Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 33, December 2013

Vernacularising Political Participation:
Strategies of Women Peace-builders in Solomon Islands

Rebecca Monson [1]

  1. From 1998–2003, Solomon Islands suffered a period of land-related civil conflict that is now popularly known as 'the Tension.' It is widely recognised that women's groups played a crucial peace-building role in the conflict, and that women peace-builders managed to carve out a highly public rule for themselves in an extremely volatile and risky context.[2] Scholars, human rights experts and development practitioners have often perceived the post-conflict period as an opportunity to build on the role played by women peace-builders during the Tension, and to expand the participation of women in formal political governance.[3] However very little attention has been paid to the question of how women justified, legitimated and undertook their peace-building work.
  2. This article examines some of the discursive, material and corporeal strategies used by women peace-builders during the Tension. I demonstrate that the strategies used by women were saturated with maternal imagery, and regularly drew on the discursive and institutional infrastructure of custom (kastom) and Christianity. These strategies could be critiqued as overly risk-averse, conservative or even harmful; and in previous work I have explored the ways in which maternal imagery, kastom and Christianity can be mobilised to perpetuate gender inequality and gendered violence.[4] However in this article I suggest that concerns about the strategies used by Solomon Islander women are often rooted in contested and particular assumptions about the nature of 'human rights' and 'culture,' in particular the juxtaposition of the emancipatory potential of human rights discourses with a static and colonial view of culture. This article adopts an alternative approach: taking Sally Engle Merry's insistence on a more 'anthropological' view of culture and the concept of 'vernacularisation' as the starting point,[5] it demonstrates that 'culture' includes a range of resources which may be mobilised by Solomon Islands' women for a variety of ends. More significantly, it demonstrates that the power, expertise and knowledge of Solomon Islander women must be taken far more seriously than is often the case.
  3. By focusing on the strategies used by women peace-makers, I risk furthering the construction of women as a physically vulnerable, anti-militaristic and peaceful Other against which a violent male is constructed.[6] There is now an extensive scholarly literature on the Tension, and while some of this literature does pay attention to gender differentiation, it overwhelmingly focuses on the experiences of women as victims of violence,[7] and on the roles of women in peace-building activities.[8] This literature pays only limited attention to the peace-building role played by men during the conflict, most notably the Melanesian Brothers,[9] but also by the many men who supported women's peace-building work.[10] It also effaces the role that some women played in fuelling the conflict, whether by advocating revenge attacks, urging their male kin to take up weapons, or obtaining weapons.[11] Furthermore, my analysis here draws on documentary materials such as scholarly articles and the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and this inevitably leads me to prioritise the voices of those Merry refers to as 'the people in the middle'—in this instance, the women in Honiara who translate the discourses and practices from the arena of international human rights advocacy to their own specific contexts and struggles.[12] The views, experiences and strategies of these 'women in the middle' would not be common to all Solomon Islander women—indeed I suspect that some would be widely contested. The intention of this article is not to perpetuate and entrench gendered stereotypes of men as militants and women as peace-builders, nor to obscure the multivocality of women's politics and strategies, but to acknowledge that when large numbers of women mobilised and responded to violence by advocating peace, this was not a 'natural' or inevitable act, but a highly strategic one intended to achieve particular ends.

  4. Solomon Islands is a scattered archipelago of more than 900 islands and atolls, extending in a south-easterly direction from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and lying to the north-east of Australia (Map 1). The population is linguistically and culturally diverse, with some 500,000 people speaking about 80 indigenous languages (with Solomon Islands' Pijin as the lingua franca). The majority of the population lives in relatively small settlements scattered across the country, with 'law' and 'governance' comprised of a variety of norms and institutions emanating from the state, kastom and Christianity.[13]
  5. From 1998–2003, this small nation was plunged into a period of civil conflict which resulted in the death of hundreds of people and the internal displacement of tens of thousands more; the destruction of the economy and the collapse of state-based systems of governance.[14] The root causes of the conflict were many and complex, but they are widely understood to have included the competing claims made by the people of Guadalcanal that their entitlements as indigenous people were being eroded, and the claims of settlers from the neighbouring island of Malaita who had occupied land on Guadalcanal for many years. The beginning of the Tension is often traced to late 1998, when groups of young Guadalcanal men referring to themselves as the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA) or Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) began intimidating migrants and evicting them from their homes as part of a campaign to drive them off the island. These evictions were primarily directed at people from Malaita who were living on the coastal areas to the immediate west and east of Honiara.[15] However the transcripts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission attest to the fact that many Guadalcanal people were targeted by Guadalcanal militants; and equally, Guadalcanal people often intervened to protect the Malaitans living in their midst.

    Map 1. Solomon Islands.
    Source. Multimedia Services, College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University.

  6. Displaced Malaitans often sought refuge in Honiara, and many then sought to return to the villages in Malaita to which they had claims through their parents or grandparents. By mid-1999, Malaitan men had formed vigilante groups collectively known as the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), and had established road blocks and bunkers around the perimeter of the town. Beyond these bunkers lay a 'no man's land,' and then the bunkers of Guadalcanal militants facing towards Honiara. Thus Malaitan militants took control of Honiara, which became a Malaitan enclave as displaced settlers flowed into Honiara from the rural areas; while many Guadalcanal people fled into the rural areas controlled by Guadalcanal militants.[16]
  7. The conflict escalated in June 2000, when a 'Joint Operation' between Malaitan militants and the Royal Solomon Islands Police took over the state armoury, placed the Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu under house arrest, and effectively pressured the parliament to elect the opposition leader Manasseh Sogavare as caretaker Prime Minister.[17] By 2003, Solomon Islands was being described as a 'failed state,' and the Solomon Islands government repeatedly sought the assistance of regional partners in the Pacific. This eventually resulted in the mobilisation of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands ('RAMSI'), an Australian-led mission of personnel from across the South Pacific region.

      The work of Women for Peace: 2000–2003

  8. Women were extremely active as mediators in the conflict from the earliest period, and their strategies often drew on customary idioms, such as offering tafuliae (a string of shell money used in customary exchanges on Guadalcanal) in order to placate militants.[18] However these interventions were largely ad hoc, and as the Tension intensified, women advocating for peace began to collectively organise and formalise their responses. In May 2000, women in Honiara held a roundtable discussion which resulted in the release of the Women's Communique on Peace. This Communique outlined a number of activities to be undertaken by women 'in order to contribute constructively and meaningfully to the peace process'.[19] Shortly afterwards, several formal women's peace-building groups emerged. The best-known of these was the Honiara-based 'Women for Peace' group, which had the goal of enabling women to contribute to the peace process 'in their capacity as mothers of the nation.'[20] Margaret Maelanga, a Malaitan women living in White River, explained to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission how she became involved in Women for Peace:

      I heard a message from the Radio announcing that all women should attend a meeting at YWCA. During that meeting we discussed and decided that a women group should be formed and it should be called Solomon Islands Women for Peace. The women came and discussed and decided that they should go out and preach peace to the militants. Usually in any country where there is ethnic conflict women always take leading role to bring about peace.[21]

