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Courting kleptocracy - Part I: Translation

In my country (as is the case globally), every political choice our leaders make is simultaneously an economic act for the development (or detriment) of my fellow citizens.

Development translates to different things for each of us. In Solomon Islands however, I've seen that development is hampered by two main issues: Political will; and Geography. The elephant in the room will always be politics, so I would much rather not focus on this. I'd like instead to focus on the second issue of geography and use a fictional (but realistic) example of what it is like living in Solomon Islands, as a woman - who though she most probably feels detached from the governing bodies of her country, is still able to contribute productively to her society.

I am born into a world where feminism is still a semi-new concept - but despite being old, its work is still not done yet. At least not in my country. Every day, my culture dictates that little girls are still to be taught to 'look nice, be nice and play nice'. To actively listen, to be adaptable and receptive - and accepting of opinions (despite our own). Then as adults, we go out into the world to be paid less, heard less and hurt more.

The Solomon Islands is known to be a democratic country; but it should also be aware that there are other labels for governments and be wary of its ability to convey distinct markings of them. As women, we are members of society. We can and should be holding our institutions to account, as a collective, as opposed to courting our 'kleptocrats'. Not sure what a kleptocracy is? Read here.

When we speak of politics and feminism and development, the Principles of Feminist Governance come to mind. Do you know what those are? Have you heard of EMILY's List Australia? If you haven't - please read here. They are five suggested governing principles of delivering gender equity by design, and applicable to any gender equity advocate, particularly ones in a male-dominated space. They are:

  1. Setting gender targets to drive change.

  2. The beauty of persistent incrementalism.

  3. Prioritizing the training and development of women leaders.

  4. Maximizing independence through women moving millions.

  5. Championing an ethic of care.

A bit technical to understand? I thought I'd use an example to explain each.

I consider myself to be part of the working class - what other parts of the world may classify as 'middle class' - and my views on development are very different to say, a female market vendor located in the province. She is no less than I, and we are both active contributors to our different sectors, and collectively to our societies.

But where I would see development as fairer working conditions and better roads in Honiara, she may translate development to being a safe marketplace, or a better wharf in her hometown. In either case, we are both equating development as tangible outcomes that happen when our society is a whole and functioning mechanism.

Now as a society, and particularly in the formal economy, a functioning 'member' of society would be someone that pays their taxes (40% of your income, by the way - and a ridiculously high amount even in the Pacific) - someone like me. But I live in the capital, Honiara - read more about this here.

Now the market vendor - let's call her Mary - she is part of the informal economy, the part that does not pay the taxes. And she lives in the province, let's say Western Province - some 316 km's from Honiara. I've worked with many market vendors however and their replies as to why are uniform: the formal economy is too expensive for them to join.

The fact that she cannot afford to be part of the formal economy should speak to us as a nation, for why we are struggling to move ahead as a country. Already, geographically speaking she is disadvantaged because she has to live in the province where some (not all) essential goods and services are located. But as a collective? Mary represents the approximately 80% of Solomon Islanders who live outside the capital, in provinces without access to affordable (and sometimes even basic) services.

However, despite being unable to contribute to the formal economy through taxes, that should pay for basic goods and services (education, health etc.), Mary contributes to society in a different way. Mary supplies the food that every working person in the formal economy buys for their families. Mary and her counterparts are in effect, feeding the nation.

And that's just how a society works. One part taking care of the others when they need it.

Please see here for the second part of this series, where I break down the Principles of Feminist Governance into contextualized and translatable chunks, using Mary's example.
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