30 Nov 2016

Pacific feminists take stock

From , 6:05 am on 30 November 2016

Feminists, human rights advocates and activists from around the Pacific gathered in Fiji this week for the inaugral Pacific Feminists Forum.

Participants talked about the past, present and future of the movement in the region.

With a particular emphasis on encouraging young Pacific women and girls to continue the fight for gender equality.

Koroi Hawkins reports.

'Ie lavalava  for sale in Samoa's Fugalei market, Apia

'Ie lavalava for sale in Samoa's Fugalei market, Apia Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

Taking stock of women's rights in the region in terms of political, social, and economic equality with men was the main purpose of the Pacific's first feminist forum. But it was also much more than that, according to Michelle Reddy of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement, who welcomed delegates to Fiji.

"A space where feminists, women human rights defenders and advocates will be able to regroup. A space to learn from each other. To share the challenges and the hurt. To reflect, recuperate, strengthen existing relationships and even forge new relationships."

Feminism in the Pacific has a rich and diverse history, not only in fighting for women's rights but also activism against nuclear testing, and on independence and sovereignty issues in the region. One of the youngest panelists at the forum, teenager Akansha Kant, said she felt privileged to be able to see the fruits of the labours of her peers.

'Before girls did not have many opportunities but through my experience, I have engaged more in activities. I know about my rights and before our views and opinions were never heard. But now people are more into knowing about younger people's opinions and rights."

Building on that progress and mobilising young Pacific women and girls to carry on fighting for the same rights as men was one of the main messages at the forum. One piece of advice came from veteran feminist Claire Slatter, a senior lecturer at the USP, who said it was important for feminists to continuously seek to educate themselves.

"And I think as young feminists or feminists, whatever age we are, reading is really important in terms of extending our knowledge. And it's not necessary to go to university, it's being pointed in the direction of good things to read."

It was not all seriousness however thanks to participants like Joleen Mataele of Tonga Leitis Association who shared this personal account of becoming a feminist.

"And walked into the Catholic church with a blue glittered bright dress and I think that was my first knowledge of being a feminist. They didn't bother looking at the priest, they were looking at the 'queest' that walked in and said "Hello! tulou! and punou! I'm here as a trans and take it or leave it, I'm there."

In the northen Pacific one of the biggest challenges faced according to Kathryn Relang of Women United in the Marshall Islands has been reaching out to politicians. However she said progress was being made with more support and most importantly more funding for gender initiatives.  

"But of course the work is not over. But we are here to stop and think about all the great things we have done. Don't just look at the horrible things that are happening, but what great things have we done and how can we amplify these great things to combat these terrible things that are happening in the world."

And that according to Michelle Reddy was the true purpose of having the Pacific's first feminist forum. The forum wraps up today with the adoption of a Pacific Feminist Charter which will be an aspirational document to guide Pacific feminists in the future.