One of my favourite things to do in Honiara is to wander through the central market on a Saturday morning. It’s the heartbeat of the city, full of colour, noise and movement, and a demonstration of the enterprise of Solomon Islanders.
Of course, it’s also a great place to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables, some nuts to snack on or – my particular favourite – a delicious fresh fish for dinner. My wife Dawn also loves the markets here and is constantly exploring Honiara’s markets for artworks and handicrafts.
Indeed Honiara is, in many ways, a market town. A place where people from all over the country come to buy and sell. And one thing I’ve noticed about the markets in Honiara is that they’re dominated by women. For example, around 90% of the annual turnover at the Honiara Central Market is generated by women. For so many Solomon Island women, markets are their primary point of engagement in the economy.
I firmly believe that one of the keys to prosperity in Solomon Islands will be the economic empowerment of women. Increased income for women not only leads to improved education, health and nutrition for children but also greater productivity and economic growth at the national level.
That’s why Australia has committed to a long-term program of support for women across the Pacific, including in Solomon Islands. We’ve committed A$320 million over ten years through our Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Initiative which aims to improve the lives of women by expanding their access to political, economic and social opportunities.
Today I’ll have the privilege of participating in the launch of a new project funded under this initiative, called the Markets for Change Project. This new project, which will be delivered by UN Women, aims to create safer and more inclusive market environments. The A$11 million initiative will be rolled out over six years in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Initially, the project will commence work in two major markets in Solomon Islands – the Honiara Central Market and the Auki Market. We hope the project will bring about a range of positive changes for women, including providing market vendors with access to financial services and training, strengthening market vendor associations and improving working conditions for women and their children through better facilities and security.
I’m proud of all the development assistance Australia funds in Solomon Islands, but particularly proud to be associated with a project like Markets for Change. By giving women the tools to operate more safely and effectively in markets, it will help to unlock the entrepreneurial energy of half the population, which can only be a good thing for the country.
Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands.