Women’s Leadership Key to Progress in the Pacific

In April, Solomon Islands experienced the most devastating floods in recent history, killing 22 people and leaving thousands homeless. UN Women is working with local agencies and the Solomon Islands government to support gender-responsive emergency relief; ongoing activities to promote women’s leadership and political participation continue as part of preparations for national parliamentary elections later this year.

Scarcely a week before the floods, the Australian National Committee for UN Women’s Fundraising Director, Janelle Weissman, and long-time Board member, Anne Banks-McAllister, had the opportunity to visit the UN Women team in Solomon Islands. During their visit, they gained insights into issues affecting women and girls in the region and explored ways to leverage support to make the biggest difference.

A significant obstacle to the development and enforcement of legislation to protect women and children from violence, promote equitable land ownership and ensure access to education, training and employment is the lack of women in elected office. Pacific Island Countries & Territories have the lowest rates of women’s political participation in the world, with women representing only 3% of the leadership. When women are not able to access decision making roles, their needs are left out of policy making processes. In order to effectively increase this number, women need to be prepared to stand as viable candidates.

With 2014 elections to be held in Fiji, Tuvalu, Cook Islands and Tonga as well as in Solomon Islands, UN Women is organizing training for candidates and for local media, to increase women’s political participation in and media coverage of policy debates around issues impacting women in the region. Providing women with the skills to run campaigns, fundraise and understand gender-responsive laws and policies empowers them to pursue roles as political leaders.

The Solomon Islands currently has just one woman in Parliament and UN Women recently coordinated strategic leadership training for women and male allies considering running in the 2014 parliamentary elections there to change the face of politics. Anne and Janelle were invited to participate in the week-long candidate training, delivered to 21 women and four men all of whom are committed to gender-responsive policy-making to improve the lives of women, their children and whole communities.

Similar training in Vanuatu proves that this strategy works. All of the five women elected in recent municipal elections were graduates of UN Women’s pilot leadership training. One newly elected Councillor explained to UN Women what a difference it had made:

“The training gave me the confidence I needed to continue with my campaign and now that I am in office, the leadership skills I need to manage the various committees and issues I am involved in.”

UN Women provides women and men with the skills and confidence to make changes in their communities for the benefit of everyone. The ideas are already there.