Fijian Grantee Shares Insights On Intergenerational Movement Building

Talk-Tok – A first bite of a feast of ideas

On Friday afternoon, on the back veranda of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) office, a motley crew of girls and women gathered over some food and drink to begin a conversation that we hope will start a feast of ideas to nourish the ailing Pacific Women’s Movement.

The twenty women and girls (along with two men, a couple of toddlers and other supporters) got together to discuss what we felt were burning issues that have challenged and inspired us as feminists, women’s rights activists and for some of us, just girls and women who have yet to name “what drives us as human beings who give a damn about our communities and our sisters”. The yarn started off with our facilitator, FWRM’s Tara Chetty, explaining the reasons for our gathering and the process we would be using. Everyone was given a couple of little pieces of paper to write down their questions and pop them in the question box.  We then passed around the box for everyone to pick out a random question, and one by one Tara asked each person to read out loud their chosen question and to start the ball rolling.

Effective mentoring
First out of the box was the issue of how we as a movement nurture effective mentoring between budding and experienced feminists. The responses were varied: Experienced feminist and FWRM Board Chair, Gina Houng Lee, shared how much she gained from her mentors, particularly the time and energy they invested in her. Gina said that she often felt guilty that sometimes it was difficult for her to make the same investment with those who identified her as their mentor. But there was a word of caution from FWRM Board member Luisa Tora, who felt that we were in danger of running ourselves ragged if we tried to do it all. While this may have been in response to the question of who decides the issues that the feminist and/or women’s movement focuses on - it was also an apt response to the question of burnout and the sustainability of the movement, and the guilt that experienced activists and feminists unnecessarily burden themselves with.

FWRM’s Virisila Buadromo pointed out that the Movement’s Young Women in Leadership Programme, particularly the year long Emerging Leaders Forum, is a clear example of a formalised process of mentoring. It was a space for young and budding feminists to meet with experienced and “middling” feminists to commit to passionately engage and share ideas toward achieving gender equality. Virisila believed that mentoring had to be a two way street.  An idea that was shared by Sandra Bernklau of the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), who pointed out that in her North American experience, one usually was introduced to the women’s movement through studying either feminism or gender in university. She also shared how the generation gap was an issue that confronted the women’s movement irrespective of your geographic location.

Power Sharing
Another sensitive issue to pop out of the question box was territorialism and the impact that this has on women collaborating. A member of the ELF alumni, Rosie Catherine expressed how young women activists were sometimes scared of becoming involved in the movement or women’s organisations because they did not want to get embroiled in their politics. Rosie said often they would “just do things on their own because it was better than stepping on someone’s toes”. Both Gina and Luisa quickly clarified that it was important to separate the personalities of the movement from the work of the movement – stressing that the only way a women’s and/or feminist movement was to prosper was the recognition of the diversity of people’s roles and the strategies they used toward achieving gender equality.       

There was a lot on power-sharing within the women’s movement in the question box. FWRM’s programme manager, Naeemah Khan, explained that in her experience, it was important to be able to differentiate between the types of power dynamics that one can encounter: The notion of understanding the concepts of having “power over” and “power to” and “power with”. Naeemah believed that what was important for her was ensuring that we, as feminists and women’s rights activists, did not replicate the same patriarchal power structures that we have worked hard to overcome. Sandra re-iterated this idea, advising that for any social movement to be sustainable and effective, the passion for continuous learning was paramount. “The things that worked in the past will not (necessarily) work in the present.”

The two and half hour talk-feast ended on a note of hope as we all shared what made us feel at home in the movement. New ELF participant, Gopika Dasi spoke of the empowerment she felt in knowing that she was not alone, “I (finally) feel like that everyone is like me”. ELF alumni members Maraia Vakatalai and Mamta Sylvia Chand both expressed their passion for ELF and how they were both hungry to learn. They also both felt that if effective change is to occur, the inclusion of men as partners was an issue that we needed to address. This issue will join other difficult questions from the question box at the next Tok Talk session, because as Tara pointed out, “The women’s movement is my safe space but it is also the most challenging.”

The Fiji Women's Rights Movement is a multi-ethnic and multicultural NGO committed to removing discrimination against women. By means of core programmes, as well as innovative approaches, the FWRM practice promotes democracy, good governance, feminism and human rights. It strives to empower, unite and provide leadership opportunities for women in Fiji, especially for emerging young leaders.


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