6 March 2015
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2015
MAKE IT HAPPEN:
WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT IN SOLOMON ISLANDS
HIGH COMMISSIONER ANDREW BYRNE'S SPEECH TO MARK INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY
Honourable John Dean Kuku, Minister for Public Service
Governor of the Central Bank, Denton Rarawa
Permanent Secretaries and heads of government agencies
Colleagues from the diplomatic corps
Representatives of RAMSI
Friends in the business community
Ladies and Gentlemen
The first international women’s day was held in 1911. More than a million people attended rallies to support women’s right to work, to vote, to access education and training, and to hold public office.
Today, International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world. It’s a day when we celebrate the progress that’s been made, but when we also reflect on the challenges that are still before us.
That’s why I wanted to talk today about women’s economic empowerment, in Solomon Islands and around the world. It is a story of achievement – in some areas, very rapid achievement – but also a story about how much more remains to be done.
Women’s economic empowerment – that is, enabling women to have greater control over their economic circumstances – is one of the great opportunities for human advancement in the 21st century.
Over the last 10 years, a growing body of research has shown that the economic empowerment of women is critical not just for individuals, but for communities and countries as well.
The research has shown that strengthening the economic role of women is essential for reducing poverty.
When women are economically empowered, they raise healthier, better educated families. Their countries become more prosperous, too.
Former British Prime Minister, the late Margaret Thatcher – who certainly knew a thing or two about economic empowerment - once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
I suspect Mrs Thatcher would have quite liked this year’s International Women’s Day theme of “make it happen.”
There are certainly many strong and capable women in Solomon Islands who are just making it happen, and I’m honoured to see so many of them here this morning.
But there is still a great deal to be done, not just in Solomon Islands, but also in Australia and in other countries around the world.
In my own country, for example, Australian women working full-time can expect to earn 17 per cent less than a male counterpart. And women are still under-represented on boards, in senior management and in political leadership roles.
As you all know, the challenges are even greater here in Solomon Islands, which ranks very low on the index of Women’s Economic Opportunity [124th out of 128 countries].
Because women work mainly in the informal sector in Solomon Islands, they earn around half the amount that men earn.
Yet it is the women who often shoulder most of the responsibility for school fees, and who put food on the table for families.
So for those interested in the well-being of Solomon Islanders, and in promoting long-term growth and prosperity in this country, we need to find ways to promote women’s economic empowerment.
Australia, as a friend to the people of Solomon Islands, is supporting some important initiatives to promote women’s economic empowerment.
We’ve been at the forefront of efforts to support greater financial inclusion in Solomon Islands. We have worked closely with government institutions and the private sector to help tens of thousands of Solomon Islanders access financial services for the first time.
Australia is also partnering with many savings clubs in Solomon Islands.
The savings club model is proving highly successful in supporting women who have no access to formal banking services. The clubs help women to save money for school fees, health needs and emergencies, as well as setting up small businesses to generate income. They are helping women gain confidence in decision-making, financial management, budgeting and record-keeping.
Through our partnership with Live and Learn, for example, over SBD $1 million has been saved across 19 savings clubs.
Australia is also a proud supporter of the Solomon Islands Women in Business Association, SIWIBA, and one of its flagship initiatives, the Mere’s Market.
SIWIBA’s founders recognised that by engaging in business and income generating activities, women would gain a voice and a new authority to make the important decisions that would affect their lives, and those of their families and communities.
We share SIWIBA’s vision; so in October last year, Australia signed an agreement that guarantees our financial support to SIWIBA for the next three years.
Today, SIWIBA has more than 400 members, most of whom are women who work in the informal sector. It’s wonderful to see many SIWIBA members here today and it was a great honour to attend SIWIBA’s 10th anniversary celebration last week.
Australia is also supporting initiatives to tackle the scourge of family violence. Family violence is so destructive in so many ways, including economically, where it creates barriers to women being full and effective participants in the economy.
No country is immune from this problem; but left unaddressed, family violence will continue to undermine Solomon Islands’ economic prospects for a long time to come.
I was heartened to see Prime Minister Sogavare’s strong message on this subject this week. Addressing the RSIPF’s National Conference on Family Violence, the Prime Minister said that “family violence has a terrible cost on Solomon Islands society, both socially and financially.”
I commend the Prime Minister’s strong leadership and I’m looking forward to working with his government, my good friends at RAMSI and other stakeholders to take forward the implementation of the Family Protection Act in 2015.
Of course, there are other building blocks for women’s economic empowerment, such as education and training, and access to healthcare. Australia is proud to be a partner with the Solomon Islands government in these critical areas as well. And we are also working with the Ministry of Public Service to integrate gender equality considerations across public sector management.
So when I think of the empowerment of women in Solomon Islands, I think about hope and opportunity. As I’ve often said, one of the keys to a more prosperous Solomon Islands will be the empowerment of women.
When women have more control over their lives; more control over their economic circumstances; and can live in safety from violence; Solomon Islands will be a richer place, in every sense.
And the good news is that all those things are achievable. Looking around this room, I see many people who are contributing to the empowerment of women in Solomon Islands; and many women who are not waiting to for someone else to empower them, but are taking control of their own lives.
So I’m very proud to be here with all of you; and to lead a High Commission team that’s doing its part to help empower women in Solomon Islands.