Earlier this year, Belinda Lauria, our Solomon Islands Project Manager, Quality and Compliance, visited the Solomon Islands. Here she shares why this program is so special.
In March, (just before the COVID-19 travel restrictions were put in place!) I visited our project work in the Solomon Islands, and had the incredible privilege of travelling to a small community, about a two hour plane ride from the capital, Honiara. There I spoke to three female community leaders about what it means and how it feels to be a woman in the Solomon Islands, and the significance of some training that they had recently received through our project.
The main focus of the Safe, Strong Communities project in the Solomon Islands is to promote gender equity. In a country where two thirds of women have reported gender-based violence (GBV)*, our work looks at the gender roles and relations and discusses how these social norms and beliefs are contributing to the pervasive issue of GBV.
The project works with local community leaders (both male and female), clergy and their wives to support better understanding of how these social norms and beliefs are harming women and girls. It aims to communicate a biblical perspective about more equitable relationships.
Through a training called Gender Equality Theology (GET), church leaders are taught about gender relations from a theological perspective, so they are equipped to deal with and speak about the problem of GBV in a way that the community will understand and engage with. Because the training is developed by Pacific theologians, the training is culturally sensitive and gives the leaders the tools to then train community and church groups in their parish.
When I spoke with the local women, they really captured the uniqueness of this training and how much they felt empowered by it. They began by explaining what gender relations have been like in their own parish.
One of them said that “men mandate everything in society. This aligns with our culture; women are inferior.” While there are some other GBV trainings, the GET training was unique because “the gender training incorporated theology. I’ve been to many gender trainings; this is the only one with theology.” In a country which is more than 90 percent Christian, this faith context is very significant.
Because the training is delivered using this approach, the women felt that they now had the knowledge to challenge how they are often treated. One wife of a clergyman said that this was the most valuable learning. She said, “We are looked down on, we don’t do anything. The training challenges this.”
This is one of the first programs to be implemented within this community that focuses on gender equity through a biblical lens. As one of the women stated, “Church is very strong in this Diocese; there are a lot of church groups here. The people all have a strong belief in the church; it is much easier to go out and deliver trainings in church groups. Lots of workshops happen, but they are not carried out effectively with the community.”
For these female community leaders, this training provided hope that the most severe forms of vulnerability and harm to people in their community will be addressed and that change will come.
Their hope was summed up by one of the women, who said, “We can now go out and do something. Husbands have the pulpit and we do nothing, but with the training we can do something. Women have strengths to stand on their own feet and be equal.”
* “A total of 64% of women aged 15–49 who had ever been in a relationship reported having experienced some form of violence (emotional, physical and/or sexual) from an intimate partner.” WHO, Violence against women in Solomon Islands. Translating research into policy and action on the social determinants of health, 2013
Our ‘Safe Strong Communities’ program in Solomon Islands is funded in part by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and in part by your donations. We are proud to partner with the Australian Government in delivering this program.
To support this program select ’14. Solomon Islands – Safe Communities’ from the drop-down menu on our donate page.