  9. The activities of Women for Peace included meeting with militants and their leaders to discuss issues including 'law and order, good governance, peace, and the consequences of the tension for the lives of children and mothers.'[22] Members of Women for Peace also met with police officers; diplomatic leaders; the Prime Minister and other parliamentarians; and the Governor General.[23] Prayer, hymns and Bible readings were a major feature of many of these meetings, and the women also met every Wednesday morning to pray.[24] In the weeks following the June 2000 coup, the National Council of Women organised a service held at the Church of Melanesia St Barnabas Cathedral, which was attended by political leaders and diplomats. During the service the women prayed for peace and reconciliation; and appealed to the diplomats for foreign assistance in ending the conflict.[25] Finance for these activities came from the members of Women for Peace, as well as from other individuals, banks, Rotary, AusAID and the European Union.[26]
  10. A 90-day Ceasefire Agreement was signed on 2 August 2000, following a series of peace talks that were held between militants, representatives of civil society groups, chiefs and provincial leaders with support from Australia and New Zealand. A number of breaches of the Ceasefire Agreement occurred, and later that month, the Solomon Islands Civil Society network organised a National Peace Conference. This was attended by 150 delegates from throughout the Solomon Islands, including representatives of Women for Peace. The conference produced a communique calling for greater participation by members of civil society in the peace process.[27] Civil society groups were absent from later peace talks, allegedly because the Malaita Eagle Force perceived the communique as a threat to MEF control over the peace process.[28] The exclusion of civil society groups meant that there were no women participants in the process that led to the signing of the Townsville Peace Agreement. Instead, the Townsville negotiations were confined to male representatives of the national government and provincial assemblies, the Royal Solomon Islands Police, and militant groups.
  11. While the Townsville Peace Agreement was successful in many respects, it also contributed to the deepening of divisions within both the Malaita Eagle Force and the Isatabu Freedom Movement.[29] Fighting within the latter led to significant violence on the remote southern coast of Guadalcanal, and the collapse of the police force and the militarisation of society led to a descent into criminality in Honiara and elsewhere.[30] This continued until the arrival of RAMSI in July 2003.
  12. The work of Women for Peace and other women's organisations initially received some attention from donors and international non-government organisations;[31] non-Solomon Islander academics;[32] and Australian civil society networks. Women for Peace were widely perceived to be playing a crucial role in peace-building, and Debra McDougall observes that 'in the days, weeks and months following the coup, everyone from militia spokesmen to High Commissioners lamented the fact that women had not been involved earlier in peacemaking efforts on Guadalcanal.'[33] In 2000, the Development Studies Network (based at the Australian National University) organised a workshop in Canberra, at which Dr Alice Pollard, Ruth Liloqula and Dalcy Paina presented papers on the peace-building work of the Honiara-based Women for Peace and Guadalcanal Women for Peace respectively.[34] In 2003, Betty Luvusia attended Amnesty International's Pacific Human Rights conference, which was held in Brisbane. She also gave presentations on the Tension in other Australian cities. By 2008, however, the profile of Women for Peace had declined to such an extent that young Australian volunteers working for various women's organisations in Honiara had never heard of the group.
  13. The rapid decline in the public profile of Women for Peace can be at least partly attributed to the marginalisation of women's role in formal peace-building such as peace-talks. Just three days before RAMSI's arrival in July 2003, Afu Billy commented, 'The sad thing about it was that when the armed conflict stopped [in Honiara following the signing of the Townsville Peace Agreement in 2000], the women were excluded again from any of the discussions.'[35] Braithwaite et al. similarly observed that 'as in Bougainville [in Papua New Guinea], in the Solomons, when the fighting did stop, women were quickly marginalised in peace-building decision making. Their contribution was also quickly excluded from a memory of how peace was accomplished, which was dominated by the RAMSI public relations machine.'[36]
  14. While a number of scholars and practitioners have lamented the fact that women were excluded from formal peace negotiations and the initial phases of the international response, there has been only limited scholarly analysis of how women undertook their peace-building work.[37] Yet recovering 'the memory of how peace was accomplished' requires that closer attention be paid to the discursive, material and corporeal strategies by which women peace-builders undertook, justified and legitimated their work.

    Strategies used by women peace-builders: invoking maternity, kastom, and Christianity
  15. Women peace-builders were engaged in a diverse range of activities, including the formation of prayer groups; the collection and distribution of food and other essential items to both militants and victims of the fighting; drawing attention to the social consequences of conflict; and holding meetings with and mediating between militants. Women's rhetorical and corporeal strategies in undertaking this work regularly invoked idioms of maternity; were informed by customary models of women's authority to intervene in conflict; and drew heavily on the rhetorical, material and institutional resources provided by Christianity and the churches.

      Mothers of the land, mothers of the nation

  16. Maternal idioms of the link between women, kin groups and the land are widespread in Solomon Islands, particularly in contexts such as Guadalcanal, where matrilineal principles of inheritance are predominant. During the conflict, Guadalcanal militants adopted the slogan 'Land is Our Mother, Land is Our Life, Land is Our Future.' This slogan emphasises Guadalcanal's matrilineal systems of land tenure and social organisation, and idioms of motherhood that are not confined to women who are (or may become) biological mothers, but extend to the multiple generations of women who give birth to the people that belong to the land.[38] In other work I have highlighted the fact that the slogan draws on an essentialised version of land tenure, social organisation and women's roles which worked to legitimate the violent intervention of men to defend and protect both the land and its people.[39] However maternal idioms were also reinvigorated by women peace-builders to contest and resist this violence, and the strategies used by Women for Peace were replete with actions that invoked the nurturing, maternal role of senior women. Margaret Maelanga told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

      At one time we [Women for Peace] wanted to visit the Isatabu Freedom Movement but we had to make prior arrangements before getting to them. So our Leader arranged with their Commander and then we made our way to their Banker [sic]. When we got to Alligator Creek Bridge, there were barricades from MEF on Westside of the Bridge and IMF on the Eastside of the Bridge. We got to the MEF Banker and asked them if we could get to the IFM Militants, they allowed us to pass through and then we gave the MEF Militants some food. We took a big cake with us and when we got to Alligator Creek, we cut the cake in half and shared it between the two warring parties. When we got to the other side, we thought we were going to die, but I said to the others, 'put our trust in God' because through Him all things are possible. The militants were hungry too that time, but before we distributed food to them, one of the women from Guadalcanal prayed in her language and shared with God's word in her language as well. After the service most of the militants came out from their hiding wearing Kabilato. After they had their meal they said 'Thank you to the SI Women for Peace' and assured that their intention was not to undermine the women of Solomon Islands.[40]

