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Women’s rights advocate warns against ‘too soft’ approach on seeking change

Joycelyn Lai

Joycelyn Lai of the Young Women’s Christian Association speaking at the WRAP forum .... funding a big challenge for her organisation. Photo: Myles Idoko Ojabo /PMC

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Myles Idoko Ojabo

A Fiji women’s rights campaigner has warned her colleagues to avoid a “too soft” approach and not to let male politicians water down or ignore strategies.

“Pacific Island governments need to make a commitment in terms of funding,” Edwina Kotoisuva of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre said yesterday at a panel discussion hosted at AUT University in association with Amnesty International and the Pacific Media Centre.

The forum followed the launching of a new report on gender human rights in the Solomon Islands by Amnesty International.

The panel was organised by the Women’s Rights and Advocacy in the Pacific (WRAP) to coincide with the Pacific Islands Forum starting in Auckland today.

Kotoisuva said a  leaders’ code of ethics was another major need for Pacific countries.PIF 40 years logo

She  said a high rate of violence against women in recent times showed the need for handling women’s right issues directly by women themselves.

“A lot of issues discussed about the violence on women did not actually come to the fore until women rights organisations in the Pacific started talking about the issue, and advocating bringing it to life,” she said.

AI report on Solomon Islands

The sanitation and safety gender human rights report launched yesterday. Photo: PMC

Patriarchy attitudes
“Out of support services there’s still a great deal of advocacy that’s been done around the issue, and the advocacy for women’s rights has been strong in terms of challenging the patriarchy structures and attitudes against women.

“The lobby for law reform for women rights began seven years ago, and legislation against women violence has been very slow to change but there have been some initiatives, some changes that have happened like the recognition of marital rape.”

She said that if men’s perspective got into the scene in running NGO organisations that fight for women’s rights, and not the women’s perspective, it would be no different from the continuous deprivation of women’s rights that had been engulfing Pacific nations.

She gave some regional highlights of initiatives that her organisation has accomplished, such as the building support for Vanuatu women.

Reported violence against women in Vanuatu used to be ignored, but since the rise in women’s advocacy, improvements had been recorded.

The provision of mentoring support and training were benefits her campaign had been able to achieve. Pacific Island nations such as the Cook Islands had gained much out of this.

One of the major breakthroughs for the fight for women’s rights in the Pacific was the involvement of women’s affairs on the agenda of governments.

‘Not rhetoric blind’
“We are not blind to government rhetoric, but we have used this rhetoric to our advantage,” she said.

“There was a time when women were not using the words of women’s rights in women’s ministerial meetings in Pacific Island nations, but they have started using them around the issues of violence and that’s a major breakthrough.”

Joycelyn Lai of the Young Women’s Christian Association in the Solomon Islands said funding had been a big challenge for her organisation.

“We have 64 percent of women who have suffered sexual and gender-based violence – one of the highest in the Pacific region and the world,” she said.

Despite the challenges, there had been training developments and 40 women had now qualified as mentors with seven mentoring networks in the Solomon Islands.

Another Fiji speaker, Ema Tagicakibau, a campaigner and researcher of the Pacific Small Arms Actions Group saw advocacy as a very relevant.

She challenged women to ensure that governments always looked into women’s affairs.

Being a former member of the Fiji government ousted in the 2000 attempted coup, Tagicakibau said: “These Fiji government officials are quite well educated and it is easy to discuss and consult with them. So the NGOs need to keep in mind that they are the experts and not the government, so the government needs the NGOs’ input and reports.”

From the floor, Labour list MP Carmel Sepuloni gave a lively run down on the struggle to get Pacific Islands women elected as MPs.

At his press conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of more support for women representation.

“We also discussed problems of expanding opportunities and democratic participation for women in the region,” he said.

“There is much room for improvement and today I heard genuine commitment from leaders to improve on this record. Pacific Island countries can benefit from the power and potential of all its citizens, particularly women.”

Myles Idoko Ojabo is a Nigerian journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course in AUT University’s School of Communication Studies.