OPINION: Women not left behind

In December 2020, We Rise Coalition welcomed four new partner organisations. A testament of the work in the Pacifi c Feminist Movement, our seven partners - Sista Vanuatu, Talitha Project, Brown Girl Woke, Voice for Change - PNG, IWDA, FWRM and femLINKpacifi c - formalised their commitment to building and sustaining women’s collective power through movements. Picture: SUPPLIED

The the tail end of a difficult year, an organisation at the frontline of providing a safe pathway for women who survive violence was at the brink of not being able to deliver critical services.

The organisation Voice for Change which is based in Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea, operates in an extremely difficult environment that is remote and laced in conflict.

Along with helping women, Voice for Change is also depended on to resolve confl ict in the community. Not alone, Voice for Change is part of a movement of likeminded feminist organisations that are putting into action through the roll-out of programs their goals to achieve transformative change in the communities they operate in. The organisation turned to the International Women Development Agency (IWDA) for help when funding came to an end last year.

With a long history of partnership with womenled organisations in Fiji; the IWDA sought the advice of Fiji based partner organisations; the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and femLINKpacifi c. IWDA, FWRM and femLINKpacific are partners to the We Rise Coalition; an Australian funded initiative that has enabled the IWDA to provide essential organisational strengthening and core support to coalition members located in across the Pacific.

Without hesitation, FWRM and femLINKpacifi c agreed that essential funds be disbursed to allow Voice for Change to continue its work in ensuring that the women of Jiwaka are not left behind. This intervention demonstrates the We Rise Coalition’s commitment to movement building through the mobilisation of resources.

This ability to co-ordinate and infl uence makes We Rise Coalition an effective alliance of feminist organisations that is in a position to respond by resourcing women’s human rights organisations.

Two weeks ago four more organisations from the Pacifi c region signed on as partners to the coalition, effectively expanding We Rise Coalition’s membership to seven organisations located in six countries. Voice for Change, Talitha Project; an NGO for young women in Tonga, Brown Girl Woke; an initiative that empowers young girls in rural areas of Samoa, and SISTA; an organisation that uses arts, media and communications to help women understand their rights are now part of a larger coordinated effort. “Joining the coalition has helped Voice for Change continue its work. Through this coalition, we were able to open our doors and continue to rescue our women and we are continuing to mediate in conflict.

There’s so many things to do, we are based in the community and people think we have the magic stick that we can wave and things will be all right, but we are growing and we are learning and being part of this coalition strengthens us and keep us connected, as we learn to continue our work,” said Voice for Change founder Lilly Be’Soer.

The coalition works with and through the Pacifi c feminist movement for the advancement of women’s human rights, gender equality and access to justice and information that affects change.

“The decision to have the four organisations join the coalition was not an easy one, there was a lot of deliberations, but in the end we wanted to work with these four organisations by bringing different perspectives,” said Talitha Project director Vanessa Heleta.

“When I was growing up as young woman, we didn’t have any services to go to, we didn’t have any empowerment programs, we didn’t have anything at all to enhance us and tell us about our value, our worth our right, that’s why I decided two years ago to set up Talitha, to provide platform for young women to educate.

We are excited and glad to be part of this coalition. I think it’s important to be part of something powerful. This is about solidarity.

“My journey of being a women’s activist is through fem- LINKpacifi c, I remember my first training as a young woman was with FWRM many years ago,” One of the youngest feminists at the table, Yasmine Bjornum, the founder of SISTA, a feminist media organisation based in Vanuatu says intergenerational leadership is very important.

“I really like that we use feminist principles, and appreciate being mentored by other established institutions. It’s been quite diffi cult to do it within our country because there is a lot of gatekeeping and there’s not the same feeling of working together or movement building, Ms Bjornum said.

“What’s really important is that we get to see that this is real. What we’ve been wanting at SISTA is to work with other women. There’s enough room at the table. We have been trying that for years and now being with the coalition, it’s possible to do this.

