Last week Solomon Islands joined global celebrations recognizing the key role rural women play in the food security, livelihoods, and incomes of households and communities, underpinning sustainable development.

Two events organised by the Honiara Central Market Vendors' Association and the Auki Market Vendors' Association were held on Thursday (and Friday) last week at Honiara Central and Auki market respectively.

Jilly Maehaka, Chairperson of the HCMVA opened the Honiara celebrations saying "[Rural women] can be proud of who we are this morning, especially when even in the very small things that we do, we are also contributing to the economic development of our nation Solomon Islands."

The celebrations were supported by UN Women’s Markets for Change project – a six-year, multi-country initiative that aims to ensure marketplaces in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. The project is principally funded by the Australian Government.

As part of celebrations at Auki Market, information was shared by UNDP's SWoCK project on resilience and planning for climate change and adaptation, WorldFish shared research on sustainable aquaculture and agricultural systems, Kastom Gaden Association spoke about local food and organic systems, Bank of South Pacific shared information on financial services they provide and enabled market vendors to open bank accounts on the spot, and Malaita Provincial Government and Health Division provided information on the Healthy market Setting project, nutrition and healthy living in our homes and at the market.

In Honiara, the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, Australia Government and Honiara City Council Market Management provided keynote remarks. Following the official programme Live and Learn facilitated an awareness activity including interactive demonstration on handwashing practices in celebration of Global Handwashing Day.

"In the Solomon Islands, rural woman represents a vast silent majority. Some or almost all of their aspirations have not been heard or even known of … As an association we must listen to the voices of our rural farmers and understand the specific challenges they face. We must work together to make the market a better space for everyone" said Jilly Maehaka at the Honiara celebrations.

International Day of Rural Women is purposely held the day before World Food Day and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, in order to highlight the important role played by rural women in food production, food security, and national economies.

These interconnected issues are more relevant than ever before following the adoption of the new 'Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development' on 25 September 2015 by world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly as the new global roadmap. The agenda is composed of 17 Sustainable Development Goals - SDGs - to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.

Rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. However limited access to credit, health care and education are among the many challenges they face, which are further aggravated by the global food and economic crises and climate change.

Globally, UN Women supports the leadership and participation of rural women in shaping laws, strategies, policies and programmes on all issues that affect their lives. In the Solomon Islands, through the Markets for Change project, UN Women is working to strengthen market vendors’ economic and social security and increase their opportunities to participate in decision making processes. The results will open avenues for market vendors to make positive changes within their own lives and has great potential for market vendors to drive wide-scale positive change.