Gender and economy in Melanesian communities: Monitoring resources for NGOs, government and researchers in Melanesia

Three years on, after countless field trips, workshops and desk research, we are pleased to announce the completion of resource materials for NGOs, researchers and government staff in Melanesia to assist in the process of tracking change on gender and economy at a community level.

The resource materials include:
A ‘river of change’ poster, describing four main tributaries of change necessary to improve gender relations in Melanesian communities
A poster using floating coconuts to help in understanding roles of women and men in economies in Melanesia
Flash cards for three Participatory monitoring tools to test the strength and flow of the River of change
– A manual of indicators and tools for tracking change in gender relations and the economy in Melanesian communities. This manual includes instructions on how to gather data using a survey and six participatory activities to produce community-based indicators of gender equality and economy. It also includes a CD with a data management file in Microsoft Excel to enter, store and analyse the data collected. A Microsoft Word file with example results (in graph format) and analysis is also included on the CD.

To download these materials, please go to the Research Reports page.

This work would not be possible without the support of our partners: Fiji National University, Union Aid Abroad APHEDA (Solomon Islands), Live and Learn Environmental Education (Solomon Islands) and Women’s Action for Change (Fiji). Thank you to AusAID for supporting this project through the Australian Development Research Award-funded research project ‘Measuring gender equality outcomes of economic growth in the Pacific: working with communities to develop indicators that monitor change’.

Phase I now complete…

We are excited to announce that Phase I of the research, involving 6 field sites across rural and urban locations in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, is now complete. This Phase focused on the collection of qualitative data on women’s and men’s role in semi-subsistent economies in Melanesia, the impacts of economic opportunity on gender equality at the community level, and the types of gender relations aspired to by participants in these communities. Phase II of the research will involve developing indicators of gender equality based on key themes from the research, and Phase III will involve trialing these at the community level and producing a manual for use by other NGOs in the region.

The Australian research team visited the last 2 field sites in the Solomon Islands in August, working with NGO partner Live and Learn Environmental Education and IWDA. The rural villages in Western Province of the Solomon Islands provided insight into the lives of geographically isolated semi subsistent communities, the roles of women and men in sustaining and growing economies within their community, and importantly, the role of women’s collective action in promoting women’s empowerment.

See photos of the research process here, and the research team here.

Project reports will be out soon.

FNU newsletter features research project

The Fiji National University’s October Newsletter featured our research project, with information and images from the feedback session with Suva based stakeholders. You can access and download the FNU Newsletter here.

Identifying economies in Suva’s urban informal settlements

The research team started their first 3 day research process with some yoga stretches, laughs during games, and a discussion with women and men about the problems and benefits of living in their geographic community.  The questions posed where “What are some of the problems you face in your community as a woman / man?” and “What are some of the positive/good things in your community from your perspective as a woman / man?”

The facilitators aimed to gain a coverage of issues including the impacts of the:

  • Environmental context (physical infrastructure and resources)
  • People (relationships and behaviours), and
  • Organisations (networks, institutions, informal groups)

Some issues that were raised by women included unemployment, competition between faith-based groups, women’s lack of voice in family decision-making, and harassment. Men also raised unemployment, lack of farming land and tools, and limited infrastructure as some of the issues men face in their community. Interestingly, issues listed by women were much more focused around relationships and behaviours of those living in the settlement, including within their families.

We then asked women and men in separate groups to reflect on the work they do to sustain their families and communities, paid and unpaid. Using sticky notes, the women and men created a floating coconut showing the distribution of their workload between the formal/national economy, informal economy and the social economy. The part of the coconut floating above the water represented the economic activities recognised by government in the national accounts. Activities below the water line were those that often fall under the radar – the unregulated informal sector and the unpaid social economy including household and community labour for subsistence, community building, barter, exchange and gifting.

Interestingly, the team noticed that:

  • women and men engage in all three economies, although men were more highly represented in the formal economy than women, and young women were more highly represented in the social economy.
  • the majority of activities for women and men were in the informal sector and many didn’t engage at all in paid work in the formal sector
  • there were no cooperatives described in the informal sector – only individual and family businesses
  • there were a number of group based, communal activities in the social economy, often organised by church groups and focused on fundraising or sporting activities
  • the men’s social economy focuses more on group based activities, whereas the women’s social economy focuses more about home based domestic work
  • Men and women can do much of the same work in the informal economy, but there are more activities available for women to do that men can’t do.
  • Women and men do a lot of work in the informal and social economy that doesn’t necessarily get recognised by external agencies
  • Women do a lot of work in the social economy, where a lot of the financial benefit of fundraising activities is directed towards church expenses
  • Women not involved in the church activities tend to be looked down upon by other women who are involved. This was described as an issue of fairness but also a desire for more group activities for women. It may also reflect the social expectation from women that they should do this work in the community.
  • Women’s informal sector activities tend to be more time-consuming and labour intensive because they produce more of what they sell + men tend to on-sell (i.e. acting as middle men).

We had a great day, thanks to the great team at Women’s Action for Change Fiji. More updates coming soon.

Claire Rowland

Training in participatory research methods here in Fiji

IMG_0232, originally uploaded by clairelrowland.

We have just completed two days of training in participatory research methods that are focused on understanding various dimensions of gender relations and economic opportunities at the local level here in Fiji (see photos here). The project team involved in Fiji sites for this research project include Claire Rowland, Katharine McKinnon and Michelle Carnegie, together with a a team of community facilitators from our local partner Women’s Action for Change (WAC).

WAC is a feminist community based organisation who advocate on issues of systemic injustice including violence against women, and discrimination of minority groups. As part of their approach, WAC uses creative, practical strategies for change through the arts and performance. WAC also develops and runs programs to improve the livelihoods of very poor women and their families in urban squatter settlements in Suva.

The training consisted of the following adapted methods/methodologies:

  • DIVERSE ECONOMIES MAPPING (See ABCD meets DEF: Using asset based community development to build economic diversity 2008)
  • DISTRIBUTION MAPS OF ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES AND ECONOMIC DECISION MAKING (see PLA Venn Diagrams)
  • DRAMA SHOWING DESIRED GENDER RELATIONS FROM WOMEN’S AND MEN’S PERSPECTIVES

Integral to using this suite of methods, is dividing the group of research participants into four smaller groups by sex and age. After completing the activity based on each method, we bring the groups together to comment on each others stories and findings. This promotes discussion and learning between women and men and highlights gender differences in engaging with local economies.

We are all very excited about working with two communities in urban Suva over the next two weeks!

Michelle Carnegie

ABC Radio interview on Solomon Islands research findings

Sonja Heydeman from ABC’s Pacific Beat recently spoke to Professor Katherine Gibson, Centre for Citizenship and Policy at the University of Western Sydney to find out how the Solomon Islands research activities went. Listen to the interview here.