  17. The activities described by Maelanga invoke the nurturing, maternal role of senior women; and other descriptions of the work undertaken by Women for Peace are similarly replete with references to the maternal role. Women distributed food to militants, baked cakes to break in half and share between the warring parties, prayed with militants, and hugged them while they wept.[41] These enactments of women's maternal role were not unconscious, for the discursive strategies used by Women for Peace regularly drew on maternal imagery, as well as the interwoven discourses of kastom and Christianity. For example, Alice Pollard discerns a 'core value of motherliness' in both culture and Christianity, and attributes the role played by women peace-builders to their 'hands-on skills, experiences and responsibilities, their good knowledge of cultural values, and their firm belief in the importance of biblical principles in responding to conflict.'[42] Pollard has also suggested that despite the differences among the members of Women for Peace—who 'consisted of all ages resident in Honiara, from all religious denominations, from all walks of life and from every province'—members were united by their common Christianity and motherly instincts.[43] While militants and their supporters emphasised essentialist, dualistic notions of ethnic homogeneity such as 'Guale' and 'Malaitan,' Women for Peace emphasised women's common experiences as 'mothers' and 'Christians.' This enabled them to transcend divides based on ethnicity and religious affiliations, and to broker a deal with militants whereby women who were trapped in Honiara could interact with those on the Guadalcanal Plains who were unable to access the city due to checkpoints run by militants.[44] These relationships enabled the establishment of a market where women in Honiara exchanged essential goods such as salt, rice, soap and kerosene with women from the plains, who provided fresh produce such as bananas and vegetables in return.[45]
  18. Nicole George points out that Pacific women's activism around peace-building has often involved references to maternity, and that this rhetoric can be critiqued as playing into the idea that women have an innate capacity for nurturing, and are more inclined to peace-building than combat.[46] However George also emphasises the importance of moving beyond such generalities and examining the immensely varied ways in which women draw on maternal references to promote particular peace-building aims.[47] Women for Peace may have essentialised maternity, but they did not romanticise it—like women peace-builders in neighbouring PNG, they drew directly on the 'maternal burden' to draw attention to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict on women and those they nurtured.[48]
  19. Katherine Webber and Helen Johnson are far less positive about the use of maternal idioms than George, stating that the efforts of Women for Peace have not resulted in greater 'political representation' or 'political participation' in the post-conflict period.[49] They place the blame for this squarely at the feet of Women for Peace, finding that:

      It was the conceptualisation of women's activities as those of mothers, and not of active citizens, that led to their exclusion from the peace processes, as they failed to challenge the dominant definitions and constructions of power and security, leaving in place the male dominated political structure [emphasis added].[50]

  20. There are a number of problems with Webber and Johnson's analysis, the first being the empirical evidence they cite as evidence of women's failure to elicit change. When Webber and Johnson refer to 'political representation' and 'political participation,' they appear to mean greater numbers of women in the national parliament. While it is true that only one woman has been elected to parliament since the Tensions, this is a rather narrow view of the representation and participation of women in politics and overlooks the multiple ways in which women peace-builders contributed to social change during the Tension and in the years since the conflict. For example, Jack Maebuta et al. note the importance of the market established by Women for Peace, which was not only critical for livelihood security, but also provided an important forum in which women could meet and share ideas. They also point out that one of the organisations to emerge from women's activities during the conflict was Vois Blong Mere, a women's media organisation that continues to play a prominent role today.[51] Annelise Moser, who undertook a peace and conflict analysis with four communities, reports hearing references to women's increased status and empowerment; the development of new skills; a breakdown in traditional gender roles; increased confidence and status in the community; and an increased capacity to speak out about women's rights.[52]
  21. Perhaps more significantly, Webber and Johnson base their analysis on the assumption that the conceptualisations of women as 'mothers' and 'citizens' are mutually exclusive. This constructs a binary opposition of 'mothers' and 'citizens' according to which the interests of 'mothers' not only involve the domestic sphere, but are confined to it.[53] Yet Solomon Islander women often expressly link maternity and citizenship, and do so in ways that defy these binary oppositions. For example Polini Boseto describes women as 'mothers of democracy' and analogises the 'national community' to the 'community based democracy' that is family.[54] Alice Pollard similarly links maternal imagery with the language of 'democracy and good governance' and 'the nation.'[55] In her writing on Women for Peace, Pollard stresses gender differentiation and complementarity, and emphasises the role of women in food production, domestic duties, child care and community work. However she does so in a manner that unambiguously invokes these responsibilities to claim a greater role for women in 'driving' the 'good governance' and 'prosperity' of 'the nation'; and this anticipates and mitigates against attempts to exclude women from highly public roles at the national level and confine them to the more domestic sphere of family and community life. Thus, as George points out, maternal imagery 'may disrupt as well as reinforce received ideas about the status and value of motherhood in contemporary Pacific settings.'[56]
  22. Webber and Johnson are right to point out that maternity can be used to relegate women to the 'private' or domestic sphere; and a related concern is raised by Bronwen Douglas, who highlights the determinism of Pollard's arguments in her writing on Women for Peace, in particular her argument that 'Melanesian women' have particular 'natural, God-given qualities.'[57] Douglas notes that Pollard has adopted a different approach to gender differentiation in other academic work,[58] and I interpret the essentialisation of women's roles during the conflict as a pragmatic move in a context where the assertion of authority by women could have easily been seen as a threat to (hyper)masculine authority and met with violence. Women for Peace mobilised references to maternity in ways that legitimated their meetings and negotiations with militants, politicians, foreign diplomats and the media. The idiom of motherhood provided women peace-builders with a vital discursive strategy for not only emphasising their neutrality in the conflict and their peace-building goals, but also for differentiating themselves from men in ways that validated their involvement in activities that had become inscribed as hypermasculinised. Far from confining themselves to the 'private' or 'domestic' sphere, Women for Peace espoused the idea that their cultural and moral authority as 'mothers' not only allowed but required their involvement in highly public, formal peace-building activities.[59] Put another way, although Women for Peace did not explicitly draw on the language of international human rights norms, they 'vernacularised' arguments for women's political participation. It is critical to note that this occurred in a context where women's options for mobilisation were heavily circumscribed by the hegemonic ideologies promulgated by militants, which not only threatened but rationalised violence against women.
  23. Maternal imagery is prominent in the strategies of women peace-builders elsewhere in the region, and has often proven highly effective. Maternal imagery was at the heart of women's peace-building strategies during the war on neighbouring Bougainville,[60] where women were not only included in peace talks but now have three seats reserved for women in the parliament of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. Kup Women for Peace, also in Papua New Guinea, have similarly drawn on the rhetoric of motherhood to oppose the escalation of tribal fighting. These strategies have enabled Kup Women for Peace to win support in a context where their activities could have easily been seen as intruding upon a masculine domain and made them the targets of violence. Furthermore, Kup women's use of the idiom of motherhood provided them with sufficient moral authority to expand their role as 'active citizens' and play an influential role in constructions of citizenship, through activities such as voter education and election monitoring.[61] Rather than being confined to the 'domestic' sphere, Pacific women are regularly using maternal imagery to contest traditionally ascribed roles and expand their participation in the public sphere.[62]
  24. Webber and Johnson's analysis fails to recognise the complex ways in which Women for Peace (and indeed women peace-builders elsewhere in the region) mobilised references to maternity, and overlooks the possibility of 'vernacularisation' of international human rights norms. This leads them to undervalue the work of women peace-builders and the enormous risks it must have exposed them to. In so doing, their analysis holds Solomon Islander women responsible for their own subjugation and their exclusion from the peace process and from the parliament.

