Rising Pacific Feminisms

Nalini Singh, Executive Director, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
Illustration by Hafsa Ashfaq

Nalini Singh, is a Fijian feminist and a social development specialist with over 20 years’ experience in design, implementation, management, monitoring and evaluation of women’s rights and development programmes in Asia and the Pacific. Nalini has lived across the two regions, before returning to her country, Fiji to lead the Fiji Women Rights Movement. In a reflective chat with UAF A&P’s co-lead Virisila Buadromo, she sketches the lessons she’s learnt through working in and leading feminist organisations, and her excitement at what a new regional Pacific Feminist Fund can mean for spawning more and diverse feminist movements and voices that speak for Pacific’s unique causes and complexities.

Virisila: We Pacific feminists have always wanted the feminist movement here to have a distinct identity within the Asia Pacific grouping. I have always championed the use of Asia and Pacific to keep our vast regions, distinct and not as a homogenized dual entity. How do you see this swallowing of the Pacific cause into the Asia-Pacific grouping?

Nalini: We, Pacific feminists realized a long time ago that the P gets subsumed in the AP (Asia-Pacific) and even though the issues may resonate with us, the way we experience those issues manifesting and intersecting with our lives are different. For example, the obvious thing is the Blue Pacific has over 20 island states with different cultures, different languages, different ways of being. Take the issue of climate change and how that intersects with women’s lives — our lived realities are different from what Asian countries face. This isn’t to discount Asian women and their struggles, but what’s happening with us is different. We have the ocean surrounding us from all sides.

“We are very small populations, and our ecosystems, which are so diverse — everything is at risk.”

Often we hear that we’re too small and too spread out, in relation to the remoteness of our locations, the size of our populations, and the varied needs we have. That it’s too hard should not be an excuse. So we Pacific feminists are stepping up to say, more vocally, that its more reason for us to be recognized, because our issues and experiences are unique.

“Often we hear that we’re too small and too spread out, in relation to the remoteness of our locations, the size of our populations, and the varied needs we have. That it’s too hard should not be an excuse.”

Virisila: For us to collectively be more vocal, do you think there are possibilities for us to learn from each other? For instance, are there lessons from Fiji that other Pacific Islands can adapt and adopt to better claim resources?

Nalini: Not adopt, perhaps, but lessons from Fiji can be used to lead by example. Take the example of the We Rise Coalition. It’s a Pacific feminist coalition with 7 diverse feminist organizations, including from Fiji and PNG, mostly led by young women, with a mix of older organizations too that partnered with the international non-profit organization, IWDA. When we conducted Diversity Inclusion Engagement Study, as the coalition was moving into its third phase of implementation, we found out that feminist movement building and advocacy was strongest and most sustained in Fiji. We realised it was most well-funded in Fiji too, whereas everywhere else it was very dispersed or barely existent.

Virisila: That’s interesting, what do you think are the reasons why the feminist movement building is stronger in Fiji as compared to other Pacific islands?

Nalini: I think in Fiji what we have benefited from is that we have the institutions for education, we also have older feminists who have founded organizations. In Fiji, they have nurtured younger feminists, and provided inter-generational support to thrive and grow. The inspiration, I believe, should come from that.
There were lots of challenges mentioned by activists and feminists from different countries. If we ensure that there is continuity to move and grow, and to be challenged by what’s happening, while also celebrating the diversity of the Pacific islands and its people.

Virisila: I think conversations and trust building are the way to for us Pacific feminists to encourage stronger movements across other countries in our region.

Nalini: With the We Rise Coalition, we are experimenting as part of the 3rd Pacific Feminist Forum (PFF) with a range of dialogues around What does feminism mean to different groups in different countries? What are those key issues? What could be done together? And How do they can now come together and contribute as well as reminisce, and, celebrate the work they have done and discuss what more can be done? We are hoping that these dialogues would clarify what feminists can do and how all different and diverse intersectional feminist movements, say the disability movements, and LBTQI movements, and young women coalitions, can come together to keep finding the spark and to continue doing meaningful work in different ways.

Virisila: And in this context, I think we can hope that the new Pacific Feminist Fund that we are working to set up for the region, is a step in that direction.

Nalini: I think the Pacific Feminist Fund makes me very excited about the prospect of new ideas, new opportunities that could be supported, and also to learn and see what different organisations in the region are doing, and explore ways in which we can all work together. Working together to engage with donors, and mobilising funds would also enable small organizations to crack into the mechanism set in place for funding. The coming together, and exchange of ideas, all in all, will help organizations to start work, and create their own content for activism.

Virisila: This inspires me to think of what do we have as Pacific feminists to share with the rest of the world? What is our legacy?

“We in the Pacific are often neglected because our day-to-day struggles don’t leave us any time or space to reflect on the macro picture.”

Nalini: Our legacy will be practicing leaving no one behind — it is something that has been, in my view, co-opted by multinationals and even by the UN system into a slogan now. Where do you think that was coined from? It was coined in the movements. We in the Pacific are often neglected because our day-to-day struggles don’t leave us any time or space to reflect on the macro picture. For example, a trade agreement between China and Australia or some other countries, impacts our supply chain logistics and prices that commodities are available to us at. We just don’t have the time and space to connect to those issues and to raise our voices about them. Leaving no one behind requires that the problems we face as communities, as women, are not overlooked!

“Our legacy will be practicing leaving no one behind — it is something that has been, in my view, co-opted by multinationals and even by the UN system into a slogan now.”

So what I’m saying is, despite how small and dispersed we are, we should not be overlooked or unheard. I feel there are two ways we can do it, some of us need to step up and look at the macro picture of how international or regional action affect us and represent it suitably. Also, what we intersectionally experience due to our regions, cultures and diversity, is unique, and we need to be able to narrate that uniqueness. It might sometimes look as though it is the same voices that come up all the time, but those that get a platform need to relentlessly continue voicing the issues which affect everyone in the region. We do owe it to make sure that our voices, our experiences, and our unique ways of how we intersect with those larger issues and how they are being represented, are being properly highlighted.

‘Love, Care, and Rebellion’ is UAF A&P’s blog series that celebrates conversations with activists, advisors, outgoing board members and Founding Feministas.

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Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific

Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific

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A regional women’s human rights and feminist fund that protects, strengthens and sustains women and non-binary human rights defenders in Asia and the Pacific