Why a Tiny Island Nation Is Giving Women Their Own Newspaper
Men, take note—women are about to be front and center in the Solomon Islands, thanks to the newly founded Solomons Women Newspaper.
Launched in February, the weekly publication is the first of its kind to devote coverage to women’s issues and gender rights in the Solomons, providing a voice to the hundreds of thousands of women who live in the Pacific island nation located northeast of Australia. The aim: to spotlight the myriad roles women take on in social, economic, religious, and developmental activities that might otherwise get little play in the media.
Staffed by both men and women and published every Wednesday in print and digital versions, the paper covers a wide variety of issues, including stress among working mothers, prostitution, and life as a single parent. It also features sports, entertainment, health news, and advice on a number of topics, from how to deal with divorce to a female nutritionist discussing healthy school lunches for kids. Lifestyle columns offer recipes, fitness suggestions, and beauty tips.
Despite the paper’s feminist agenda, founder and publisher Lynda Wate Seni says the publication is for men too, and she hopes male readers will become better informed about women’s narratives and support gender equality.
“Hopefully, somewhere down the road, [the paper] will help change our men’s mind-set to work side by side with our women on issues that matter to our local women,” she says.
Currently, seven women and five men produce and oversee content for the paper. For the male staff, working on the paper has been enlightening. “In a male-dominated society like the Solomon Islands, only a few reporters have shown interest to report on women’s issues,” said chief of staff and one of the male writers, Romulus Huta. “I seem to enjoy every bit of it when reporting women’s issues. I have also learned a lot.”
Huta recently profiled Ileen Sulukonina, a female politician who was elected to the local Guadalcanal Provincial Assembly in 2010. Even declaring candidacy was a struggle for her, she told the publication. Unlike male candidates, Sulukonina had to seek permission from her church, traditional chiefs, and her family in order to run. But she focused her campaign on what male politicians had not achieved, including political transparency and gender sensitivity, eventually gaining respect and winning votes from both men and women.
“The feedback I received from that piece was wonderful,” Huta said. “It encouraged more women to go into politics.”
So, Why Should You Care? Although women in the Solomon Islands have made strides in education, business, and leadership, they receive little recognition and still face numerous challenges. In 2011, the World Health Organization reported that gender inequality persists in the islands, evidenced in part by the practice of brides for sale and a high rate of violence against women. Of the 50 seats in the national parliament, only one is held by a woman. In rural communities, it’s even harder for women to get their voices heard, according to Wate Seni.
But progress is being made, and local groups and the government are launching more initiatives to support gender equality. The Solomon Islands Women’s Business Association provides members with training courses on bookkeeping and business skills. Parliament has made women’s rights a priority, enacting policies in 2010 that call for stronger laws against domestic violence, improved social services for abuse victims, and equal education for men and women. In 2014, a bill passed requiring each political party to set aside 10 percent of its candidacy spots for women (although a party may support fewer female candidates if not enough women step up).
It doesn’t seem like there will be a shortage of content or audience for the Solomons Women Newspaper, as men and women are drawn in by its mix of interviews and feature stories. “The paper has received overwhelmingly positive support [from both genders],” senior news reporter Mike Tua says. “People have seen the paper as an avenue to break the code of silence surrounding the variety of women’s issues in the country.”
It’s an avenue Wate Seni wants to extend. “As an infant paper, there is still more room to improve our news coverage and get more voices from the village levels to the desks of many men and women every week,” she says.