Gender Workshop: Opening Remarks by Ms Ethel Sigimanu, MWYCA

14 December 2009

We harbor no secrets about our own political history and how women have journeyed through that history.  That history has not been full of many words for despite making half of this nation’s population, a lone woman by the name of Hilda Kari was able to make it to the top and since then, nothing much has changed.  At the provincial level, there are encouraging signs which we must build on. However, Solomon Islands’ women remain grossly underrepresented at the political level let alone at all decision making levels in this country.  This is the key reason why we are here this morning. 

My sincere appreciation goes to UNIFEM under whose Gender Equality in Political Governance Programme (GEPG), this workshop is being organized and financed.  The GEPG, I am pleased to inform you, will run for five years with co-funding from the Australian Government through AusAID.  The BRIDGE training which we will begin this morning is among a series of activities UNIFEM will run under the GEPG.  

Similarly I wish also to acknowledge the great support provided by the RAMSI Machinery of Government without whose contributions, we would not have reached this far with our campaign to advance gender equality in political governance.  Indeed we have been very privileged to be receiving financial and technical support from these our development partners especially at such a crucial time when women of this country are challenged once again by the coming national elections in 2010.

Democracy as we all understand is founded on the principles of equality of representation between men and women.  Hence one of the most fundamental principles of democracy is that men and women should have equal rights.  Women should have the right to be involved in the political decisions that affect their lives. And it was with this need that we started our mission earlier on this year which many of you in this room are all too familiar with. 

Our mission began with the fight to push to establish 10 elected reserved seats for women in parliament. 

Again many of you are all too familiar with how we went to the public with this fight.  Yes we did have a lot of support but the voice against us was the loudest.  This, I believe is where we must all begin the next steps of our mission.  From that experience we have learnt a lot of things.  One thing however is certain; that the fight to have increased number of women in parliament or in any level of decision making was and will continue to be a difficult one.  It is a fight that requires a lot of energy, sacrifice and commitment.  It is a fight that requires vision and the will to fulfill it.  It is one that requires passion and the belief that you can be the change that this country needs.  It is one that demands your time and my time.  It is a fight that requires each and every one of us to walk that extra mile.  And it is one that requires our understanding which ultimately includes pushing our own boundaries and that perceived by society to accomplish our mission to achieve gender equality in decision making. 

This BRIDGE workshop on Gender and Elections is a key part of what our task must be for it is aimed at increasing women’s political participation and representation at levels of decision making. 

This workshop gives you the opportunity to learn about electoral issues in general and how they affect women’s representation in particular.  It will enable you to reflect on the electoral system we use here in the Solomon Islands and will attempt to equip you with the skills to develop strategies that help to overcome the various obstacles that women face when entering politics.  We hope that by the end of this workshop you will have gained enough knowledge and skills to actively apply the principles which you have learnt as you carry out your plans and programmes especially towards the coming elections.  

Considering that gender equality is a fundamental right and is essential for successful economic and social development of a nation, this BRIDGE workshop will present you with options for increasing the women’s access to and representation in politics. 

This workshop is a build up from the women’s convention we held recently.  It tells us that the time for justifications as to why more women should be in parliament or at any other level of political governance is over.  It is now time to walk the talk.  It is now time for action.  Time really is not on our side.  We must therefore be strategic in our approach.  We must build on the plans we have set ourselves and work on getting those priorities implemented between now and the coming national elections. 

Your BRIDGE facilitators at this workshop are all locals and come with different expertise and experiences in the area of electoral management and women’s participation in the political processes.  I am sure the interaction between you the participants and your facilitators will be a very rich one indeed.  This workshop expects your participation to be at its best.  Use this time wisely and make the most out of it. 

I wish to end with the famous words of Martin Luther King Jnr.  He said, “our lives begin to end the moment we keep silent about the things that matter.”  And so herein lies my passion and why working to address the gross under-representation of women at the political level in this country is something that is very close to my heart.  I intend not to be silent because I cannot bear to look into my children’s eyes and say that their future is secured.  For as long as women are denied their rightful place in society, our children’s future will be but a bleak and empty one.  

Let us therefore take up the challenge so as to leave a legacy that we can all be proud of.

Thank you and please enjoy the rest of the week.

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