“What’s really important for us is the mentorship, the solidarity and being able to advocate together because sometimes we touch on issues that are quite sensitive in Vanuatu and we feel that by having this coalition we’ll be able to know how to move strategically from all the lessons that have been learnt from what everyone has done.”

The need for intergenerational leadership was supported by the only feminist organisation in Samoa, Brown Girl Woke.

“We also have gatekeepers in Samoa who say we’re too young to be in these spaces, we didn’t do enough work to be in these. With so much experience and to be able to bring our own experience as the younger generation to the table, it’s nice to be part of a coalition that’s intergenerational and is holding our hand, guiding us and I never feel afraid to ask questions.

What we Rise does for me is finally I have someone to email or talk to, or help me that I don’t feel like I’m confused and I don’t feel inferior to,” said founder of Brown Girl Woke Doris Tulifau. Brown Girl Woke is an organisation that empowers youth, trains university students to go back into the rural areas to talk about taboo issues like sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

IWDA CEO Bettina Baldeschi said they wanted intergenerational leadership refl ected in this partnership. “It was our initial dream to have a truly regional partnership – organisations from across the different countries in the Pacifi c, we wanted to have diverse organisations, wanted to have intersectional feminists, wanted to have intergenerational leadership reflected in this partnership and as all our journeys through our different programs and coalitions go, this has happened in a step by step process which has given us a lot of opportunities to learn from.

“Whether it’s in a regional context or whether it’s in a global context like CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) I think this co-ordination of feminist voice or feminist dialogue for the region has been a hallmark of the coalition and to that point its effectiveness is very much centered into the intersectionality approach of the coalition.

If we hold it back to leaving no one behind in the context of the SDGs that is at the heart of the coalition. Through this intersectional process there is real focus and vision of ensuring that all voices are heard including the voices of diverse women.

“So that putting in the center of the coalition the diversity of women’s voices is critically effective. We should recognise that in the nearly 10 years of the coalition, this coalition has actually enabled to deliver more and better funding for diverse Pacifi c women. When you’re thinking of a very tangible thing, I can’t think of other examples of coalitions in our region that have been able to convince donors to invest in core funding rather just activities and that speaks to quality of funding, which speaks to advocacy, to influencing to organising to co-ordination,” Ms Baldeschi said.

The signing of new partners from the Pacific region is a proud moment for femLINKpacifi c and FWRM. The FWRM and IWDA began the We Rise Coalition journey many years ago and it has expanded to what it is now. “My first week in femLINKpacifi c was with We Rise Coalition.

Two years later, the journey has been about learning from each other; the partnership and values. When it comes to that question of how important the coalition .is to the Pacific feminist movement and why, it’s the sense solidarity that we have each other, we learn from each other, and the partnership, values and principles we share. “We talk about, debate about, and ask each other, we keep each other accountable. All that is discussed before we say let’s implement this activity together. I think that’s really critical,” said Susan Naisara-Grey the executive director of femLINKpacific.

Aside from the solidarity the coalition partners share, FWRM executive director Nalini Singh said the We Rise Coalition has always allowed partner organisations to be innovative.

“It is through this coalition, the Pacific Feminist Forum has come to life and in this calendar year we are taking up the challenge to organize the third Pacific Feminist Forum (PFF). That is going to be online and in country. This year we are looking at 16 countries where we’d like to have national forums and bring that together in a regional process.

This is one testament to show the Pacifi c feminist movement need a space.”

“Aside from the solidarity that we have and we give each other, moving into the third phase, We Rise Coalition has always allowed us to be very innovative and looking into areas of the way we work in very different ways. New partnerships, new areas of research, and advocacy have given us opportunity to intervene in spaces as truly regional coalitions,” Ms Singh said.

 Cheerieann Wilson is the manager strategic communications at WE RISE COALITION which is made up of seven feminist organisations from within the Pacifi c region who implement the We Rise 2 program. The views expressed are the author’s and do not refl ect the views of this newspaper

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