Girls for Change (G4C) is a young woman’s group based in Honiara, the capital city of Solomon Islands and the Pacific country where the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) Pacific Centre is based. Its membership is open to young women and girls between the ages of 15 to 29 years and it is also run by young women leaders in this age group.
G4C is the first group of its kind in Honiara. It is an informal initiative of the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) Pacific Centre. The group was established in early 2009 out of the recognition of the need for young women and girls to be empowered to make informed decisions in their lives and be responsible for these decisions. G4C is unique in the Solomon Islands in that the group is totally focused on young women.
Each year more and more girls are leaving primary school due to limited female boarding facilities at secondary schools. Others drop out at the end of Form Five as they cannot access scholarships to enter regional tertiary institutions overseas, in particular the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji, the University of Papua New Guinea or others in Australia and New Zealand.
So it is not surprising that girls as young as twelve or thirteen with nothing to do are vulnerable to peer pressure and with no information on their sexuality and boy relationships, many end up engaging in anti social activities such as substance abuse or falling victim to teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
It was out of this rather dismal setting that the CYP Pacific Centre began engaging with some of the young women living in Honiara, through the then CYP Solomon Islands RYC member, Ms. Mary Jionisi. At one of their initial informal meetings, Mary told the girls that the group aimed to build the girls’ confidence by giving them new information to encourage them to think about different situations that affect them as young women and to raise these with the responsible decision makers.
The first meetings were quite hard; hardly anyone was talking. CYP staff found that working with a group of young women whose ages span some 15 years is difficult, as their interests differ in their different age brackets. Resources on how to engage young women were scarce and a booklet of activities for young women produced by the YWCA and UNFPA that contained fun confidence building exercises was used to enable them to participate and contribute to discussions.
Eventually the CYP Pacific Centre involved the Solomon Islands Young Women’s Association (YWCA) as an informal partner to work with the group. It was still difficult to maintain the young women’s interest. However, there was a kind of unintentional sustainability in maintaining the group as while some girls’ attendance dropped, other girls who had just heard about the group came on board. This flexible and inclusive approach to membership meant that there was always a comfortable number of about 20 young women at each meeting.
Looking back, CYP Pacific Centre has seen some amazing results. Mary who was just a youth volunteer when she became a RYC member and the President of G4C, now heads the Youth Division of the Solomon Islands Honiara City Council.
Yvonne Ono, the new RYC member for Solomon Islands and Vice President for G4C, is currently completing an internship with the CYP Pacific Centre, specifically to compile the Pacific’s contribution to the PCYC Constitution with Lauti Wayne Ako, the RYC member for Tuvalu. Yvonne is also awaiting the results of an interview for a Youth Programme Officer position with the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs.
Jenta Tau (22) is currently completing a one year internship with the World YWCA in Geneva.
Mayline Sese (24) has just been awarded the coveted RAMSI Special Coordinator’s Annual Award for Women during the RAMSI Annual Women’s Breakfast on 11 March 2011, to mark International Women’s Day. The award was very much in keeping with the Keynote Address delivered at the event, which was based on the 2011 Commonwealth Day theme, Women as Agents of Change.
G4C have also secured funding from UNESCO Pacific to deliver and participate in digital storytelling and citizen journalism training, as a way for young women to speak out and explore issues in a non-threatening, creative and innovative way. CYP Pacific Centre’s Media and Communications Manager will be conducting this training with G4C members, boosting their advocacy skills to further raise the profile of young women’s issues in the Solomon Islands.
For a still very informal group that meets voluntarily on a fortnightly basis, Girls for Change have come a long way in the past two years.
With the help of the CYP Pacific Centre, they are now planning a retreat for the June school holidays, when they will consider other sustainable approaches to keep the momentum going for their young female membership. They are also looking at having a small Secretariat to be managed by a part-time staff from the group itself.
CYP Pacific Centre is also looking for ideas on best practice and approaches for running young women’s groups because there is potential to duplicate this programme in other Commonwealth Pacific countries within its mandate.