Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Solomon Islands - a report by Equal Rights Trust
A new report published today by the Equal Rights Trust exposes the extent of discrimination and inequality experienced by groups including women; persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay and bisexual persons; and persons living with HIV in Solomon Islands.
Stand Up and Fight: Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Solomon Islands also concludes that a tendency for people to identify strongly as members of kinship groups or residents of a particular island, rather than as Solomon Islanders has promoted difference and fostered ethnic tension.
The report argues that if Solomon Islands is to move on from the conflict which afflicted the country between 1998 and 2003, its people must stand up and fight traditions which exacerbate difference on the basis of ethnicity, gender, disability and sexual orientation.
In particular, the report highlights widespread discrimination against women which is directly connected to gender stereotypes portraying women as inferior to men.
“We found that women are effectively second-class citizens in Solomon Islands; they are invisible in all areas of politics and government and do not participate equally with men in any area of life. Violence against women is alarmingly widespread and widely accepted by both men and women. When in 2012 I asked a group of 16 women in Honiara to say if they had experienced partner violence, they all said yes, without exception,” said Executive Director of the Equal Rights Trust, Dr Dimitrina Petrova.
The report investigates patterns of ethnic discrimination, finding that in a country which presents itself as “homogenous”, there are serious concerns about discrimination between those of different wantok (the Pijin for “one talk”, a community group based on shared linguistic and cultural heritage).
Dr Petrova continued, “Our research found compelling evidence of concern amongst Solomon Islanders that those in positions of power abuse their authority and make corrupt decisions in favour of their wantok group.”
In addition to discrimination against women and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, the report finds that: persons with disabilities are perceived as “cursed” and denied equality of participation in education, employment, healthcare and other services; lesbian, gay and bisexual persons are subject to severe social stigma and are largely invisible in society as a result; and persons living with HIV lack access to services, including health services, as a result of fear fuelled by prejudice and ignorance of the disease.
Stand Up and Fight is published in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) – Solomon Islands Country Office and the SPC Regional Rights Resource Team and is launched at a time of great opportunity for Solomon Islands. The country is entering its thirteenth year of constitutional reform and a draft constitution is currently the subject of consultation. The report outlines how Solomon Islands should reform its Constitution to increase protection for the rights to equality and non-discrimination. It calls on all those affected by discrimination to use the reform process to stand up and fight for equality for all. It also makes a number of other recommendations including the repeal of discriminatory laws and the enactment of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.
The report is published on the eve of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Solomon Islands on Monday 25 January - a process which seeks to address threats posed towards the protection of human rights in the country under review. The Equal Rights Trust has written to states participating in the Review urging them to make recommendations based on the report’s conclusions and recommendations.
London, 20 January 2016
Check out the Diploma on leadership, governance and human rights at the University of the South Pacific
The Agreement includes several key elements that are of particular importance to the Pacific region, including recognition for pursuing a temperature goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels, a strengthened mechanism for loss and damage, and the provision for scaled up and simplified access to climate finance for small island developing states.
The Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP) agencies have been working as “One Team” to support Pacific island countries with technical assistance during the lengthy negotiation process.
Mr. David Sheppard, Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), commended the leadership and tireless efforts of Pacific Leaders in Paris who were truly inspirational throughout COP 21 and noted: “I was extremely proud to be with our Pacific Leaders in Paris and to hear the voices of the Pacific on climate change, in this important global platform.”
Small Islands around the world worked together, demonstrating the importance of Pacific collaboration with other regions, through the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), “AOSIS has been instrumental in mobilising a collective voice in the sea of lengthy and intense negotiations, which is evidenced in the position of 1.5 degrees and a mechanism for loss and damage, being included in the final text of the Paris Agreement,” Mr Sheppard noted.
Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, was in Paris for the COP 21 meeting and agreed, saying “This agreement provides a strong outcome for the Pacific. While there were great gains the real work starts now. We must work together to secure climate change finance for the island nations to support Adaptation activities.”
“Pacific Leaders and their delegations did an amazing job in representing their people and future generations of Pacific islanders. The way in which the CROP agencies worked alongside them highlighted to me once again just how much can be achieved when the region works together towards a common goal.”
The Paris Agreement includes aspects that are legally binding, and includes a five year review of emissions to determine the ability to meet the long term global goal, to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change."
Other key measures include: to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century; to review progress every five years; and a commitment towards US$100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future. Small island states, together with least developed countries, have special status with regard to financing and reporting under the Paris Agreement.
