Celebrating Women Across the South Pacific

Prepared by Agnieszka Zuchora, Partnership and Development Coordinator

To celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8), Pacific Peoples’ Partnership is highlighting some of the amazing work being done by our partners across the South Pacific. We are truly excited to be partnering with ʻOfa Guttenbeil-Likiliki and the Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) in Tonga for a Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) grant.

‘Ofa is a talented journalist, filmmaker, researcher, and advocate for women’s rights. She is the founder and director of the Tonga Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC)Her incredible work can be found in the film Vai, which she co-wrote and co-directed, as well as the brilliantly researched article Creating Equitable South-North Partnerships: Nurturing the VĀ and Voyaging the Audacious Ocean Together.

Currently, ‘Ofa and her team at WCCC are delivering remote counselling support to the outer islands of Tonga. 

The overall aim of the saturated focus on Tonga’s outer islands and most remote islands is to empower women and children by informing them of how women and young children who are victims and survivors of violence can access free, safe, non-judgmental, and confidential support services. “We use our Tongan method of ‘talanoa’ (talk informally) with our very own Tongan process, ‘fofola e fala kae talanoa e kainga’; it’s the traditional way of holding conversations, where the mat is rolled out giving permission to those in attendance to discuss and talk openly about the topic at hand,” explained Senior Counsellor Malia Foketi Tu’itupou. (‘Ofa, 2020).

To date WCCC has delivered:

  • Two mobile counselling clinics to ‘Eua. 
  • Seventeen mobile counselling talanoa clinics to the Ha’apai group covering: Uiha, Kotu, Lofanga, Mo’unga’one, Ha’ano, Muitoa, Fakakai, Pukotala, five communities in Foa, and four communities in Lifuka. 
  • Short awareness programs for all community members, including children, youth, and community leaders.
Stay Safe Campaign held simultaneously with MCTC

The women of the Pacific Resilience Fund and the Pacific Islander Advisory Committee 

At PPP we believe in equal opportunity. We have been told countless times that women want a seat at the table, and they want their voices heard, so we listened. As we develop our Pacific Resilience Fund (PRF) and transform it into an Indigenous-led fund, as defined by the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (2020), we have put together a Pacific Islander Advisory Committee (PIAC) consisting of five inspiring and passionate women doing incredible work across the South Pacific.

Meet our PIAC:

Dr. Méré MoTari MuraMura Sovick is an Indigenous scholar and practitioner from the Republic of Vanuatu, educated in New Zealand, and later in the USA, where she currently resides. She is the founder and executive director of the Melanesian Women Today (MWT) organization. She grew up in the village of Lavatu on the northern island of Pentecost, traditionally referred to as Araga, and is from the Bule tribe. She embraces her roots and culture, and credits her late grandparents, parents, and elders for teaching her the language, kastom, and knowledge of her people; this motivated her to apply the Indigenous knowledge in her research studies and work, and gave her the framework to do so. Without the support of her family and community, she believes her success would have been in vain.

Dr. Sovick sees herself as an agent of social change and a lifelong learner. As an agent of social change, one has to be willing to be a lifelong learner, which means putting an emphasis on “we” and “us”, and less on “I” and “me” – “I am what I am because of who we all are”.

Jennifer Baing-Waiko is a vibrant researcher, media specialist, TV presenter, and advocate of cultural preservation and equal rights and opportunities. Originally from the Morobe province in Papua New Guinea, she has a truly diverse knowledge set and experience working in marine conservation, seafloor mapping, agriculture, and traditional knowledge sharing. In 2007, she started Save PNG to protect the local culture, traditions, and the environment. Her work has included Cafe New Guinea, Cafe Melanesia, and the Healthy Pacific Campaign.

