Academic journal article Hecate

Women, Peace Building and Political Inclusion: A Case Study from Solomon Islands

Academic journal article Hecate

Women, Peace Building and Political Inclusion: A Case Study from Solomon Islands

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite the crucial activities women fulfilled during the conflict in Solomon Islands they were overlooked and excluded in the peace negotiations and are yet to be sufficiently represented in national level politics. This article examines why, despite the active roles women undertook in peace-building activities in Solomon Islands during the 1998-2000 ethnic tensions, their activities were not translated into greater political representation in the post-conflict period. The inclusion of women in peace negotiations was necessary for sustainable peace and development in Solomon Islands, yet their inability to break the boundaries of feminine stereotypes and challenge traditional power hierarchies left them relegated to the sidelines and excluded from the political forum. We argue that it was because women's activities were based on gendered stereotypes that they were unable to challenge the traditional power imbalances that exist in Solomon Islands politics. Prior to and since Independence, the public arena and politics in Solomon Islands have traditionally been a male domain, yet the conflict within the country, commonly referred to as the 'tensions', resulted in changes to some social roles and increased women's sphere of influence. Others have written in detail about the conflict and women's agency; however we wish to explore why greater changes in areas of women's political participation were not sustained by women in Solomon Islands. To understand why this was the case, we apply three arguments drawn from feminist critiques of international relations to the domestic politics of Solomon Islands: first, that women's experiences and voices are often excluded and ignored in politics and conflict, with men's experiences promoted as 'real' in international relations theory and practice; second, that the myth that the state provides protection for vulnerable populations, such as women and children, in times of conflict needs critical examination; and third, that unreflectively linking women and peace can have negative consequences.

Katherine Webber spent fourteen months volunteering with UNIFEM Pacific working on the Governance, Peace and Security desk for Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. She focused on the work of women and women's organisations in Solomon Islands during and after the tensions and collated research on women, peace and security. She also worked alongside the Ministry of Women, Youth and Children's Affairs, including assisting with corporate planning activities and collaborating with the National Council of Women and other women's non-government organisations in and around Honiara. Whilst not conducting personal research Katherine stayed with a Solomon Island family and had the opportunity to informally discuss, with a variety of women and men, issues relating to the tensions, women's agency, and their attempts at running for Parliament. Although a graduate in peace and conflict studies, this experience opened her eyes to the realities of conflict and the significant and positive impact women can have during times of instability. She was also inspired by case studies from other countries emerging from post-conflict situations where women had taken a commanding position. Through discussions with Helen Johnson they inquired as to why this was not the case in Solomon Islands and worked to understand what happened; what changed; why changes occurred or why they did not.

Women's peace-building activities and international relations theory

Conflicts are occurring in many societies around the world and they inflict significant hardship, pain and suffering on individuals, communities and nations. They destroy economies and set back economic and social development through destruction of infrastructure and social capital, and loss of life, and they divert funds away from essential services towards conflict activities. …

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