On 24 October 2016, UNDP, the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) and the Solomon Islands Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) took part in the award ceremony for the secondary school essay competition on women’s leadership and political participation.

The competition has been organized by the UNDP’s Strengthening the Electoral Cycle in the Solomon Islands Project (SECSIP), funded by the European Union and Australia.

The essay contest was open to students and teachers and invited them to address the following questions

What if we had a female Prime Minister? (for junior secondary school students);

What if the decision-making process in your community involved men and women equally? (for senior secondary school students);

What would be the impact of a higher number of women parliamentarians? (for secondary school teachers).

In the Solomon Islands, women’s participation and representation in politics remains extremely low.

Traditional gender roles and cultural norms present obstacles to women’s involvement in politics, in addition to the general lack of awareness regarding women’s issues.

In speaking about these challenges, the winning essays advocated for an increased role of women in politics, either by highlighting their natural human and leadership qualities, or by giving relevant examples of countries where the increase of women in political life has benefited the society as a whole.

For instance, Simon Manekwaliu Mau, teacher of development studies and one of the winners, highlighted the link between a significant representation of women in the legislative bodies (such as in Denmark, Finland or Rwanda) and lower rates of corruption, improvements in the health, education, gender issues and domestic violence issues, and an overall increase in the social, economic and community development.

As part of its activities, SECSIP provides assistance to the SIEC, national authorities and civil society to advocate for women’s participation in politics and decision making.

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Since 2013, UNDP Strengthening the Electoral Cycle in the Solomon Islands Project (SECSIP) has contributed to the inclusiveness and integrity of the electoral process. The project supported the successful introduction of a new comprehensive biometric voter registration system which resulted in more inclusive and reliable voter rolls and continues to provide assistance in terms of its updating and sustainability. The project also supports the review of the electoral legal framework with a view to promote the strengthening of the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC) and assist to the fulfilment of its mandate. It also strengthens the capacity of the SIEC to advocate for women’s political participation and supports the national authorities and civil society organizations in raising awareness of the population regarding voting and civic engagement. SECSIP is generously funded by the European Union, the government of Australia and UNDP.