Kianna Juda Angelo was born in the Republic of the Marshall Islands but was adopted and raised in America since her earliest childhood. In the last decade, Kianna has reconnected with her Marshallese heritage. Continuing her passion for serving communities, Kianna founded the international non-profit organization Living Islands in 2013 and co-founded the social justice organization Compact of Free Association (COFA)  Alliance National Network (CANN) in 2014. She continues to serve as Executive Director for Living Islands and as Board Member for CANN. Kianna is a strong believer in international community work and a fierce supporter of the United Nations and is a member of the United Nations Association. She is always working on connecting governments, organizational partners, commercial interests, Native Americans, and Indigenous communities across the globe.

PIAC Members also include Leaula Theresa Asiata, SSWEFT Chief Executive Officer (Samoa) and  Maureen Penjueli, Coordinator, Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) in Fiji.

Our reasoning for an all-female identifying committee is drawn from the many conversations we have had, all of which point to the same conclusion: “Women are deeply involved in all aspects of their communities and can see where support is most needed and what forms are most effective” (anonymous, 2020). 

There can be a misconception that women only focus on women-related issues; however, it continues to be true that supporting women supports everyone. This does not mean a project has to be wholly dedicated to women or gender equity, rather that it is mindful of its impact on women, working with a holistic approach. This is exactly what we have seen through the first phase of Pacific Resilience Fund grants guided by our Pacific Islander Advisory Committee. 

Current projects across the South Pacific:

Research on women-led businesses

Melanesian Women Today (MWT) is undergoing a research study to understand what makes Indigenous female small business owners succeed in business for more than five years. The project is overseen by the MWT director and will replicate a peer-reviewed research study (Dr. Mere Sovick, 2017). 

This qualitative multiple-case study explores strategies Indigenous female small business owners use to succeed in business beyond five years.  This research will support MWT in gaining an understanding of what strategies women entrepreneurs use to overcome constraints or problems, and will allow MWT to create programs that will help female business owners in the future.

Historical preservation in the Marshall Islands: A collaborative project between Living Islands Non-Profit and Lihn Mwoakilloa Inc.

Like so many other small atolls in the Pacific Region, Mwoakilloa Atoll (formerly Mokil Atoll) in the Federated States of Micronesia faces depopulation and food insecurities. 

Lihn Mwoakilloa Inc. is a women-led organization addressing these issues, promoting sustainable life skills with reliance on traditional knowledge and practices. They promote historical preservation by empowering the present generation with the sustained use of traditional knowledge and practices at the community level through dance, music, arts and crafts, gardening, and cooking. 

Self-reliance is predicated on producing sufficient local food resilience and minimizing the dependency on imported goods. An essential household staple in Mwoakilloa (and the Pacific Region in general) is flour. Lihn Mwoakilloa Inc. is starting a program to educate the next generation and re-introduce local flour production from local produce.

Strongim Meri Morobe: Strengthening the Women of Morobe

Save PNG is reaching out to rural and remote communities in Morobe Province to conduct awareness on food and nutrition security and women’s health and wellbeing, as well as to organize women into associations to market their arts and crafts, utilizing natural fibers harvested and propagated from their local environments.

Save PNG is completing a cultural centre with demonstrated traditional food system gardens integrated with permaculture and agro-ecological principles. They are also running small trainings with women to help them to form associations to market their local arts and crafts and to create marketable natural fibre products.

The aim of these projects is to ensure that communities are food and nutrition secure. and that they are planting a wide variety of traditional and Indigenous food plants to ensure that their diets are diverse and nutritious. This is also providing a pathway for women to expose their talents in arts and crafts to be able to make an added income to supplement their farming activities. The natural fibres and dyes used to create their Bilum (traditional arts and crafts) will also be propagated in the community to ensure that these materials are produced sustainably. 

Promoting health and safety in Samoa

The Samoa Social Welfare Fesoasoani Trust (SSWEFT) is working directly with the chiefs of two communities to raise awareness and provide hygienic assistance to vulnerable members of the community during the pandemic. In this joint venture with the PPP, SSWEFT has been able to visit selected families needing assistance as they are adults that are looked after by either a family member with a disability or a mother tending to the needs of an adult child. SSWEFT aims to offer support to these families as they often do not want to be a burden on their communities; with this initiative they are able to receive invaluable support they may not have otherwise felt comfortable asking for. 

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