      The performance of customary authority

  25. As noted above, when women sought to intervene as mediators in the conflict, they often drew on customary idioms and practices, such as offering tafuliae to militants, and Kate Higgins observes that in many societies in Solomon Islands, 'the process of resolving conflicts and keeping the peace in communities…was traditionally the role of the mature woman.'[63] Women often drew on these received ancestral models of women's roles as mediators when they moved between the bunkers of different combatant groups and attempted to persuade them to lay down their weapons. Alice Pollard and Dalcy Paina both refer to practices within their own cultures that enable women to physically intervene in conflict by 'using their clothes, words or body contact'.[64] Pollard refers to the fact that in her own Malaitan culture:

      A woman can stand between two warring parties and challenge them by uttering words such as: 'enough is enough, stop fighting, if you continue to fight after my words, you have walked over my legs'. This is a powerful threat, since in the Areare cultural context it is tambu, 'forbidden', for a male to make contact with or step over a woman's body, especially those to whom he is related by kinship or marriage. Any such transgression requires compensation, or worse in the case of in-laws or sisters. The warring parties should stop fighting immediately a woman swears in this manner, and guidelines for reconciliation and compensation should at once begin to apply.[65]

    Dalcy Tovosia Paina refers to similar cultural practices on Guadalcanal:

      Usually, when a fight breaks out between her male family members, she can stop it by using words that relate to any part of her body (for example, stepping over her thighs, head) and, because the boys cannot do that, they will stop fighting. If they don't, a large amount of compensation has to be paid to the woman's female family members as a result.[66]

  26. These cultural models enabled women to play a significant role in crossing the divide between the warring factions, not only socially but also physically. Women were able to cross armed militant checkpoints, and often travelled into dangerous areas in order to deliver essential items to people, as well as meet with militants and urge them to engage in peace talks.[67] The cultural practices referred to by Pollard and Paina draw their power from cultural constructions whereby women's bodies are inscribed with both sacred and polluting power, and gender relations are circumscribed by codes of heterosexual avoidance, particularly between close kin such as siblings. Ruth Saovana-Spriggs refers to similar strategies, also rooted in customary practice, on Bougainville.[68] While Jennifer Corrin suggests that the use of the body is used 'by those who do not have an effective political voice,'[69] I suggest that this view not only privileges the power of speech over other forms of 'voice,' but also overlooks the performative aspects of politics. Furthermore, the cultural norms described by Pollard and Paina, and widespread reports of effective intervention by women during the conflict, appear to stand in stark contrast to research which indicates that Solomon Islander women face a high risk of violence from an intimate partner, father, step-father or brother.[70] This highlights the need to disaggregate the various forms of 'gender based violence'; and to pay closer attention to the variety of strategies used by women to contest violence, as well as the situations in which those strategies may or may not be successful.

      The significance of Christianity and the churches

  27. As is clear from the quotes above, the maternal imagery invoked by Pollard and other women involved in Women for Peace drew heavily on the overlapping and interwoven discourses of kastom and Christianity. The scholarly work written by women who were involved in peace-building initiatives reveal that Christian idioms and specific biblical texts were regularly invoked by women to legitimate their involvement in highly public acts of peace-building. Furthermore, while differences in theological interpretations and denominational affiliations often provide an important marker of social differentiation and even tension in Solomon Islands,[71] members of Women for Peace came from a variety of religious backgrounds and emphasised a common, universal 'Christian perspective.' Pollard asserts that,

      From a Christian perspective the Bible also provides for women's role in conflict. The example of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:1–44 highlights the role Abigail played in bringing about peace for her nation against King David's army through face to face dialogue and sharing of food…. Thus the motherly nature of women in the contexts of culture and Christianity demonstrates peaceful, non-violent methods whereby women can help resolve conflict.[72]

  28. While the use of Christian scripture is highly persuasive in Solomon Islands, the resources and opportunities provided by Christianity were not only discursive, but material and institutional. There are few women clergy in Solomon Islands, but church women's groups are highly visible and significant, and the leaders of these groups enjoy a position of moral and political authority within both the local churches and the villages with which they are associated.[73] These leadership positions and social networks, as well as the institutional infrastructure and material resources of the churches, were central to women's peace-building initiatives during the Tension.[74]
  29. Claudette Liliau's testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is particularly striking for what it reveals about the significance of the social networks and institutional infrastructure of the Catholic Church to women living in the vicinity of Kakabona, a string of villages to the immediate west of the Honiara town boundary. By early 2000, shootouts were regularly occurring in the hills behind Honiara and Kakabona; homes were burned down; and bridges and other infrastructure had been destroyed by both Malaitan and Guadalcanal militants. Liliau explained to the Commission,

      We really found hard times during the year 2000. Fortunately we were lucky to have worked closely with the Holy Cross Women Desk Officer who helped us a lot, and we owed her a lot. Sometimes women found it hard to get through the Bankers [sic: bunkers] and the Women Desk Officer at Holy Cross had to intervene and women got through. Sometimes when things became very hard and those women could not go through they had to spend the night at Holy Cross and the Desk Officer had to arrange transport for them to get through the Bankers [sic] the next day, and through God's power it was done. Sometimes the Desk Officer had to arrange transport for the women to go to Kongulai and then they went through the jungle until they got to Veraboli. Sometimes the Desk Officer arranged transport for the women to go and drop them off at White River Banker and they walked across. It was through our faith that things worked out for the affected women of Kakabona area.[75]

  30. Lilau's testimony highlights the vital role played by the Women's Desk Office at the central Catholic Church in Honiara (Holy Cross) in providing a focal point for communication between women, and facilitating access to church-based resources such as shelter and transport. Liliau's testimony also reveals the significance of Christian ritual such as prayer in building the confidence, motivation and solidarity of women peace-builders. She describes how prior to meeting militants, women peace-builders 'prepared themselves and went to a Prayer Mountain.'

      They were there for three days praying and fasting. After three days, they came back to Tamboko and prepared themselves again to come to Tanaghai Parish…on 6th June 2000, we came together at Tanaghai and prayed and then we went up to Tanaghai hill…. When we came up there were shootings but we just went up. When we got to the Banker then one of the Commanders asked the militants to put their guns down, so the militants did and we prayed and shared God's word together. After the prayer, the Commander thanked us and then we shook hands and we were all very emotional and cried. One of their Commanders said 'thank you very much to you all mums for the sharing'. One of the things the Commander said was to pray for the GRA militants, but we said to them we already did on our way to you and of course we will always pray for both groups. [76] 