The inclusion of “loss and damage” in the Agreement is a significant step towards recognition of the loss and damage that results from the adverse effects of climate change (including extreme weather events and slow onset events) and acknowledgment of the suffering of vulnerable states including small island countries and territories in the Pacific.
Another key implication from Paris will be an overhaul of historic proportions for energy policies worldwide and a huge investment in renewable energy and cleaning up the pollution now being emitted to the Earth’s atmosphere. In the Pacific - this will signal an acceleration of the existing efforts of Pacific island countries and territories to shift to renewable energy. Globally, every country will now have to commit to reducing emissions.
Key factors on the success of COP 21 for the Pacific were the open and transparent manner in which the Government of France led the COP itself and their extensive consultations with stakeholders, Pacific voices and the AOSIS, building upon the lessons learnt from Copenhagen in 2009.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, Professor Rajesh Chandra, welcomed the outcome of COP 21 and noted: “The Paris Agreement is a historic win globally, and seeing how the Pacific has been able to influence the COP 21 negotiations, while also working as the 'moral centre', is a great show of our abilities and the collaborative potential we have across the region and amongst our CROP agencies."
“It is a great testament of what can be achieved by our island nations, which will be especially important as the world begins to work towards the goals that are set out in the Agreement," said Professor Chandra
CROP agencies through the PIFS, SPREP, USP and the Pacific Community (SPC), worked closely and effectively together at COP 21 to support Pacific delegations.
The Director-General of the Pacific Community, Dr Colin Tukuitonga noted: "The Paris Agreement is an achievement of David and Goliath proportions and our Pacific leaders and delegations must be commended for fronting this monumental challenge with sterling leadership, unwavering commitment and a strong, united voice.”
“Against immense odds, the concerns and resolve of small island states are echoed in the pages of this agreement and I would also like to acknowledge the effective cooperation by all partners within the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific towards lending vital support to our leaders in their quest for a successful outcome in Paris," Dr Tukuitonga added.
Further information about the final Paris Agreement from COP 21 can be found here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf
For more information about the CROP agencies contact:
Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme
Director- Strategic and Corporate Communication
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
University of the South Pacific
(1) Pacific Leaders at the COP 21 Paris
Pacific cultures value fairness, equality, protection of the most vulnerable, helping and serving others, participation, dialogue and consensus building. These are human rights values and principles that are not foreign but embedded in Pacific beliefs, laws, policies and in international human rights instruments.
Whether we realise it or not, human rights considerations cut across priority sectors, including economic, social and cultural rights, as well as political and civil rights and freedoms.
The Pacific Community (SPC) is committed to the principles of good governance and to the defence and promotion of human rights. For 20 years, through our Human Rights Programme, SPC has been deepening relationships of trust with governments, judiciaries, parliamentarians, non-governmental, faith and community-based organisations. Via our Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), we encourage the interpretation of international human rights in the context of Pacific cultures and way of life.
We support our country and territory members through training, technical support, legislative drafting, policy advice and advocacy services to policy and decision makers, government service providers and civil society organisations. This includes assisting lawyers, magistrates, members of parliament and key implementing agencies to apply human rights standards to their work.
One recent outcome in this context is the Denarau 2015 Declaration on Human Rights and Good Governance, signed by 19 Members of Parliament from 13 Pacific Island countries, who pledged to respect, fulfil, protect and promote the inherent rights of all peoples in the Pacific.
Acceding to treaties shows commitment to human rights standards for the delivery of services and opportunities for all citizens to access basic rights and freedoms that enable development outcomes. SPC provides training and ongoing mentoring in the process of treaty ratification and reporting, together with technical assistance for national legislative alignment to international human rights standards.
Pacific Island countries are reviewed every four to five years on their human rights records by a United Nations mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). In the first round of UPR reporting, SPC assisted Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu with their reviews. The UPR has now entered its second reporting cycle and, so far, Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, and have received support from SPC.
The theme for Human Rights Day this year is “Our rights. Our freedoms. Always”. Fundamental to ensuring the protection of human rights is the promotion of legislative reform. SPC assists Pacific states with drafting legislation and policy, and ensuring international human rights standards are infused into programme planning, policy development and legislative reform in human rights priority areas, such as gender equality, disability, the rule of law and climate change.
