On Sunday 21st March, Australia celebrates Harmony Day, with community activities held throughout the country, reflecting the cohesive and inclusive nature of Australian society and promoting the benefits of cultural diversity.

The Harmony Day message is that 'Everyone Belongs'. It's about community participation, inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone.

To encourage consideration of similar concepts of acceptance and diversity in Solomon Islands, the Australian High Commission yesterday hosted a Diversity Discussion Forum, bringing together representatives from women's groups, youth groups, government and non-government organizations, to discuss issues around gender equality, women in leadership, youth engagement and ethnic diversity.

Australian Deputy High Commissioner, Alison Duncan, opened yesterday's Forum, saying that "there is a tendency for groups that have long been homogeneous to be suspicious about the arrival of newcomers. Conflicts can ensue over rights to land, culture, religion and so on, but what isn't always immediately apparent is the wonderful contributions that newcomers can make to a society.We need to celebrate that diversity of culture, food, religion, music, art, sports, and all other differences which enrich ethnically diverse societies."

Forum participants identified Solomon Islands achievements towards diversity, including the new Solomon Island Government's Gender Equality and Women's Development Policy launched on International Women's day; the opening of Women's Resource Centres throughout Solomon Islands; RAMSI's women's mentoring program; the important work of the National Youth Council; the National Youth Parliament initiative; the ongoing work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; improved education systems and the increased rate of literacy in Solomon Islands.

Forum participants also identified areas for improvements, citing the lack of women's representation and participation in Parliament; the need for greater support and education to break down cultural barriers to women in leadership; the need for ongoing and effective programs aimed at constructive youth engagement, and capacity building for youth groups to give youth a greater voice.

Participants suggested that acceptance and equality must start in the home, within communities, at grass roots levels. Women needed to support each other, to help address inequalities and promote diversity, especially in the workplace, to encourage a greater number of women in senior government positions.

Source: Press Release, Australian High Commission