L-R Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Fay Volatabu, Tara Chetty and Adi Finau Tabakaucoro
“We’re just so different! But together the Women’s Forum has been able to redefine what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a woman leader in Fiji,” says Tara Chetty, the Executive Director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.
The Fiji Women’s Forum is a coalition of women leaders co-convened by FemlinkPACIFIC, the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, the National Council of Women (Fiji), and Soqosoqovakamarama iTaukei. The Forum was formed in 2012 to bring together diverse women’s groups with the aim of increasing women’s participation in leadership.
Fiji has one of the highest proportions of women in parliament (16% in 2014) in the Pacific and the Forum is determined to further increase women’s representation in national parliament, and participation in public life.
“We’ve found a way to work together for a common goal; promoting greater women’s leadership in all areas of decision-making” says Tara Chetty.
The Forum has held five national consultations, which have brought together young women leaders, established feminists, indigenous women leaders, transwomen advocates, and women of diverse ethnicities from all over the country.
“We build on a rich tradition of advocacy, demonstrated leadership, community work and development of Fijian women as reflected throughout our national history and reaffirm our combined commitment to sustainable and participatory democracy, development and peace in Fiji,” says Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, Coordinator of FemlinkPACIFIC.
The Fiji Women’s Forum has a strong interest in promoting temporary special measures and other strategies for increasing women’s access to decision-making. Their work has included a baseline survey of public perceptions of women’s leadership in Fiji. The survey found that Fijians largely recognise that there should be more women in Parliament, and that women are well qualified to lead.
“The challenge now for the Women’s Forum is to translate this increasingly positive perception of women into greater access to decision-making at all levels – from local government to traditional governance, from informal settings to the national Parliament.”
The group has also shared their work regionally, including at a recent women’s leadership conference in the Solomon Islands, to promote greater collaboration between women’s organisations across the Pacific towards gender equality.
16 Days – 16 Stories of Gender Progress in the Pacific is an initiative of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and SPC who are sharing stories of successful gender programs across the region and highlighting the regional policies that guide them. The Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declarationhas a specific priority on advancing women’s decision making at all level including the adoption of temporary special measures and advocacy for increased representation of women at all levels including local level governance, boards and committees. Related commitments include the Ministerial Communiques and Pacific Women’s Triennial Outcomes. The 2015 Pacific Regional MDGS Tracking Report Progress noted Fiji’s progress as Fiji Parliamentary Committees included gender performance targets. September 2014 Elections saw more women candidates and resulted in an increase in women in parliament, and the Speaker of the House a woman.