Channels of Hope Uses Religion as Catalyst for Change

Minister Counsellor Sue Connell_croppedMinister Counsellor Sue Connell discussing the Channels of Hope program with youths on the Weather Coast. Photo: DFAT, Honiara Post.

The rates of intimate partner violence against women in the Solomon Islands are among the highest in the Pacific. Solomon Islands is one of the 11 countries in the Pacific that have undertaken national violence against women prevalence research based on the survey approach developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), led by the United Nations Population Fund and supported by the Australian Government.

Studies indicate that this endemic behaviour has links to deeply held traditional values and Christian beliefs. A better understanding of these underlying values and beliefs is crucial for long-term violence prevention efforts and gender equity in the Solomon Islands.

Funded by the Australian Government through Pacific Women and implemented by World Vision, the Channels of Hope program is an innovative approach to facilitating the transformation of traditional values and beliefs around gender roles.  By using religion as the catalyst for change and by engaging influential village leaders such as chiefs, church, women and youth leaders, the program promotes awareness of the issue and provides support networks linking victims and perpetrators to service providers. The program also encourages community intervention when family violence occurs and educates people about promoting respect and value for women.

The biblical approach is relevant because Solomon Islanders often base their attitudes towards gender roles on the perception that Christian principles promote men as leaders, while women are helpers. Conversely, by reflecting on biblical references where Jesus himself portrays both the servant and leader, the project encourages men to also adopt such qualities, urging them to respect and help their women. The project also focuses on the issues of substance abuse and conflict resolution within communities.

The Channels of Hope program currently covers 30 communities in Temotu and Guadalcanal provinces. In April 2015 a team from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), led by Minister Counsellor Sue Connell, visited five communities in Guadalcanal Province in the Marau and Weather Coast regions. The aim of the monitoring visit was to get a first-hand sense of the programs successes and challenges from field based staff and village focal points.

During their visit the DFAT team received positive feedback from community members and were encouraged by stories of change.  Reports that some men are now participating in community activities and thereby reducing the burden of work undertaken by women were heartening.  Now in its third year of operation in the Solomon Islands, Channels of Hope is clearly having an effect on many lives.  A mid-term evaluation of the program, to be undertaken in June this year, will capture details of these changes while helping the program to overcome some of the inevitable challenges.

Article prepared by Kane Dysart, DFAT, Honiara Post.