  31. Paina notes in her observations of women's peacebuilding that organisations associated with the churches are less likely to attract a negative response than other women's organisations.[77] In Solomon Islands, women who are involved in 'secular' women's organisations are often subject to the charge of being anti-men and pro-divorce,[78] an accusation that is closely tied to the notion that 'human rights' and 'feminism' are 'western' ideas opposed to both kastom and Christianity.[79] When women peace-builders framed their claims in terms of Christian idioms and mobilised in church-based groups, it became far more difficult for their opponents to question their commitment to Christianity and the church, and by extension, their commitment to 'Solomon Islands' culture'.
  32. Despite the significance of Christian narratives and institutions to Solomon Islanders, the discomfort of international or foreign human rights groups with Solomon Islander women's invocation of Christianity in their advocacy and activism is often patently obvious. In 2004, I attended a presentation given by Betty Luvusia at Amnesty International's offices in Melbourne. Luvusia gave a passionate and distressing account of human rights abuses during the Tension, and was inundated with questions after her presentation. One member of the audience asked Luvusia what kinds of activities Women for Peace were engaged in following the arrival of RAMSI and the cessation of hostilities. Luvusia's answer included the comment that women continued to meet regularly for prayer. An audience member sought to confirm that women peace-builders were 'just' praying, and ripples of laughter washed across the audience.[80] This response may have been a product of Australian discomfort with organised religion in general, and Christianity in particular, and the giggles may have arisen from an audience that lacked confidence and felt uncertain as to how to discuss religion in this way. However at the time I perceived it as dismissive, as disparaging Women for Peace and belittling the significance of Christianity to Solomon Islander's cultural narrative schemas and everyday practices. Irrespective of the underlying source of the audience's laughter, it prevented further discussion of the role of religious rituals in building solidarity;[81] and overlooked the fact that many Solomon Islander women regard prayer as a means to 'provide encouragement and comfort' to others.[82] The audience's response revealed the discomfort and even disdain shown towards the 'unfashionable conjunction of women with parochial Christianity' which means that the influence of Christian narratives and institutional forms remains poorly understood and largely overlooked by donors and international development specialists.[83]
  33. The lack of understanding of, and appreciation for, Solomon Islander women's strategies and values is not only disrespectful, it can be profoundly harmful. Foreign sources of support (whether financial or otherwise) are absolutely vital to women's organisations in Solomon Islands, but can also expose them to the charge of being overly influenced by 'western' agendas and betraying kastom and Christianity.[84] This can be traced, in no small part, to the tendency of many 'foreigners' to equate the 'human' with the 'western' and the 'secular'. This makes the 'women in the middle' suspect, because as Merry points out, 'intermediaries are always suspect because they are not fully in one world or the other.'[85] Furthermore, it perpetuates the reproduction of the discursive field in which human rights becomes tied to the 'empowerment' of women, and respect for tradition, culture and Christianity becomes tied to their subordination and 'oppression.'[86]

  34. As Anna-Karina Hermkens observes elsewhere in this volume, much of the commentary on Solomon Islands suggests that tradition is an obstacle to women's rights, with culture and women's rights pitted against each other. Existing scholarly literature and donor discourses on women's rights in Solomon Islands tend to focus on rights violations, and locate barriers to women's rights within kastom and Christianity.[87] This opposes 'human rights' to kastom and Christianity and encourages the conclusion that the sole, or at least primary, means to women's empowerment are to be found within the language and institutional infrastructure of international human rights law. It also overlooks the fact that the state legal system has often worked to compound gender inequality in Melanesian contexts.[88] Furthermore, the imagined opposition between human rights on the one hand, and kastom and Christianity on the other, reproduces the historical and current lack of recognition of Pacific women's agency, Pacific Island 'feminisms,' and Pacific women's 'activism.'[89] It places Solomon Islander women between a rock and a hard place, criticised on the one side by those with conservative, parochial interests; and undermined on the other by western feminists suspicious of Christianity and kastom.[90] Both approaches silence Solomon Islander women and deny the legitimacy, authenticity and effectiveness of their feminisms. Both reproduce constructions of educated, urban women intellectuals who are overly influenced by 'foreigners' and 'foreign ideas' as against 'the grassroots,' meaning the women in rural areas who are presumed to be less educated and the locus of authenticity.[91] The supposed opposition of human rights with kastom and Christianity not only blames Solomon Islander women for their subjugation and exclusion, but reproduces the hegemonic discursive fields in which they must operate.
  35. In this context, it is hardly surprising that many Solomon Islander women question and even reject the vocabulary of 'feminism,' 'activism' and 'human rights'. My point here is not to dismiss this vocabulary nor romanticise maternal imagery, kastom and Christianity, but—appropriating the eloquence of Lila Abu-Lughod—to 'remind us to be aware of differences, respectful of other paths to social change that might give women better lives.'[92] While cautious about assuming the label of 'feminist,' many Solomon Islander women not only perceive themselves to be unjustly subordinated and excluded for some aspects of social and political life, but devote considerable energy to contesting discriminatory interpretations of land tenure, dispute resolution and political authority.[93] While recognising that maternal imagery, kastom and Christianity can be mobilised in ways that perpetuate gender inequality, I suggest that a close examination of the strategies used by women peace-builders reveals that Solomon Islander women are adept at mobilising these systems to contest and resist inequality and violence. These strategies might seem overly conservative, conformist or risk-averse to some western feminists, but such easy dismissals perpetuate the kind of violence so often highlighted by postcolonial feminists, constructing women as the victims of the very cultural and religious traditions that they value. This kind of analysis discursively and materially disables Solomon Islander women, by denying the possibility that they might have the capacity to challenge the barriers that they perceive themselves to be facing, and insisting that the expertise and resources necessary for challenging these barriers reside elsewhere. Rather than equating 'the human' with 'the western,' international actors must take the power, expertise and knowledge of Solomon Islander women far more seriously than is often the case, and pay much closer attention to the ways in which Solomon Islander women mobilise to address the problems they perceive themselves to be confronting.


    [1] I have been fortunate to receive feedback on draft versions of this paper in several forums: a 2011 workshop with Sally Engle Merry held at the ANU; at the Harvard Institute for Global Law and Policy workshop in Doha in 2013; and a reading and writing group convened by Margaret Jolly and held at the ANU in 2013. I also received feedback from two anonymous reviewers. I am immensely grateful to all who read this paper and shared their insights.

    [2] See for example Helen Leslie and Selina Boso, 'Gender-related violence in the Solomon Islands: the work of local women's organizations,' Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol. 44, no. 3 (2003): 325–33; Regional Rights Resource Team and United Nations Development Program, Social Impact Assessment of Peace Restoration Initiatives in Solomon Islands, Suva: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2004.

    [3] This appears to be an assumption underlying RAMSI's Machinery of Government Program as well as the UNIFEM Pacific Gender Equality in Political Governance Project, 2008–2012.

    [4] See further Rebecca Monson, 'Hu Nao Save Tok? Women, men and land: negotiating property and authority in Solomon Islands,' Ph.D. thesis, Canberra: Australian National University, 2012, pp. 265–-313.

    [5] Sally Engle Merry, 'Legal vernacularization and Ka Ho'okolokolonui Kanaka Maoli, the People's International Tribunal, Hawai'i 1993,' PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, vol. 19, no. 1 (1996): 67–82; Sally Engle Merry, 'Transnational human rights and local activism: mapping the middle,' American Anthropologist, vol. 108, no. 1 (2006): 38–51; Sally Engle Merry, Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006.

