that enable people in the Pacific, especially women, to access effective financial services. The economic empowerment of women is crucial in developing strong societies and strong economies.
I know Solomon Islands readers will welcome the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s decision last week to join the ANZ and Westpac banks in reducing fees for money sent internationally.