“When in a country daughters are disrespected and demeaned tell me truly, can that country be called free?” A GIRL CHILD (1993)
By Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
FWRM’s vision is for the women of Fiji to be free from all forms of discrimination, have equal access to opportunities, and to live in a healthy environment where the principles of feminism, democracy, good governance, multiculturalism and human rights prevail. In line with this, a core part of FWRM’s work is promoting women’s participation and leadership in different spaces and levels of decision-making.
This includes young women and girls and recognising that their experiences could draw meaningful and significant contributions to dealing with existing social issues. Hence, the ground-breaking and pioneering work with empowering girls has been a popular, high-profile feature of FWRM’s Intergenerational Women in Leadership Programme (formerly Young Women in Leadership Programme).
In 2006, FWRM began working with girls, in response to a research, “Violence against the Girl Child in the Pacific Islands Region” by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre. The research highlighted the different forms of violence and discrimination girls faced because of their perceived inferior status in Pacific Island society (due to patriarchal cultural norms).
Girls were vulnerable to physical emotional and sexual abuse and exploitation. There would be no better voice to share these experiences than the girls themselves but this would mean challenging what society dictates, ‘girls are seen not heard.’ The women’s movement and feminism has always been about challenging the norms and inspiring transformative change.
Recognising the leadership and capacities of women across all diversities, including age groups, FWRM moved to create a platform that empowered girls to speak. The idea was to use more innovative approaches, like arts and sports, to encourage girls’ creative expression. One of the first activities was ‘Picture This,’ which involved the girls in FWRM’s International Women’s Day celebrations. This became a staple for IWD and to this day, girls have always been part of the March 8 celebrations.
The concept evolved until in 2013, when the GROW, INSPIRE, RELATE, LEAD, SUCCEED (GIRLS) Theatre programme was launched. It involved girls in theatre arts and rugby, encouraging them to share their stories in a positive space and challenge gender stereotypes.
GIRLS became a phenomenon, creating wonderful vibrant young leaders and inspiring the formation of the GIRLS Club. GIRLS sparked a love for activism and advocacy among the participants and created an impression with parents. For this reason, the GIRLS Club was created as another avenue for the GIRLS graduates to continue learning about advocacy, engage with the Movement and help mentor the next cohort of GIRLS.
FWRM Movement-building International Women’s Day celebrates the contributions of women and girls to society, although in reality, they largely go unrecognised every day. Females in the labour force do less paid work per week on average than males, females do far more unpaid household work, with the end result that females do 6 hours per week more Total Work per week than do males.
(Narsey, Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure 2013) Women and young women are under-represented at leadership spaces, with only 7.2 per cent of women in Pacific parliaments. (Pacific Women in Politics, 2018) FWRM recognised the power of movements in catalysing change, particularly the women’s movement who have dedicated decades of work to dismantle existing patriarchal and discrimintory barriers that hindered gender equality.
FWRM formed key partnerships, including the ground-breaking and inspirational We Rise Coalition. The Coalition is made up of Pacific feminist groups including FWRM, International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), femLINKPacific and Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality .
The Coalition moves to creating visibility for margnalised voices, by providing enabling spaces and mobilising women through their networks. This was evident during the Pacific Feminist Forum in November, 2016 when We Rise provided support to bring together over 100 women human rights defenders from across the Pacific into one space to strategise, re-energise and strengthen their networks and amplify their messages.
Recently in 2017, We Rise was able to sponsor 31 participants from Civil Society organisations and social justice groups from across the Pacific to attend the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and Sixth Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women at Novotel in Lami.
The Coalition’s work in empowering and mobilising women is a key partnership in moving towards FWRM’s vision for Fiji and the Pacific, to realise gender justice, freedom and equality for all. This International Women’s Day, FWRM pays tribute to the women’s movement and stands in solidarity with them globally to amplify the call for justice and an end to all forms of discrimination against women and girls.
References: A Girl Child. (1993). Balance, [online] (November), p.10. Available at: http:// www.fwrm.org.fj/images/fwrm/publications/balance/pdf/1993_BalanceNovember.pdf [Accessed 13 Dec. 2017]. Pacific Women in Politics. 2018. National Women MPS. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.pacwip.org/womenmps/national-women-mps/. [Accessed 16 February 2018].