    [6] Jean Bethke Elshtain, Women and War, New York: Basic Books, 1987, p. 265; Hilary Charlesworth, 'Are women peaceful? Reflections on the role of women in peace-building,' Feminist Legal Studies, vol. 16 (2005): 347–61.

    [7] For example, Amnesty International's Solomon Islands: Women Confronting Violence focuses on women as victims of violence, and pays very little attention to the forms of agency that women exercised when 'confronting violence.' There is no mention of women's historically important role in intervening in situations of violence. The role of women peace-builders during the Tension is confined to a single paragraph, and dismissed with the assertion that women were 'quickly silenced by threats from male relatives.' See Amnesty International, Solomon Islands: Women Confronting Violence, no publication details available, 2004.

    [8] See for example Alice Pollard, 'Resolving conflict in Solomon Islands: the women for peace approach,' Development Bulletin, vol. 53 (2000): 44–46; Dalcy Tovosia Paina, 'Peacemaking in the Solomon Islands: the experiences of the Guadalcanal Women for Peace Movement,' Development Bulletin, vol. 53 (2000): 47–48; Ruth Liloqula, 'Understanding the conflict in the Solomon Islands as a practical means to peacemaking,' Development Bulletin, vol. 53 (2000): 41–43; Helen Leslie, 'Gendering conflict and conflict management in Solomon Islands,' Development Bulletin, vol. 60 (2002): 13–16; Leslie and Boso, 'Gender-related violence'; RRRT and UNDP, Social Impact Assessment.

    [9] Jon Fraenkel, The Manipulation of Custom: From Uprising to Intervention in the Solomon Islands, Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2004, pp. 13, 92; Matthew Allen, 'Greed and Grievance in the Conflict in Solomon Islands, 1998–2003,' Ph.D. thesis, Canberra: the Australian National University, 2007, pp. 37, 157–58; Richard Carter, In Search of the Lost: The Death and Life of Seven Peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood, London: Canterbury Press Norwich, 2006. Strikingly, the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission held three 'thematic public hearings'—one for 'youth,' one for 'women' and one for 'former combatants,' furthering the construction of men as combatants.

    [10] Referred to in Paina, 'Peacemaking in the Solomon Islands,' p. 48.

    [11] I am not aware of any instances in which women wielded guns, but I have been told of instances in which women stole guns, and many also admit to advocating violence and revenge attacks. The beliefs, attitudes, passion and charisma of these women make it impossible for me to dismiss these stories as mere fabrication. However when I have questioned the emphasis on women as solely victims of violence and peace-builders, expatriates working at a range of institutions in the Solomons have downplayed this as 'aberrant' or even flatly denied the involvement of women in this manner. For similar comments see B.K. Greener, W.J. Fish and K. Tekulu, 'Peacebuilding, gender and policing in Solomon Islands,' Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol. 52, no. 1 (2011): 17–28, p. 20; and Annalise Moser, Peace and Conflict Gender Analysis: Community-Level Data from the Solomon Islands, United Nations Fund for Women, 2006, p. 4, online:, accessed 28 November 2013.

    [12] Merry, 'Transnational human rights and local activism: mapping the middle.'

    [13] See for example Sinclair Dinnen, Daniel Evans, Matthew Allen and Rebecca Monson, Justice Delivered Locally: Systems, Challenges and Innovations in Solomon Islands, Justice for the Poor Research Report, Washington DC: The World Bank, 2013.

    [14] Allen, 'Greed and Grievance'; John Braithwaite, Sinclair Dinnen, Matthew Allen, Valerie Braithwaite and Hilary Charlesworth, Pillars and Shadows: Statebuilding as Peacebuilding in Solomon Islands, Canberra: ANU E Press, 2010, online:, accessed 28 November 2013.

    [15] Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, Beyond Ethnicity: The Political Economy of the Guadalcanal Crisis in Solomon Islands, Working Paper 01/2001, Canberra: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program, Canberra: the Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, 2001; Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows; Allen, Greed and Grievance.

    [16] See in particular Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows; Allen, Greed and Grievance.

    [17] See further Allen, 'Greed and Grievance,' p. 31; Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, p. 130.

    [18] See for example the testimony of Elsie Talei, Thematic Public Hearing for Women, Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission, transcript of hearing 25 November 2010. Talei is of Malaitan and Guadalcanal descent, and described how Guale militants rounded up people of 'Malaitan' descent in her village. Her uncle's wife, from the Duff Islands in Temotu Province, 'took one Tafuliae and gave it to the militants but they refused and threw the Tafuliae back to the woman.'

    [19] Ruth Liloqula and Alice Ahe'eta Pollard, 'Understanding conflict in Solomon Islands: a practical means to peacemaking,' Discussion Paper 00/7, Canberra: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program, Canberra: the Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, 2000, p. 10.

    [20] Liloqula and Pollard, 'Understanding conflict in Solomon Islands'; Alice Aruhe'eta Pollard, 'Women's organizations, voluntarism, and self-financing in Solomon Islands: a participant perspective,' Oceania, vol. 74, nos 1/2 (2003): 44–60, p. 51.

    [21] Margaret Maelanga, Thematic Public Hearing for Women, Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission, transcript of hearing 25 November 2010.

    [22] Liloqula and Pollard, Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands, p. 11.

    [23] Liloqula and Pollard, Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands, p. 11; Pollard 'Women's Organizations', pp. 51–52.

    [24] Liloqula and Pollard, Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands, pp. 11–12.

    [25] Christine Weir, 'The churches in Solomon Islands and Fiji: responses to the crises of 2000, Development Bulletin, vol. 53 (2000): 49–53, p. 50.

    [26] Pollard, 'Women's Organizations,' p. 52.

    [27] Allen, Greed and Grievance, pp. 33–34; Sinclair Dinnen, 'Winners and losers: politics and disorder in the Solomon Islands 2000–2002,' The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 37, no. 3 (2002): 285–98, pp. 289–90.

    [28] Fraenkel, The Manipulation of Custom, p. 96; Allen, Greed and Grievance, p. 34.

    [29] See further Fraenkel, The Manipulation of Custom, p. 101ff; Allen, Greed and Grievance, p. 35ff.

    [30] Allen, Greed and Grievance, p. 35; Dinnen, 'Winners and losers,' p. 293.

    [31] See for example Amnesty International, Solomon Islands: Women Confronting Violence.

    [32] See for example Leslie, 'Gendering conflict'; Katherine Webber and Helen Johnson, 'Women, peace building and political inclusion: a case study from Solomon Islands,' Hecate, vol. 34, no. 2, (2008): 83–99.

    [33] Debra McDougall, 'Fellowship and citizenship as models of national community: United Church Women's Fellowship in Ranongga, Solomon Islands,' Oceania, vol. 74, nos 1/2 (2003): 61–80, p. 62.

    [34] See Pamela Thomas et al., Conflict and Peacemaking: Gender Perspectives, Development Studies Network, n.d., online:, accessed 18 December 2013.

    [35] 'Women's voice ignored in intervention debate,' Pacific Beat, Radio Australia, 21 July 2003, cited in Oxfam, Australian Intervention in the Solomons: Beyond Operation Helpem Fren, Melbourne: Oxfam, 2003, pp. 20–21.

