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Ples Bilong Mere*: Law, Gender and Peace-Building in Solomon Islands

Abstract

This article discusses women and peace-building in Solomon Islands and the effect of law, theory and practical circumstances on their role. It looks at the place of Solomon Islands women in society historically, with particular reference to war and peace. It then analyses their current status from a legal perspective, looking at the existing Constitution, the proposed Federal Constitution, and relevant aspects of international law. It questions whether gender equity provisions are sufficient to promote participation at a practical level. The article also disputes the effectiveness of various international, regional, and local initiatives, designed to enhance the status of women. The article discusses the application of some of the theories relating to women and peace-building to the circumstances of Solomon Islands. It concludes by looking to the future and discussing means of consolidating women’s position, and increasing their involvement in leadership and decision-making.

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Notes

  1. A fresh wave of rioting and destruction of property, which broke out after the April 2006 election, raised questions about whether this is just a superficial peace. See further Fraenkel (2004).

  2. For the analogous position of women in Fiji Islands see Fiji Women’s Rights Movement and the Crisis Centre (1984, p. 172).

  3. The author is aware of the dangers of homogenising women and as such has endeavoured to avoid reiterating gender essentialism and suppressing the complexities within such categories of woman. However, she acknowledges that in some instances she may have fallen into this trap.

  4. For a criticism of the stereotyping of Melanesians see Douglas (2000, p. 10).

  5. See, for example, Maerua v Kahanatarau [1983] SILR 95.

  6. The exception appears to be a tribe on Guadalcanal which recognised women as chiefs: Tovua (2004).

  7. For a recent example of this in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, see In Re Willingal (unreported, National Court, Papua New Guinea, Civ Cas N1506, 10 February 1997).

  8. Alvara de Mendana arrived in Solomon Islands in 1568, in search of King Solomon’s gold.

  9. In 1843, the southern islands of the Solomon chain became a British Protectorate. In about 1890, German interests in the northern islands, apart from Buka and Bougainville, were transferred to Britain in exchange for recognition of German interests in Samoa. The basis of government was provided by the Pacific Order in Council 1893 (UK). It is interesting to note that this Order still governs certain matters in Solomon Islands, for example, religious marriage between expatriates.

  10. Pacific Order in Council 1893 (UK), s 20; Western Pacific (Courts) Order 1961 (UK). Between 1893 and 1960, law was also provided by King’s/Queen’s Regulations, made by the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific in Fiji. In practice, common law was often applied without consideration of whether it was suitable to local circumstances. Between 1960 and the date of independence, Ordinances were made locally by the Legislative Council (known as the Governing Council between 1970 and 1974).

  11. Native Courts Ordinance 1942 (SI) cap 46, s 3.

  12. Native Courts Ordinance 1942 (SI) cap 46, ss 6 and 10. These courts have been renamed as “Local Courts” and an appeal to Customary Land Appeal Courts has been introduced: Local Courts Act (SI) cap 19. It has been argued that custom has been adulterated by colonisation: see, for example, Keesing and Tonkinson (1982). This argument perhaps underestimates the resilience of customary law.

  13. Married Woman’s Property Act Amendment Act 1874 (UK). The Act was copied into New South Wales law in 1879: Married Women’s Property Act 1879 (NSW).

  14. Representation of the People Act 1918 (UK).

  15. Married Women’s Property Act 1893 (NSW). Women were granted the right to vote in NSW in 1902: Women’s Franchise Act 1902.

  16. Electoral Act 1893 (NZ).

  17. British Solomon Islands Order 1974 (UK).

  18. Solomon Islands Independence Order 1978 (UK). There was extensive consultation in Solomon Islands prior to the enactment of the Constitution. Further, a delegation from Solomon Islands travelled to England to discuss a draft, but those discussions lasted only for 10 days: Report of the Solomon Islands Constitutional Conference (1977). However the final version of the Constitution did not deal with many important local concerns and bears all the hallmarks of a Foreign Office creation.

  19. Constitution of Solomon Islands 1978, ss 11 and 15.

  20. Section 15(5)(d).

  21. Federal Constitution of Solomon Islands Bill 2004, Preamble.

  22. There was an exception in the early 1990s, when the same woman lawyer was appointed as Registrar General and then as Chair of the Trade Disputes Panel. She has since returned to private practice.