Recent research by the United Nations in six Pacific countries shows the prevalence of violence against women is among the highest in the world, with two out of three women having experienced violence, too often at the hand of an intimate partner or family member. Highlighting the urgency of ending violence against women has been the focus of “16 Days of Activism in the Pacific”, a campaign led by SPC and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat that culminates on Human Rights Day.
SPC provides technical support to its member in the preparation, enactment and implementation of domestic violence legislation. This includes the creation of domestic violence protection orders, responsibilities of the Police and service providers, and the introduction of preventative measures, education and monitoring mechanisms.
Kiribati, Tonga, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands are in the process of moving from “Act to Action”, ensuring that women are aware of and able to access the protections provided for in their respective national legislation. SPC is also supporting the development of new domestic violence legislation in Nauru and Niue.
Formed in 1998, our partnership with the University of the South Pacific (USP) to promote effective leadership and governance, has seen more than 880 law students from across the Pacific complete a Postgraduate Professional Diploma in Legal Practice. The 22-week course prepares students for entry into legal practice and equips them to apply a human rights and gender-sensitive lens to access to justice. Additionally, 1061 students – 57 per cent of whom are women – have passed through a jointly run Diploma in Leadership, Governance and Human Rights, introduced in 2013.
SPC is able to contribute to such outcomes thanks to the support of the Australian Government, the European Union and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Our 26 members strongly endorsed the Pacific Community Strategic Plan 2016-2020 at our Conference held in Niue last month. This plan reinforces our commitment to the defence of human rights and ensures the needs of the most vulnerable in our societies will remain at the forefront of SPC’s work......PACNEWS
The Fiji Women’s Forum is a coalition of women leaders co-convened by FemlinkPACIFIC, the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, the National Council of Women (Fiji), and Soqosoqovakamarama iTaukei. The Forum was formed in 2012 to bring together diverse women’s groups with the aim of increasing women’s participation in leadership.
Fiji has one of the highest proportions of women in parliament (16% in 2014) in the Pacific and the Forum is determined to further increase women’s representation in national parliament, and participation in public life.
“We’ve found a way to work together for a common goal; promoting greater women’s leadership in all areas of decision-making” says Tara Chetty.
The Forum has held five national consultations, which have brought together young women leaders, established feminists, indigenous women leaders, transwomen advocates, and women of diverse ethnicities from all over the country.
“We build on a rich tradition of advocacy, demonstrated leadership, community work and development of Fijian women as reflected throughout our national history and reaffirm our combined commitment to sustainable and participatory democracy, development and peace in Fiji,” says Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, Coordinator of FemlinkPACIFIC.
The Fiji Women’s Forum has a strong interest in promoting temporary special measures and other strategies for increasing women’s access to decision-making. Their work has included a baseline survey of public perceptions of women’s leadership in Fiji. The survey found that Fijians largely recognise that there should be more women in Parliament, and that women are well qualified to lead.
“The challenge now for the Women’s Forum is to translate this increasingly positive perception of women into greater access to decision-making at all levels – from local government to traditional governance, from informal settings to the national Parliament.”
The group has also shared their work regionally, including at a recent women’s leadership conference in the Solomon Islands, to promote greater collaboration between women’s organisations across the Pacific towards gender equality.
16 Days – 16 Stories of Gender Progress in the Pacific is an initiative of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and SPC who are sharing stories of successful gender programs across the region and highlighting the regional policies that guide them. The Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration has a specific priority on advancing women’s decision making at all level including the adoption of temporary special measures and advocacy for increased representation of women at all levels including local level governance, boards and committees. Related commitments include the Ministerial Communiques and Pacific Women’s Triennial Outcomes. The 2015 Pacific Regional MDGS Tracking Report Progress noted Fiji’s progress as Fiji Parliamentary Committees included gender performance targets. September 2014 Elections saw more women candidates and resulted in an increase in women in parliament, and the Speaker of the House a woman.
A Family Health and Support Study conducted in 2010 indicated that more than 2 in 3 (68%) women aged 15-49 who had been in a relationship reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner.
Since releasing the study, the Government established a Ministry of Women, formed a special domestic and sexual violence unit within the police force, and enacted the Te Rau N TeMweenga Act (Family Peace Act for Domestic Violence). This law aims at ensuring the safety of all people including children who experience or witness domestic violence.