    [36] Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, p. 32.

    [37] For example, Braithwaite et al., note that women were marginalised as the peace process progressed and became more formalised and institutionalised (p. 32), but their examination of the strategies used by women is limited. See Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, pp. 31–32, 82.

    [38] For discussions of the use of maternal imagery by women peace-builders on Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, see Ruth Saovana-Spriggs, 'The peace process in Bougainville during the cease-fire period: 1999–2000,' Development Bulletin, vol. 53 (2000): 20–22; Josephine Tankunani Sirivi and Marilyn Taleo Havini (eds), As Mothers of the Land: The Birth of the Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom, Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2004; Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows; Anna-Karina Hermkens, 'Mary, motherhood and nation: religion and nation: religion and gender ideology in Bougainville's secessionist warfare,' Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, issue 25, 24 February 2011, online:, site accessed 15 January 2012.

    [39] See further Rebecca Monson, 'Hu Nao Save Tok?' pp. 271, 305–10. Anna-Karina Hermkens points out that the essentialisation of women's roles as reproducers and custodians of land and culture on Bougainville created the expectation that men would defend and protect the holy land and its people. See Hermkens, 'Mary, motherhood and nation'. Michael Scott also points out the construction of Guadalcanal as a matrilineal space and people, contrasted with Malaita as a space of patriliny and patriarchy. See Michael W. Scott, 'The matter of Makira: colonialism, competition, and the production of gendered peoples in contemporary Solomon Islands and medieval Britain,' History and Anthropology, vol. 23 (2012): 115–48, p. 134.

    [40] Maelanga, Thematic Public Hearing for Women.

    [41] Pollard, 'Resolving conflict in Solomon Islands,' pp. 44–46; Sharon Bhagwan Rolls 'Women as mediators in Pacific conflict zones,' Women in Action no. 2 (2006): 29–41, pp. 32–34.

    [42] Liloqula and Pollard, Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands, p. 9.

    [43] Liloqula and Pollard, Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands, p. 10.

    [44] See also Nicole George in relation to Fiji: Nicole George, ''Just like your mother?' the politics of feminism and maternity in the Pacific Islands,' The Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol. 32 (2010): 77–96, p. 89.

    [45] Weir, 'The churches in Solomon Islands and Fiji,' p. 50; Rebecca Spence and Jack Maebuta with Iris Wielders and Micheal O'Loughlin, Attempts at Building Peace in the Solomon Islands: Disconnected Layers, Cambridge MA: Peaceworks Pty Ltd, 2009, p. 35.

    [46] George, 'Just like your mother?' p. 86.

    [47]Development and Change, vol. 38 no. 1 (2007): 131–47, pp 141–44.

    [48] This theme arises repeatedly in the transcripts of the Thematic Public Hearing for Women held by the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission in November 2010. In relation to Bougainville, see in particular Sr. Lorraine Garasu, 'The role of women in promoting peace and reconciliation,' in Weaving Consensus: The Papua New Guinea-Bougainville Peace Process, ed. A. Carl and L. Garusu, London: Conciliation Resources, 2002, pp. 28–31; and Ruth Saovana-Spriggs, 'Bougainville women's role in conflict resolution in the Bougainville peace process,' in A Kind of Mending: Restorative Justice in the Pacific Islands, ed. Sinclair Dinnen, Anita Jowitt and Tess Newton-Cain, Canberra: ANU E Press, 2003, pp. 195–213, p. 209, online:

    [49] Webber and Johnson, 'Women, peace building and political inclusion,' p. 83.

    [50] Webber and Johnson, 'Women, peace building and political inclusion,' p. 93.

    [51] Spence and Maebuta, Attempts at Building Peace in the Solomon Islands.

    [52] Moser, Peace and Conflict Gender Analysis.

    [53] See also Greener, Fish and Tekulu's observations of aid policy in Solomon Islands. Greener, Fish and Tekulu, 'Peacebuilding, gender and policing in Solomon Islands,' p. 22.

    [54] Polini Boseto, 'Melanesian women, mothers of democracy' in Women and Governance from the Grassroots in Melanesia, ed. Bronwen Douglas, State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Discussion Paper 00/2, Canberra: the Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, 2000, pp. 8–10.

    [55] Pollard, 'Resolving conflict in Solomon Islands.'

    [56] George, 'Just like your mother?' p. 78.

    [57] Bronwen Douglas, 'Christianity, tradition and everyday modernity: towards an anatomy of women's groupings in Melanesia,' Oceania, vol. 74, nos 1/2 (2003): 6–23, p. 9.

    [58] Douglas cites as an example Alice Aruhe'eta Pollard, Givers of Wisdom, Labourers Without Gain: Essays on Women in Solomon Islands, Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, 2000, pp. 1–56.

    [59] See also Leslie, 'Gendering conflict.'

    [60] See for example Sirivi and Havini (eds), As Mothers of the Land.

    [61] Sara Garap, 'Kup women for peace: women taking action to build peace and influence community decision-making,' Discussion Paper 2004/4, Canberra: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program, Canberra: the Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, 2004; Rachael Hinton, Michelle Kopi, Angela Apa, Agnes Sil, Mary Kini, Jerry Kai, Yanny Guman and Danielle Cowley, 'The Kup Women for Peace approach to peacebuilding: taking the lead in the Papua New Guinea National Elections,' Gender & Development, vol. 16, no. 3 (2008): 523–33.

    [62] Cf. Razavi and George in relation to Iran and Fiji respectively: Shahra Razavi, 'Maternalist politics in Norway and the Islamic Public of Iran,' in Global Perspectives on Gender Equality: Reversing the Gaze, ed. Naila Kabeer, Agneta Stark and Edda Maguns, New York: Routledge, 2008, pp. 64–86; George, 'Just like your mother?' pp. 77–96.

    [63] Kate Higgins, 'Outside in: a volunteer's reflections on a Solomon Islands Community Development Program,' Discussion Paper 2008/3, State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program, Canberra: the Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, 2008, p. 4.

    [64] Pollard, 'Resolving conflict in Solomon Islands,' p. 44.

    [65] Liloqula and Pollard, Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands, pp. 9–10. Cf. Higgins, who refers to one older woman on North Malaita telling her a story of how she had to run 'crazily' through the village to stop a man with a bush knife from attacking another man: 'She chased him down the village and as he was holding the knife in the air to attack him, she grabbed his wrist and told him to drop it. He obeyed and agreed to go and see the priest and chief to talk about his problem. I asked her if she was frightened and she said, 'No,' because it was 'my work for doing this.'' See Higgins, 'Outside In,' p. 4.

    [66] Paina, 'Peacemaking in the Solomon Islands,' p. 55.

    [67] Higgins emphasises that in Temotu, historically 'it was the role of women to put kastom money (feather money) on the end of a bow to stop the fighting, which shows that women had an important role inside the community and that her role was one of respect.' See Higgins, 'Outside in', p. 4. Ruth Saovana-Spriggs refers to similar strategies, also rooted in customary practice, on Bougainville. See Saovana-Spriggs, 'Bougainville women's role in conflict resolution,' p. 206.

