Many Solomon Islands women slum dwellers have to walk at least a kilometre a day carrying heavy loads of water back to their families – and risk running the gauntlet with young male predators, according to a new human rights report.
The research says on these journeys women are continually harassed, attacked and raped.
However the alternative – to wash their dishes, their clothes and themselves in dirty water – is exposing inhabitants to disease.
Patrick Holmes, chief executive officer of Amnesty International Aotearoa launched the report, titled “Where is the dignity in that?” at AUT University today in association with the Pacific Media Centre.
Holmes said the poor sanitation and infrastructure in the slums exacerbates gender-based violence.
“The report identifies two concerns: the almost total lack of sanitation and clear water and the pervasive prominence of gender-based violence against women in urban Solomon Island settlements.
Rape ‘everyday activity'
Joycelyn Lai from the Young Women's Christian Association in the Solomon Islands spoke at the launch about her experiences working with women facing violence.
“Rape cases in the Solomon Islands are like everyday activities,” she said.
Lai said the situation was so bad the Solomon Star daily paper in the capital Honiara publishes “danger zones” where woman cannot walk at night.
Speaking at the launch, Holmes acknowledged the work Pacific governments had done so far towards combating gender-based violence and as there are some policies and draft bills in place.
“However, the organisation is deeply concerned at the lack of concrete progress by Pacific governments on these issues.”
Holmes acknowledged that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an official statement earlier in the week saying the Solomon Islands could lead the Pacific in dealing with gender-based violence.
But Holmes added what was needed was “more action, less rhetoric.”
A survey of households in Honiara found 92 percent of households did not have a water supply in their home.
More than 4000 people living in Kobito 1,2,3 and Kobiloko settlements shared one leaking pipe in the valley of the Kobito settlement.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully and his Solomon Islands counterpart Peter Shanel Agovaka today signed a joint commitment for development, which set out New Zealand support for sustainable development in the Solomon Islands.
While agreement focuses on many different infrastructure concerns, Shanel told Pacific Scoop it would not pay to remedy the water supply and sanitation problems in the slums of Honiara.
Instead, Shanel said he had yesterday signed an agreement with the Japanese government for assistance with water supply problems.
Dr Teresia Teaiwa, a senior lecturer in Pacific studies at Victoria University in Wellington, said the role women played in collecting water was likely to be due to a gender division of labour common in Pacific cultures.
“In most Pacific Island cultures women have the general responsibility of looking after the domestic sphere, collecting water would be part of that.”
In one afternoon, Amnesty International observed close to 100 women and girls collecting water at a broken pipe. In that period only two men came for water.
Women interviewed by the Amnesty International researchers said the reason why women had to collect water and not men was that men were “busy playing sports or being drunk on kwaso”, the local home-brewed alcohol.
According to the Amnesty International, at least a third of Honiara's population live in the slums.
“Historically the displacement of people due to ethnic based violence and the search for work led to overcrowding in the capital Honiara,” said Holmes.
Dr Sinclair Dinnen, from the Australian National University, said the settlements around Honiara were growing rapidly.
“They're mostly unplanned and certainly the issue of their connection with essential services including sanitation was a very real one. But it certainly doesn't appear to be a priority of the government or of whoever the relevant authority to do such work is,” he said.
Dr Dinnen said it was potentially a problem that would get worse as the population of the capital increased.
“The infrastructure is quite old and was designed for a very small population and as the population increases the existing infrastructure becomes more inadequate.”
While water supply and sanitation issues create risks being attacked by outsiders, the Solomon Islands faces challenges in dealing with domestic violence, perpetrated by family members.
Lai said her organisation YWCA dealt with all forms of gender-based violence and she was saddened by the latest statistics that showed a large majority of women in the Solomon Islands had experienced physical or sexual violence from partners or other family members.
“With the figures that we have at the moment, 64 percent violence is just too much for our small country.”
Dr Teaiwa said while if water supply was better women might not get attacked by people from outside their area it did not necessarily reduce domestic violence.
“If the water supply was good, if they could just get it from a tap in their home, that doesn't mean that they would be free and safe from domestic violence in their own home.”
Lai said she expected to meet Solomon Islands Prime Minister Danny Philip during the Pacific Islands Forum this week to raise the issues of sanitation and safety in the slums.
“I hope with our forum leaders that are here in the country, that they might be able to say something about this report.”
Victoria Young, a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.