By Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Global Fund for Women board member and co-founder of FemLINKPACIFIC
Wearing t-shirts with the message, “C’mon Fiji, make budgets public now,” 14 members of civil society were detained and questioned by police after a peaceful demonstration earlier this month.
While these Fiji citizens who were detained at the non-violent gathering have not been charged with any offense, it begs the question: How do we communicate our peace and security at a time when there is a fine line between what is approved and allowed by the state?
How do we raise our voices for what we believe to be our right as citizens to communicate our priorities for peace, security, development, human rights, and dignity while upholding and demonstrating the values of non-violence?
After a military coup in 2006, and most recently a rejection of the 2012 draft constitution developed by Fiji’s own constitution commission, Fijians are rightfully critical of their government.
To keep an open dialogue about peace and non-violent resolution front and center, FemLINKPACIFIC revived our weekly peace vigil within the walls of Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral. The space offers a place for members of our community to gather, whether in quiet, silent reflection or larger gatherings to address priority concerns such as the solidarity vigil following the murder of a Suva feminist.
But such a space is not enough. That’s why ever since the military coup, FemLINKPACIFC’s focus has been to provide a safe communication channel for rural and young women community radio producers and broadcasters. This mandate has required us to negotiate through media and civil society controls, including the Public Emergency Regulation, the Media Decree and a quagmire of political processes in order to ensure our network is able to still claim their rightful space to communicate their peace, development, human rights and equality priorities – their peace and security. This includes raising concern about the lack of budget transparency currently practiced by the unelected government.
Women including those 14 detained and questioned this month, have a right to demand accountability on national budget processes. They have a right to continue to advocate through peace actions including local action and community radio broadcasts that peace, security human rights and dignity are prerequisite for human security.
It is critical that as the Fiji Government promotes a zero tolerance campaign on violence against women activists. Civil society must feel safe and engage on key political issues.
As a Fijian, I hope we can quickly return to a parliamentary democracy. Together, we should be able to do this without the threats of intimidation especially when they are peaceful demonstrations such as vigils - whether in a church or public space.
FemLINKPACIFIC enables women to feature community media initiatives, including our community radio broadcasts, interactive dialogue with government officials, television simulcasts and even television current affairs programs. They share the qualitative and quantitative evidence they gather with government officials in order to inform the development process – to link women’s priorities to national budget processes as well as ensure that through localization of UNSCR1325, CEDAW and international campaigns, they still hold the government machinery accountable to women’s rights, peace and security.