Women and Reconciliation in Solomon Islands

My name is Betty Lina Gigisi, and I’m from Bubutoha village, Malango ward, in Central Guadalcanal Province. There were seven children in my family. My mother and father were all from the same province and were subsistence farmers. Today I am a mother of four children.

My own background in working with communities is diverse with a focus on Peace and reconciliation, Gender Equality and Women in leadership and decision making.

The Solomon Islands suffered a civil war from 1998 to 2004, mostly between militants from Guadalcanal and Malaita who had settled in Honiara and around Guadalcanal Island. Guadalcanal militants wanted their kastom (customary) land back and were worried about many Malaitans living there, some of whom were squatters and some of whom had land leases leases.

The Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SITRC) was mandated by an act of Parliament in 2008. The commissioners were chosen by a national committee that was chaired by the Chief Justice and representatives from the government, opposition, and other stakeholders. Out of names proposed by many sectors, five commissioners were chosen, three national and two non-national. They were SITRC chair Father Sam Ata (who died in 2014), Sofia Macher (the deputy chair, a non-national from Peru), Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi (a non-national from Fiji), Caroline Laore, and George Kejoa: three men and two women. The SITRC was launched with a public event opened by the South African TRC commissioner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

After the war, in 2007, a reconciliation ceremony was organized by the Ministry of National Unity Peace & Reconciliation at Peochakuri village, South Guadalcanal. I was also at the ceremony not as an official, but as a citizen of that particular constituency and as a Gender Advocate. The women were not participating or recognized in the official program. They had no opportunity to express their emotional feelings to their government, as the Prime Minister was the guest of honour. The women’s participation was to deliver traditional garland to the official guests, and they were dressed in their traditional costumes, but were half naked. My question was: is that the only strength that women have?

I am proud of my cultural norms, but I would like to have a woman representative amongst the official guests, dressed according to custom. The women approached me to see if I could negotiate for a change in the program so that that women could be represented, allocated a time and have a voice to deliver their thoughts. I have a strong belief in the rights of women to have a voice in decision making, especially since most of the Solomon Islands follows a matrilineal land system. The Solomon Islands has only three women in parliamentary positions.

I prepared a media statement that highlighted my disappointment in the women’s participation in the peace ceremony. The statement came out in the media (Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation) on 1 January 2008.

Then the government of the day offered me a position at the Ministry of National Unity, Peace, and Reconciliation. I started with the Ministry in February 2008 as a Senior Peace and Reconciliation Officer. My job was to make sure that women were participating in the peace process. I was involved in assisting the Provincial Liaison Peace and Reconciliation Officer in organizing reconciliations at the macro and micro levels.

I have a strong belief in the rights of women to have a voice in decision making.

In 2010 I was employed with the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the Assistant Exhumation officer. The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to “address people’s traumatic experiences during the five-year ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal (1999–2004).” Its goal was to promote national unity and reconciliation.

Read the rest of this chapter from Flowers in the Wall here.