Women cultivate the land, produce food and generate income for families. Women’s economic activities using land resources are globally recognized as strong contributors to poverty alleviation and national economic growth.
However, women are often excluded from decision making on issues such as management of land and natural resources, although they are common resources for development and benefit of all.
Lack of proper management of land and natural resources denies women’s access to land, depletes resources and prevents sustainable development. Further, land disputes between tribes and communities force women to live with economic insecurity and fear of violence.
This is the environment in which women in Malaita Province, Solomon Islands have been striving to incite change.
Malaita is the largest island and most populated province in the country. Tribes traditionally maintain diverse and distinctive social and cultural systems, on which people have built their identity. There are about eight language groups in this province alone. Land is the source of people’s spiritual existence and potential for economic growth, but it also represents a means of survival in everyday life. People in Malaita have been struggling to find common goals and peaceful cooperation to prosper on their land.
Joy Ben is a leader of women in One Rusu community in North Malaita. She keeps her house, looks after her children and works in the garden as “women usually do,” she said.
“I am raising five children, who are currently all in secondary school. I have to earn for their education through produce from my garden. Access to markets is limited, and my income is not enough to support my family.”
Issues of land management in Malaita include management of customary land among tribes and people, acquisition and alienation of customary land by the government, and land resettlement policy as an emerging issue due to rising sea levels affecting the small outer island communities of Malaita.
“In the northern region, roads are dirt and in poor condition. We have not seen improvement or development in our roads, water, schools and health services. Land disputes are holding us back,” Ms. Ben said.
The Malaita Provincial Government held a Malaita Province Land Summit in Auki, the provincial capital, from 13 to 15 November 2018. During the three-day summit, more than 300 people from all six regions, including land owners, chiefs, church leaders, representatives from youth groups and women leaders, voiced their concerns, shared views and discussed ways to progress their ongoing efforts to solve the complex land issues in Malaita.
The summit was supported by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (UNPBF) project, which is jointly implemented in Solomon Islands by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women in partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace (MNURP) and the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs.
Genesis Kofana, Deputy Director of MNURP, Malaita Province, who coordinated the forum, said, “In my opinion, the gender issue is the most important component in land reform. Unless women are considered as equal stakeholders, we will not be able to have a comprehensive and inclusive legal framework. Youth and women have to be included in the decision making for the development of our country.”
Women and youth leaders gathered prior to the summit and shared experience and concerns from their standpoints. They critically examined key factors which contributed to the current situation and came up with a series of collective recommendations to the decision makers who are land owners, chiefs, church leaders, and provincial and national government representatives.
Ms. Ben was among the participants in the summit, representing women in her community.
“The summit created space for women to participate and discuss together with men the issues important to both women and men. We women need to improve ourselves and work with chiefs. Women and men should work together and share the leadership role,” she said.
The Human Development Indices and Indicators from the 2018 Statistical Update published by UNDP illustrated the plight of women in Solomon Islands. Some important indicators include only 2 per cent of seats in Parliament are held by women, which is the fifth lowest globally. Further, 63.5 per cent of women in Solomon Islands have ever experienced violence by an intimate partner, and this represents the third highest rate of gender-based violence among 189 countries and territories.
In her opening remarks at the land summit, Azusa Kubota, UNDP Solomon Islands Country Manager, urged participants to remember to be inclusive in their treatment of women and youth.
“The Sustainable Development Agenda calls for leaving no one behind,” she said.
“Decision making processes should be fully inclusive of women, youth and other marginalized groups, representing the population of Malaita. Land reform requires collective efforts and a shared vision.”
Ms. Kubota commended the provincial government for ensuring full participation of the community representatives in the land summit.
The key issues and recommendations discussed by the participants during the summit were compiled in a ‘communique’, which will be presented to the Malaita Provincial Government and the Malaita Members of Parliament for their consideration.
The UNPBF is currently supporting more than 120 projects in 25 countries, including Solomon Islands’ project to ensure peaceful and inclusive transition from recent conflict. Since its creation at the end of 2015, the UNPBF has allocated US$623 million to 33 countries to help prevent relapse into conflict and to sustain peace.