Lena's story as she struggles to meet the rise in the cost of living

Lena is a 34-year-old woman who is struggling to make ends meet with her three children, 15-year-old Jessica, 13-year-old Mary and nine-year-old Sammy.  Living on the outskirts of Honiara, in Solomon Islands, Lena has been the sole bread winner in her family after her husband left her for another woman.

“It has been seven years since my husband left me to live with his de-facto wife. Ever since he left he has not supported me or the children in any way and gives nothing to support their welfare and education,” Lena says with a shaking voice.

Her only source of income is the vegetables that she plants in her village and sells at the market place.

“I plant watermelon, cabbage, kumala and cassava and I sell this produce at the market on a weekly basis. The money that I earn from here is used on my children’s education needs and also for our day to day survival,” she says.

The impact of the global economic crisis may still not have been fully felt in the Pacific. Life could get a lot harder for Lena and hundreds of others like her who sell produce at the market in order to meet their daily needs. Women who are most often tasked with selling produce may find it even more difficult to get their products to market. Likewise, there may not be enough buyers because those working in the formal sector, such as teachers and health workers, may not have an increase to their salary to help them afford the rise in the cost of goods and services.

Lena remembers rather fondly, when her husband used to support them and how she used to have to rely on him mostly to look after the expenses in their household. 

“I pay for everything now at home. From the water and electricity bill, to taking my kids to either the general and private doctors on some occasions and even to sending my children to school.”

She says that with school now approaching, she has had to budget for Solomon Islands $1000 (US$126) for her two older girls and $400 (US$50) for her son.

“My older daughter’s skirt for her school uniform alone costs $115 (US$15) and the top costs $100 (US$12). That alone is every expensive for me. Added to this, I have to also provide bags, shoes and stationary items for all my three children. Then the prices of goods from the shops are now becoming so expensive too. It is not like before when things were cheaper to buy, especially like kerosene and basic food stuff like sugar, rice and flour,” Lena says.

Governments of the Pacific need to take heed of the challenges facing Lena and many other women, and ensure that there are sound social protection policies to cushion the effects of the crisis.

The Prime Minister for Solomon Islands, Hon Derek Sikua in an interview with Radio Australia said: “The global economic recession is affecting as you know all forum island countries including Solomon Islands and we are experiencing lower economic growth, a bleaker macro economic outlook and falling government revenues as well as increased poverty amongst our people.”

“In terms of how my Government is responding to the economic crisis is that we have cut down on our expenditures substantially by implementing a 35 percent reservation across all expenditure other than the payroll and essential services, like education and health. There is also a freeze in our public service recruitments, a reprioritizing of capital projects in the development budget where we are hoping to try and save around 100 million Solomon dollars as well as looking at introducing new revenue measures, especially on taxes to do with alcohol and tobacco.”

Lena also volunteers her time to helping an organization that empowers women so they can contribute to national development. She hopes that one day she will be able to get out of this situation and be able to afford a decent life for her and her three children.

How to protect the most vulnerable is one of the many reasons why the Pacific Conference on the Human Face of the Global Economic is being organized for over 200 delegates representatives from Government, civil society, private sector and youths in Port Vila, Vanuatu on 10-12 February, 2010.

The three day conference will focus on three broad themes: addressing hardships faced by women, children and other vulnerable groups; finding ways to enable Pacific governments to respond in creative and sustainable ways to the crisis; and promoting green growth and social safety nets. The Outcomes from this Conference will be presented to the Pacific Leaders Forum meeting later this year.

By: Reama Biumaiono, Communications Associate, UNDP Fiji Multi Country
Note: The names used are not the real names in order to protect the identities of the woman and her children.

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