    [68] Saovana-Spriggs, 'Bougainville women's role in conflict resolution,' p. 206.

    [69] Jennifer Corrin, 'Ples Blong Mere: law, gender and peace-building in Solomon Islands,' Feminist Legal Studies, vol. 16 (2008): 169–94, p. 172.

    [70] Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Solomon Islands Family Health and Safety Study: A Study on Violence Against Women and Children, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2009, pp. 3–4, 61–86.

    [71] For example there are often significant tensions within and between communities based on contested interpretations of the Sabbath.

    [72] Liloqula and Pollard, Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands, p. 10.

    [73] See for example McDougall, 'Fellowship and citizenship'; Regina Scheyvens, 'Church women's groups and the empowerment of women in Solomon Islands,' Oceania, vol. 74 (2003): 24–43.

    [74] Pollard, 'Women's Organizations,' pp. 44–60. See also Ruth Saovana-Spriggs in relation to the significance of the churches on Bougainville in terms of institutional infrastructure and support. Saovana-Spriggs, 'The peace process in Bougainville.'

    [75] Liliau, Thematic Public Hearing for Women.

    [76] Liliau, Thematic Public Hearing for Women.

    [77] Paina, 'Peacemaking in the Solomon Islands,' p. 55.

    [78] This discursive strategy has been observed elsewhere in Melanesia. See Douglas, 'Christian citizens'; Douglas, 'Christianity, tradition and everyday modernity'; Margaret Jolly, '“Women Ikat Raet Long Human Raet or No?" Women's rights, human rights and domestic violence in Vanuatu,' Feminist Review, vol. 52 (1996): 169–90.

    [79] McDougall, 'Fellowship and citizenship,' p. 62.

    [80] At the time I wondered whether an account of the religious practices of a group from another religious context, such as Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan, would receive the same response. Bronwen Douglas must have observed similar reactions to sewing—she comments, 'In Vanuatu and the Pacific generally, sewing and the art of sewing machine maintenance are evidently not to be despised, and yet reference to them in academic settings routinely provokes sniggers.' See Douglas, 'Traditional individuals? gendered negotiations of identity, Christianity and citizenship in Vanuatu,' State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Discussion Paper 98/6, Canberra: the Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, 1998, p. 6. See further Douglas, 'Christian citizens: women and negotiations of modernity in Vanuatu,' The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 14 no. 1 (2002): 1–38; and Douglas, 'Christianity, tradition and everyday modernity.'

    [81] See further McDougall, 'Fellowship and citizenship'; Scheyvens, 'Church women's groups.' Ruth Saovana-Spriggs also refers to women on Bougainville in Papua New Guinea going into extensive periods of 'meditation.' See Saovana-Spriggs, 'The peace process in Bougainville,' p. 21.

    [82] Paina, 'Peacemaking in the Solomon Islands,' p 48. See also Anne Dickson-Waiko, who explains that for Papua New Guinean women, 'prayer is political.' Anne Dickson-Waiko, 'The missing rib: mobilizing church women for change in Papua New Guinea,' Oceania, vol. 74, nos 1/2 (2003): 98–119, p. 110.

    [83] Douglas, 'Christianity, tradition and everyday modernity,' p. 14. See also Caroline Sweetman (ed.), Gender, Religion and Spirituality, Special Issue of Gender and Development, vol. 7 no. 1 (1999); and Margaret Jolly, 'Beyond the horizon? Nationalisms, feminisms, and globalization in the Pacific,' Ethnohistory, vol. 52, no. 1 (2005): 138–66, p. 149.

    [84] Lila Abu-Lughod has similarly discussed the dilemmas that Arab feminists face as a result of campaigns by western feminists, which often work to expose them to accusations by Islamist or nationalist conservatives. Lila Abu-Lughod, 'Orientalism and Middle East feminist studies,' Feminist Studies, vol. 27, no. 1 (2001): 101–13.

    [85] Merry, 'Transnational human rights and local activism,' p. 48.

    [86] See also Jolly, 'Women Ikat Raet Long Human Raet or No?'

    [87] See for example Kenneth Brown and Jennifer Corrin Care, 'More on democratic fundamentals in Solomon Islands: Minister for Provincial Government v Guadalcanal Provincial Assembly,' Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, vol. 32, no. 3 (2001): 653–72, p. 653; Jennifer Corrin Care, 'Customary law and women's rights in Solomon Islands,' Development Bulletin, vol. 51 (2000): pp. 20–22 ; Sonali Hedditch and Clare Manuel, Solomon Islands Gender and Investment Climate Reform Assessment, Washington DC: International Finance Corporation in partnership with AusAID, 2010.

    [88] See for example Dickson-Waiko, 'The missing rib'; Rebecca Monson, 'Negotiating land tenure: women, men and the transformation of land tenure in Solomon Islands,' in Customary Justice: Perspectives on Legal Empowerment, ed. Janine Ubink, Rome: International Development Law Organisation and Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Development, pp. 169–85.

    [89] See for example Margaret Jolly, 'The forgotten women: a history of migrant labour and gender relations in Vanuatu,' Oceania, vol. 58, no. 2 (1987): 119–39; George, ''Just like your mother?' p. 77; and Garap, 'Kup women for peace,' p. 2. I would also emphasise that many women in Solomon Islands are extremely uneasy about describing themselves as 'feminists' or 'activists.' They perceive this language to invoke 'western' discourses and frameworks that they believe may not only be counter-productive, but also undesirable in their own cultural contexts. See also Dickson-Waiko, 'The missing rib'; Jolly, 'Women Ikat Raet Long Human Raet or No?'

    [90] This is of course not unique to Solomon Islanders—a number of scholars have made a similar point in relation to the constructed opposition of Islam on the one hand, and the West and human rights on the other. See Afsaneh Najmabadi, 'Feminism in an Islamic republic,' in Islam, Gender and Social Change, ed. Yvonne Haddad and John Esposito, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 59–84; Lila Abu-Lughod, 'Do Muslim women really need saving? Anthropological reflections on cultural relativism and its others,' American Anthropologist, vol. 104, no. 3 (2002): 783–790; Asifa Quraishi, 'What if Sharia weren't the enemy? Rethinking international women's rights advocacy on Islamic Law,' Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, vol. 20, no. 5 (2011): 173–249.

    [91] See also Anne Dickson-Waiko's analysis of the 'male backlash' against educated, urban PNG women in the independence era. Anne Dickson-Waiko, 'Women, nation and decolonisation in Papua New Guinea,' The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 48, no. 2 (2013): 177–93. I have also witnessed educated, urban male intellectuals be subjected to the charge that they are out of touch with 'village life' and 'the grassroots,' however I share Margaret Jolly's view that women are accused of this far more often and far more punitively than their male counterparts. See Jolly, 'Beyond the horizon?' p. 161.

    [92] Abu-Lughod, 'Do Muslim women really need saving?’ p. 788.

    [93] See further Monson, 'Hu Nao Save Tok?'; Scheyvens, 'Church women’s groups,' p. 27.


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