  23. The court in which she was a justice is presently not operating.

  24. The proportion of female students studying at the University of the South Pacific has raised steadily from 44% in 1996 to 50% in 2006.

  25. In fact the Public Solicitor’s office had a female legal officer from the early 1990s until she left to go into private practice.

  26. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1953.

  27. Section 15(5)(c) is intended to legitimise legislation such as the Pacific Order in Council 1893, which governs the application of certain British laws to British subjects.

  28. In Tanavalu v Tanavalu (unreported, High Court, Solomon Islands, Civ Cas 185/1995, 12 January 1998) Lungole-Awich, J favoured a wide interpretation, but this view was obiter, as the case was concerned with the interpretation of s 33, Solomon Islands National Provident Fund Act, cap 109, which provides for the application of customary law. In fact Lungole-Awich, J was of the view that the word “law” in s 15(1) did not include customary law, so the anti-discrimination provisions could never apply to strike down customary law, but this is clearly incorrect. The decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal: Tanavalu v Tanavalu (unreported, Court of Appeal, Solomon Islands, Civ App 3/1998). See also, Minister for Provincial Government v Guadalcanal Provincial Assembly (unreported, Court of Appeal, Solomon Islands, CAC 3/97, 23 April 1997).

  29. Federal Constitution of Solomon Islands Bill 2004, chapter 4, part I, cl 25.

  30. Clause 29(1).

  31. Clause 29(3). For an example of such an exception see cl 59(3), discussed below.

  32. Clause 9(2).

  33. Clauses 44 and 53(2).

  34. Federal Constitution of Solomon Islands Bill 2004, chapter 2.

  35. Clause 10(1)(p).

  36. Clause 10(3).

  37. Clause 10(4).

  38. Clause 10(5).

  39. The only regional country to have done so is Fiji Islands, which submitted a National Action Plan to the UN Division for the Advancement of Women on 3 September 1999.

  40. Federal Constitution of Solomon Islands Bill 2004, cl 9(1)(f).

  41. Clause 23(a).

  42. Clause 23(b) and (c).

  43. Federal Constitution of Solomon Islands Bill 2004, Preamble.

  44. The departments were subsequently reduced to 15 but have since been increased to 21.

  45. This is a view espoused by second wave feminists, but it is not new, having been part of the tradition of social protest and revolution in the East and the West.

  46. An alternative method of achieving equality through liberating men from militarism rather than admitting women to combat was put forward by Woolf (1947, pp. 260–261).

  47. Catherine Adifaka, a WFP coordinator, referred to “selfishness, greed and pride of men” as factors in the recent conflict (Adifaka 2004).

  48. For example, in July 2005, three Solomon Islands women were nominated for the Nobel Peace prize for their work during the conflict.

  49. Benard suggests that this is a common result of peace after war, even of the ‘cold’ war variety (1999, p. 13).

  50. The study countries did not include Solomon Islands, but did include Fiji Islands, Kiribati, Niue and Tonga, and the more general findings would seem to have some application to all small South Pacific countries.

  51. The adult literacy rate in Solomon Islands is 76.6% (UNDP 2007) but only 56% of women are literate (UNIFEM 2006). Amongst youth (15–24) the literacy rate is only 34.3% overall, with 18.4% women and 50.8% men (UN 2007).

  52. These were the suggested small-scale businesses put forward by Ruth Maetala at a post-conflict nation rebuilding workshop (Kabutaulaka 2004, pp. 14–16).

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Acknowledgments

The author wishes to acknowledge the valuable research assistance given by Ms Allira Thompson and the help of staff at the Walter Harrison Law Library, The University of Queensland, and at the Emalus Campus Library, University of the South Pacific.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Corrin.

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*Ples Bilong Mere: Literally translated, this means ‘Women’s Place’.

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Corrin, J. Ples Bilong Mere*: Law, Gender and Peace-Building in Solomon Islands. Fem Leg Stud 16, 169–194 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-008-9095-0

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Keywords

  • International law
  • Peace-building
  • Post-conflict Constitutions
  • Solomon Islands
  • South Pacific
  • Women