Letter from Fiji #1

Cosmopolitan Club LibraryA few days prior to flying to Fiji I was in New York up on the roof of the Cosmopolitan Club, one of the oldest women’s clubs in New York.  It was just before Thanksgiving and the place was very quiet.  I spent time in the lamp lit library, decked with a divine and diverse range of antiquarian and contemporary literature. There was a tea service available and pictures of women of influence adorned many of the rooms.   My bedroom was large, with crisp white sheets on the bed and with a glorious breakfast tray available in the morning. These were rooms that were gracious and generous in their embrace of women.

I stepped out onto the balcony adjoining the library. The New York skyline lay before me, bejewelled  beautiful, breathtaking.  The hush from the rooms behind me and the electric energy of the city before me combined to make me feel incredibly lucky. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Ownwas on my mind as I thought about some of the young women I knew and how much they would benefit by having access to the Cosmopolitan Club.

Even I was not a member, I was there by the grace of others, and I was already claiming it as my own.   And still, I wondered, how could we get more young women accessing such a club so that they could also benefit from these networks, this affirmation of rooms of one’s own.  Women’s rooms of space, with time to think and dream.

So, onward I flew to Fiji.  In the plane, the visitors kept the blinds firmly shut while the Fijians lifted the blinds and tipped their heads to the rosy rising sun. They were home.

I was in Fiji to meet some of the Global Fund for Women’s grantee partners and advisors and I was so happy to be back in a country that I love.

 “I was really nervous before my first broadcast and then when I was reading on air I felt really good.  It was good that my tutor, Tamara, was watching me.  I just fitted in and I felt relieved.  I was advising the people out there. Wow. It was big.  I felt happy,” said Silivia.

2012-Fiji-Gen Next and JaneMeet the fabulous young women who are Generation Next!  These 10 young women are the new broadcasters working at FemLINKPACIFIC in Fiji to capture the stories of women and girls and what they’re dealing with in their lives. All of them take mobile Suitcase Radios out into the community to give women and girls the opportunity to voice their views and share their perspectives.

These young women have all undertaken a three day training workshop and they will then produce weekend broadcasts each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, going “live to air” and thus increasing their confidence, knowledge and experience in engaging an audience in conversation and commentary.  “Our parents like the idea of us joining Generation Next, they think it’s exciting”, said Thais. “My friend works as a media officer and she encouraged me in the first place. I decided to join Generation Next and I went on air for the first time on International Day of Women Human Rights Defenders Day (November 28th), though I didn’t know it until I was on air.”

Another young woman, Salu – came to Generation Next to volunteer and to learn how to be a journalist.

“In my first broadcast I read a poem on air. In our training we learnt how to communicate with others.  Also how to interview and ask about issues affecting women.  I wrote a comic on a man beating his wife and I wrote a poem on the negative effects of television.”

My advice on television
“In almost every house we’ve been
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen
They loll and slop and lounge about
And stare until their eyes pop out
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until things hypnotized by it 
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk
Oh yes we know it keeps them still
They never climb out the window sill
They never fight or kick or punch
Then leave you free to cook the lunch…

Lavenia is also from Nausori.

2012-Fiji-suitcase radio

“I’ve been here a week and I’ve learnt how we can stand on our own two feet and be equal to men in decision-making.  Also how women can support each other.  When I return to Nausori I will take the suitcase radio and broadcast from there.”

Another trainee, Frances, shared her story.  “As part of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women last year I went and did some study.  I’ve learnt a lot from community radio broadcasts about issues and about women and society.  I’ve made new friends too.”

Pharti also joined Generation Next this year.“I learnt a lot in the workshop on how to write scripts and how to communicate.   Also about gender equality and how to express ourselves and how to encourage women to talk about education, employment and politics and how to use their gifts.”

Sharon joined Generation Next thanks to a friend’s encouragement. “I’m studying psychology and sociology. It was nice to meet everyone and to go on air.  I really liked it and so I volunteered to broadcast.”  Maria is also studying at the University of South Pacific.  “I’ve taken part in the 16 days of Activism campaign as well as doing the three day training workshop. It’s broadened my knowledge of women’s issues and women’s equality.”

Veena, Coordinator of Regional Programmes and Policy with FemLINKPACIFIC, said “These young women are writing stories and messages for the 16 Days as well as a book.  The young women involved with Generation Next wanted to share those stories as well as the stories of other women they capture on broadcast.

I asked Veena how they were engaging men during the campaign. “For the 16 Days of Activism we’ve allocated one day for men and boys to participate and share their own perspectives as well as listen to women and girls.  Sometimes men in the Pacific don’t really understand what a woman goes through and many think it’s normal to be violent to women and treat them roughly. Once they really open themselves to listening they begin the process of understanding what is happening. When we go to rural communities we ensure we talk to the men as well as the women.  We include in our conversations with men the impact of stress and violence on women and we sometimes put a dollar figure on that impact to bring it home.”

“We’re also working with young men as part of a Global Network for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.  We’re trying to engage them to be actively involved in preventing conflict and to change the notion of young people being passive to being active participants. We’re super busy as we’re also doing radio broadcasts to support submissions on the proposed Constitution from women and especially young women.”

What would you most like to do in your life?” I asked these young women.  “I’d like to interpret for deaf students and be an enabler” said one; “I’d like to be an advocate for sexual and reproductive health as HIV and AIDS is increasing in Fiji and people are afraid. Sexual and reproductive health services and information access is also a real issue in Fiji due to the push for abstinence, and the fact that the services that are available are located in very public areas.  This discourages young people from going because people would talk about the fact that they’d enter this centre.  The lack of facilities that are private is a real problem.”

2012-Fiji-community radio with anaFemLINKPACIFIC was founded in Fiji in September 2000 in response to the civil coup in May of that year and was borne out of a peace vigil convened by the National Council of Women, following the overthrow of the people’s coalition government. The Global Fund has supported FemLINKPACIFIC as a grantee partner in its mission to empower women and communities by giving them a voice to participate in decision-making on policies that impact equality, development, and peace.  The organization is guided by its values of non-violence, including in communication, in feminist practices and through Generation Next and its women’s community radio network.

“Can I come and visit you in New York or San Francisco?” one of these young broadcasters asked me.  “Sure you can,” I smiled.  And I imagined her entering the Cosmopolitan Club, Suitcase Radio in hand, in the spirit of intergenerational leadership and learning. I imagined her stepping into the library and asking the women in the club, the women who take inspiration from those on the walls before them – Eleanor Roosevelt, Willa Cather, Margaret Mead – and paraphrasing Mary Oliver’s question, “What are you doing with your one wild and precious life?”

 

Jane Sloane – Fiji

Update:

I have added some pictures  from Fiji