The third-largest nation in the Pacific, the Solomon Islands, is located northeast of Australia and west of Vanuatu. It has a population of about 600,000 with a land area of almost 28,000 square kilometers. Women’s empowerment in the Solomon Islands currently endures great difficulties, though is in progress. Despite the ratified conventions passed to eliminate any form of discrimination against women in 2012, there is no legislation on domestic violence, such as marital rape, in the Solomon Islands.

In 2007, only 67 percent of adult females and 84 percent of adult males were literate in the Solomon Islands. While this sharp contrast has gradually shrunk in the past ten years, women performed poorer than men in gross enrollment at almost all levels of education. In tertiary education, female students took up only 38 percent of total enrollment in 2012, and were concentrated in tourism, hospitality and education.

Another concern for women’s empowerment in the Solomon Islands is related to improving their health conditions. Malaria infections are high in pregnant women and children. There is a shortage of fresh water, fruits and vegetables in women’s diets, and this contributes to a high maternal mortality rate. Huge numbers of sexually transmitted infections come from early marriage, sexual violence and culturally sanctioned male infidelity, all of which contribute to gender inequality in the nation.

Lower levels of education and vulnerability to health issues leads to the poorer status of women in the economy. A large gap in employment rates sees 72.2 percent of men and 60.4 percent of women employed in the Solomon Islands. Land ownership and other traditional property rights still exclude women, despite the fact that 76.2 percent of women are involved in subsistence work, compared to 58.1 percent of men.

Female political leaders in this nation are almost nonexistent. Freda Tuki Soriocomua is the only woman holding one of the 50 seats in parliament, and also serves as minister for women. As claimed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in June 2017, the Solomon Islands has the sixth-worst representation of women in parliament in the world.

Furthermore, due to the lack of domestic violence legislation, violence towards women in the Solomon Islands is a serious issue. As reported by the Family Health and Safety Study in 2009, among women aged 15 to 49 who had ever had a partner, 64 percent had experienced physical or sexual violence. About one-third of women reported being sexually abused before age 15, while around 10 percent of women reported physical violence during their pregnancy. Actual numbers could be even higher due to incomplete statistics.

Besides the 2012 ratified conventions and other regional commitments, U.N. Women in the Solomon Islands has been running a variety of programs to promote gender equality. These programs include Advancing Gender Justice in the Pacific, Ending Violence Against Women, Increasing Community Resilience through Empowerment of Women to Address Climate Change and Natural Hazards, and Women’s Economic Empowerment.

Women’s empowerment in the Solomon Islands demands increased concern. While previous cultural barriers and the nature of work created restrictions to women’s empowerment in the Solomon Islands, global efforts and collaborative policy development will gradually relieve the inequality-related issues of this nation.

– Xin Gao                   

Photo: Flickr

A recent book called The Second Machine Age has been heavily cited in discourse regarding the state of the economy and the future of work itself. What is the second machine age? The second machine age refers to the rise of automation of tasks once thought to be restricted to human ability. How will emerging technologies like artificial intelligence affect the poor?

Many famous people, such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, are worried about the future implications of artificial intelligence being malevolent towards humanity; however, the real problem may begin before artificial intelligence even reaches such a point. A more urgent and realistic scenario approaches — it does so at an uncertain rate, but it is projected to run down a well-worn path.

AI are quickly developing the ability to do tasks as well as and better than humans, albeit usually narrowly specialized tasks. Driving cars, manufacturing goods, finding patterns in data, even winning jeopardy – AI technology is assuredly forging ahead. If AI are going to be able to do these tasks, where does that leave the truck driver, the factory worker, the lawyer, accountants and others? These are millions of jobs that could be eliminated in rapid succession, potentially creating a situation of chronic high structural unemployment amongst people in their prime working years.

Where does this leave those without employment? And an even more unnerving question – where would this leave those who are already impoverished? The answer is complicated. A few things might happen at once. To begin with, some jobs are simply not worth replacing with robotic labor – for the time being, at least. Waiters and other jobs that require genuine human interaction at low wages may survive.

Others believe that AI can help usher in a so-called “post-scarcity” society. A post-scarcity society would be the result of a world where AI and technology as a whole would work for humans and produce more goods than people would need. Perhaps John Maynard Keynes’ predictions of fewer hours of work per worker will come true. Germany currently has a system in which they incentivize companies to cut workers’ hours, not jobs. This could save some jobs, but it may not be suitable for every type of occupation. The poor would make even less money with the jobs they do hold.

Some believe that the current situation of worldwide income inequality could become aggravated even further by AI-caused automation of jobs. Fewer jobs could lead to further concentration of wealth and an unhealthy economic balance. The prospect of less work to be done, fewer jobs and fewer ways to make money seems to bode poorly for fighting the cycles of poverty.

However, automation does happen for a reason; namely, automation of tasks is more productive and efficient than using human labor. Higher productivity means more goods and services for lower prices. Perhaps the post-scarcity world isn’t such as fantasy. Maybe automation could be a great thing for the poor in the very long term – if managed properly. For now, it seems as though the short-term effects may need to be addressed more seriously. Automation of a diverse range of professions will be a problem for the poor and for society as a whole.

– Martin Yim

Sources: RT, The Atlantic, New York Times
Photo: Flickr

Gender Employment Equality
At the G20 Summit 2014, leaders have agreed to tackle the persisting gender employment gap in their respective countries. The final agreement is to decrease the gap by 25 percent by 2025.

The gender employment gap varies from region to region. Developed regions generally have a lower gap, while developing regions have a higher gap. Currently in OECD countries, where the gap is one of the lowest, there is a 12 percent difference between the sustained, legal employment of men and women. In North Africa and the Middle East, where the gap is the one of the highest, there is a 50 percent difference in employment between men and women.

Ways of tackling the gap also vary region-to-region and country-to-country. Approaches include increasing access to education and childcare and making maternity leave options more attractive and widely available. More innovative approaches include things like fostering women in business and finance, creating opportunities for women in the public sector and encouraging investment in higher education for women.

Reaching the goal of decreasing the gap by 25 percent will add 100 million jobs for women across the world and add $1 trillion to the global economy.

In 2015, Turkey will take over leadership of the Summit. As the G20 country with one of the highest gender employment gaps, as well as its position at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Turkey and its leadership will be in the spotlight on this issue. For them especially, tackling the gap will mean pulling a large number of people into the workforce, which will create opportunities for households in poverty to have another income-generator.

The G20, in an official statement, said that this agreement “will significantly increase global growth and reduce poverty and inequality.” The G20 acts, in some ways, as an agenda-setter for the rest of the world. Effects on the gender employment gap could be seen in much more impoverished areas of the world simply because it is being addressed by the biggest economies in the world market. Employing women and expanding the workforce increases generated income, possibly creating drastic, positive outcomes for poorer, smaller economies.

– Caitlin Huber

Sources: The Australian, Work Place Information, University of Toronto
Photo: Employer Rights Blog