10 March 2017
From the High Commissioner’s Desk – International Women’s Day
This week marked my first International Women’s Day as Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands.
I had the privilege of marching through Honiara alongside colleagues, Solomon Islands Government, private sector representatives, civil society, development partners and men and women as part of the annual International Women’s Day parade. I was also honored to be able to speak at the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s International Women’s Day business breakfast.
Advancing gender equality is central to the continued growth and development of Solomon Islands. A nation simply cannot advance if half its population is excluded from leadership and economic opportunities.
I am continually struck by the important contribution made by women in Solomon Islands as leaders, whether that be in their communities, families, churches, workplaces or any other part of their lives.
I was proud to do my part to recognise this contribution, by awarding the annual Australian High Commissioner’s International Women’s Day award. This year, the award was given to the Honiara and Auki Market Vendors Associations, for their leadership and inclusive decision-making for market vendors in Solomon Islands.
However, there is much more work to do. We continue to see high rates of violence against women, limited women’s economic empowerment, and few women in leadership and decision-making positions.
Gender inequality is a complex issue, and there are no simple solutions. Changing attitudes and behaviours, facilitating a more open and inclusive environment, building support networks and equipping women with the skills they need will all take resources and time.
With this in mind, Australia has invested heavily in gender equality to date in Solomon Islands. For example, last year we launched a new initiative with the International Finance Corporation to break down barriers to women’s employment within the formal sector. The launch of a Professional Women’s Network – the first of its kind in Solomon Islands – is one of the core outcomes of this investment.
This year, we will be going a step further to assist Solomon Islands women to strengthen their leadership skills. On International Women’s Day, I was pleased to announce that we will be supporting the provision of formal leadership and management training for Solomon Islands women working for government and civil society in 2017 and 2018. The training will equip these women with the skills and expertise they need to advance their careers.
Of course, we could not progress these issues externally without also looking at what we can do to foster gender equality internally.
We were honored recently to have Frances Adamson, the first female Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade visit Solomon Islands. Secretary Adamson is a strong champion of gender equality, particularly women’s leadership and decision-making.
I too have committed to taking a number of steps to advance gender equality within my own organisation. This includes supporting female staff to attain their driver’s licenses, ensuring a nursing room for working mothers is included in plans to refurbish the Australian High Commission Chancery, and implementing our recently developed Family Violence Policy.
It is important to note that gender equality is not an issue Solomon Islands faces alone – Australia still has a number of its own challenges to work through. However, I hope that together we can keep working steadily towards lasting and meaningful change.