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Feminism in Fiji: Reflecting on the past, looking to the future

Feminism in Fiji: Reflecting on the past, looking to the future

Leading Change asks gender equality activists in Fiji to share their experiences with Queen's Young Leaders

Image above: The Fiji Parliament

Three of Fiji's leading young feminists reflect on their campaigns, and tell Queen's Young Leaders where they plan to go from here.

In 2014 Fiji held general elections after eight years of a military rule. Among the seasoned politicians and well known political parties, Roshika Deo started the ‘Be the Change’ campaign and stood as an independent candidate. Her campaign encouraged women and young people to challenge the status quo.  

When you look back on your campaign, what has gone well, what has gone wrong, and what has gone differently to how you planned it? 

Working with limited funding and resources through using networks – and not having enough resources to maintain consistency – was a challenge.

We initially planned to work with a small group of people but due to the interest expressed by others, the group expanded. But this was unplanned and exhausted resources quicker.

Who have you met and what did they contribute?

Many young women – who have shared their own experiences and realities of violence, oppression and discrimination – helped shape the narrative and put context into the different strands of advocacy.

Young people made significant contributions in terms of energy, ideas, resources and the impetus to maintain the movement.

Roshika Deo

How have your ideas and values changed while running your campaign?

Ideas have changed and evolved over time depending on the availability of resources, people, change in political situation etc. But our values have remained the same. After all, they are what the campaign is based on.

What are you planning next?

More advocacy workshops and sessions. And we want to mentor and support someone to take the leadership helm of the political party. We plan to start the process of registering the party. We don’t want to waste time.

Cartoon: communicating using community radio 

FemLINK Pacific is a civil society organisation that uses community radio for advocacy. Sian Rolls is the Program Associate for Media Advocacy and has been working with FemLINK for nine years. Outside of FemLINK she has also documented the stories of transwomen and other members of the LGBTIQ community for the Loud and Proud Campaign.

When you look back on your work, what has gone well, what has gone wrong, and what has gone differently to how you planned it?

A massive challenge has been entering the male-dominated field of videography and production. I don’t feel as if men take my direction seriously. I've also found it challenging to get women comfortable with being in front of a camera. I've found several ways dealing with this, primarily by engaging them before pulling out my camera.

Who have you met and what did they contribute?

I have met many different people through my work – those in the media, women in rural communities and young women in all their diversities. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with young women I work with as well. A former colleague, co-host and now friend, Tamara Baleinaveikau has been a huge influence.

Sian Rolls

How have your ideas and values changed while running your campaign?

My outlook has changed. I've noticed how privileged I am because of my upbringing, the opportunities provided to me and the education I have received. Since starting as a volunteer – and now in my capacity at FemLINKPACIFIC – I have been trying to bring  technology and the space to other women to raise issues and create awareness.

What are you planning next?

I continue to look for ways to bridge my skills and my advocacy. I write as often as I can and perform when I am able, create videos and podcasts to express my own opinions and views as well as bring others into this space so they can share too. I also try and find ways to collaborate with other artists.

Tavai Bale has been involved with feminist campaigns and raising awareness around gender activism for over a decade.  As co-ordinator of the Emerging Leaders Forum Alumni (ELFA), she was able to take part in the Asia Pacific Feminist Forum, in February 2014 and was involved in the Fiji Young Women’s Forum Declaration in March of the same year.

When you look back on the campaigns you’ve been involved with, what has gone well, what has gone wrong, and what has gone differently to how you planned it?

Personally, part of the battle for me is within civil society networks – the differing structures and powers at play. But the one thing that stands out despite all our differences is our cause. The human rights and gender movement all gear in the same direction. And when there is collaborative work, results are always gratifying.

Who have you met and what did they contribute?

I was fortunate to have been a part of the Asia Pacific Feminist Forum, and was able to meet a handful of donors, stakeholders and partners interested in gender justice. Talks surely help. It is vital for Pacific women attending regional and global platforms to make their presence known and enlighten those who are oblivious to the realities of our human rights work.

Tavai Bale

How have your ideas and values changed while running your campaign?

I find myself constantly trying to match my lifestyle to my advocacy. It's an ongoing challenge. I am constantly advocating gender equality within my home, my extended family and in my communities.

What are you planning next?

I need to make my own money and have the space – financially, physically and mentally – to fully commit to community work. The beauty of human rights work in Fiji is that we're a small enough nation, with no shortage of activists, for civil society to continue the work and usher change into our communities. 

This article was written by Elisha Bano