Ms Froline Tokaa is the Coordinator for the Elimination of Sexual Gender Based Violence Project, which comprises key government ministries and stakeholders, including the church. She says that “having a taskforce helps a lot as we are able to integrate these sensitive issues into the work of other agencies”.
Ms Tokaa has been working with the Ministry of Education in developing curriculum and counselling guidelines for schools.
Apart from having a gender focal point within the Ministry, a committee was formed which included key unit experts such as a curriculum officer and representatives from the teachers college. This led to focused activities within this sector.
“One person cannot reflect the whole Ministry’s ideas. It’s strategic to invite other technical units to support a full integration of such issues.”
In Kiribati there is now a greater sense of ownership of the curriculum and teacher training programs are helping prevent violence in communities. In September 2015 there was a formal handover of the education and awareness aspect of the sexual gender based violence work from the Ministry of Women to the Ministry of Education.
Froline says she has seen an increase in teachers providing basic counselling to students “Before, when teachers had a student with a domestic violence problem they were not able to assist them, but now with the training and guidelines being developed, more teachers are assisting these students”.
16 Days – 16 Stories of Gender Progress in the Pacific is an initiative of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and SPC who are sharing stories of successful gender programs across the region and highlighting the regional policies that guide them. The Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration has a specific priority on ending violence against women. Related commitments include the Ministerial Communiques and Pacific Women’s Triennial Outcomes. The 2015 Pacific Regional MDGS Tracking Report Progress noted Kiribati progress as endorsement of Kiribati Shared Implementation Plan and increase in the number of women reporting on domestic violence.
“Women provide most of the labour force in subsistence agriculture in this country. They spend three times more than men in their food gardens, yet their work is not counted as productive in our national gross domestic product (GDP).”
George Herming, Communications Director for the Solomon Islands Government agrees “women are actively involved in other initiatives in the informal economy such as floral arts, cooking stalls, betel nut markets, fish and handicraft markets”
“Looking back over the years, I can see improvement in the status of women in Solomon Islands. Women are more visible, their voices are heard and they are making a significant contribution to our economy” Mr Herming said.
A recent World Bank report cited in the Solomon Islands Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 2013 Report stated that the annual turnover at the Honiara Central Market is estimated at between USD$10-16 million, with women responsible for about 90% of the marketing activity as bulk buyers from farmers and as retailers.
16 Days – 16 Stories of Gender Progress in the Pacific is an initiative of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and The Pacific Community who are sharing stories of successful gender programs across the region and highlighting the regional policies that guide them. The Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration prioritizes on women’s economic empowerment and call for targeted support to women entrepreneurs in the formal and informal sectors, for example financial services, information and training and review legislation that limits women’s access to finance assets, land and productive resources. Related commitments include the Ministerial Communiques and Pacific Women’s Triennial Outcomes. The 2015 Pacific Regional MDGS Tracking Report Progress noted .Solomon Islands progress in this area as follows:-.Central Bank of Solomon Islands opened saving clubs for women in rural/outer island areas.
‘Disasters affect men and women differently and we need to understand the diverse needs and priorities of the various groups to be able to respond effectively to the realities on the ground. For Vanuatu, the initial rapid disaster assessment did not reflect everyone’s perspective hence the result was a blanket distribution of supplies’ reflects Mr Vano.
Mr Vano recalls that food packages consisted of rice, tinned fish, noodles, salt, sugar and crackers and were meant for the entire population not taking into account the specific needs of groups like children of ages 0-5 years and pregnant women.
“In the shelters, there were no proper lightings for the toilets and bathrooms making it risky for girls and women to access those areas in the night.”In specific disaster situations, “recognizing the different needs and priorities of men and women in shelter and provision of basic services in post disaster situations will greatly help governments and aid/development agencies design programmes that respond to the needs of all, while promoting gender equality and human development for both men and women.”
16 Days – 16 Stories of Gender Progress in the Pacific is an initiative of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and The Pacific Community who are sharing stories of successful gender programs across the region and highlighting the regional policies that guide them.
The Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declarationhas a specific priority on gender responsive government program and policies calls for gender issues to be considered across all sectors such as climate change and disaster response. Related commitments include the Ministerial Communiques and Pacific Women’s Triennial Outcomes.
The 2015 Pacific Regional MDGS Tracking Report Progress noted Vanuatu’s progress in this area as follows: finalised Gender Equality Policy and gender mainstreaming of sector policies such as climate change. Sex disaggregated data available for Census, Household Surveys and National Disability Survey.