The Pacific Feminist Forum (PFF) in 2016 was a major undertaking and a turning point in the journey of the Pacific feminist movement.
The event was a combination of years of organizing, networking and engaging in different spaces. It was – as the then Executive Director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Michelle Reddy put it - “a space where feminist, women human rights defenders and advocates are able to recruit; a space to learn from each other, to share the challenges and hurt.”
Dr Claire Slatter, who delivered the keynote address, shared her experience as a young feminist co-organising the first Pacific Women’s Conference (PWC), after returning from the First World Conference on Women (1975) that was held at Mexico City.
“Interestingly, most of the women who attended the meeting were older women so it was actually a little bit of a reverse – younger women organizing a meeting with an early feminist agenda,” she explained.
This “reversal” in dynamics is interesting because too often these days, young women aren’t being brought into the fold over discussions that concern their future.
Even if we move away from the “feminist agenda” narrative and into the wider advocacy movement, who makes all the decisions? Who sets the agenda?
Because too often, young people aren’t seen as partners for development, nor are we seen as leaders of today despite evidence to the contrary.
At a recent workshop, I was the lone youth (and female) voice in a table of aging men.
It was intimidating partly because they weren't very receptive to what I had to share - a reflection of the cultural and traditional environment some of us have grown up in.
For young women – and young people in general – we are working in systems that are not designed for us yet here we remain, challenging existing oppressive and patriarchal structures and transforming these spaces into more inclusive zones.
In recent years, there has been a shift in the overall understanding of young people’s roles in our development culture.
In 2015, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security.
This resolution, as well as Resolution 2419 (2018), recognises youths as positive role models in preventing conflicts and building peace.
It also urges governments and stakeholders to give us a greater voice in decision-making at all levels and includes setting up the mechanisms that would allow us to participate meaningfully in these processes.
Traditional structures rarely, if ever, entertain and much less welcome the vocal contribution of young people. The issue is made messier when it’s the voices of young women that need to be heard.
In societies where tradition and culture still guide communal life, it is important to find allies and create structures that are conducive to young women’s participation in decision-making.
A three-day cross-generational National Convention organised by the Fiji Women’s Forum and Fiji Young Women’s Forum in 2017 was an opportunity to develop strategies for women’s political participation.
As a volunteer for femLINKpacific at the time, attending the convention was an almost surreal moment for me.
In the room, there were participants from different backgrounds and all ages coming together to map a way forward for the women’s rights movement in Fiji.
There were moments that exposed generational values and created tension in the room but our ability to organise with a common goal is what eventually progressed conversations in the room.
For me, it was realising that the work we do for the future we want did not occur overnight. And that is the beauty of intergenerational spaces.
It provides us with an opportunity to learn about what’s been done but also realising what could be done.
These spaces put us together with diverse groups of women: women with disability, the LBT (lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community, rural women and young urban women.
By providing that intergenerational space, we are allowing for intersectional conversations to take place. It forces us to consider the disadvantages someone faces because of their overlapping social identities.
And yes, there will be disagreements, but when we talk about sustainability of a movement we are talking about an inclusive human rights and peacebuilding approach that includes diverse groups of people.
We are carrying forward the visions of the women and human rights defenders who came before us and that’s how we create sustainability in a movement.
By ensuring young women’s access to decision-making spaces at the community level, we guarantee an entryway into decision-making and in peace processes at the national level.
More can be done to ensure young women’s participation and this should mean ensuring their access to spaces that allow for that learning and the resources to succeed.