The list of things women shouldn’t do according to Solomon Islands’ culture is long: no wearing shorts, no lingering eye contact with men, no sitting near your brothers and no speaking up, among them. The rules are nuanced and vary by province and tribe. But overall, cultural predispositions across the country leave women without the same level of respect and representation as men.
Even in Guadalcanal and Western Province, which have matrilineal systems that traditionally govern land inheritance and decision-making, women are largely absent from present-day leadership. According to Nanette Panda, the male face of political representation sidelines women’s issues.
“All needs of the people, both male and female, that you advocate on behalf of have to be considered,” she said. “Most of the discussions that have happened on the executive level or in the assembly lack views and inputs that can be made by women.”
As a Provincial Women’s Caucus member in Western Province, she’s trying to change that.
“Some of the interests are sensitive, and they are overlooked in a male-dominated assembly,” she said. “We look at them from the eyes of the women.”
Women in the house
The Pacific region has the lowest number of women parliamentarians in the world. In Solomon Islands, one Member of Parliament out of 50 is a woman, and a total of four women have served as MPs in the history of the country.
Across the nine provincial governments, only four women are elected assembly members. Women’s caucuses are a conduit for increasing women’s representation in provincial affairs.
The women’s caucuses in Western, Guadalcanal and Malaita provinces were launched in November 2018 with support from UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the joint United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (UNPBF) project and in partnership with the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs.