Communicating Gender Equality and Rights from the Mat to the Policy Table: A Pacific Journey

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Posted November 20, 2018 from Fiji

This article is based on an initial presentation by the author for the Creative research and development in Asia-Pacific: Reflections on gender inequalities and human rights QUT Symposium, Monday 9th of April, 2018





Women’s information and media networks have been responsible for sharing information from global and regional conferences to women at the community level, since 1975, when the first UN Conference on Women was held in Mexico. This has contributed to building a truly global women’s movement with a solid basis of leadership and linkages resulting in an expanded network of communications and information that stretch into the farthest reaches of the world.


The legacy of women’s media networks who negotiated for the broadening of the Women and the Media section of the Beijing Platform for Action, to reflect the opportunity for women to be recognized as producers of their own media form resulted in the inclusion of the Strategic Objective in Section J which recognizes the need to increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication: Women and Media - Section J - of the Beijing Platform for Action - has two strategic objectives:

• Strategic objective J.1. Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication.

• Strategic objective J.2. Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.


In the Pacific, there have been several women’s media networks in the Pacific with women mobilizing together with appropriate and accessible media and ICTs, in particular community radio as well as the internet to bring women’s voices and recommendations to the attention to the general public, policy makers and private sector.


The demonstrated fusion of community radio together with internet and online communications provide opportunities for women to network and communicate on an equitable footing, there is a need to also bridge the policy divide (because unfortunately): “policy-making has largely ignored women’s needs online, leading to an environment that has been largely designed by and for men, and which worsens both the information gap between men and women as well as the negative portrayals, overt commercialization and sexualisation of the female body. Community radio can play a role in helping to bring these specific concerns to the policy table, and promoting the role of women both in the use of ICTs, and redressing this political imbalance”


Pacific women are demonstrating leadership in this regards.


The challenges


According to the People’s Communication for Development Research Report (2004) oral forms of communication, such as story-telling, popular theatre and face-to face interaction, were the most empowering way of sharing information between intermediary groups and grassroots women, and that radio was the most accessible communication tool for facilitating this interaction. Radio was preferred because of its low cost, accessibility in rural areas, linguistic flexibility, interactivity (for example, through talkback programmes), ease of use and lack of dependence on either electricity or literacy.


However - By the time Pacific Governments adopted the Beijing Platform for Action, they were already implementing structural adjustment programmes that resulted in the reduced funding for public service content because of corporatization and commercialization of public service airwaves.


The limited funding that was available was not enough to integrate commitments to gender equality in and through the media. Subsequently broadcast airtime previously allocated for the communication of information that supported the empowerment of communities, and programme production and management styles that stemmed from the communities, airtime has been dedicated for commercial advertising and programmes which promote and support the advertising agenda of commercial enterprises.


While there have been advances in certain areas of media across the Pacific region large gaps continue to exist in both traditional and digital media outlets. Pacific women are challenging the status quo as the producers of our own print and electronic media.


Women also operate community radio stations, are media correspondents, producers of video documentaries, Information providers, Communicators and Media Activists. To effectively represent women’s role in media there is a need for media content to be able to redefine leadership through its content and ensure that language is empowering. Otherwise it results in the further marginalisation of women from the public airwaves.


Pacific women are demonstrating leadership in this regards.


For femLINKpacific, it all began with the Blue-Ribbon Peace Vigil in Fiji in 2000. A women’s media collective emerged, linked to the efforts of women coming together despite the political crisis, with the desire to communicate women’s notions of peace and security from their homes and communities to political processes.


It was a vision to amplify values of non-violence, of a determined inclusive and ecumenical approach to communication, and applying feminist, peacebuilding and community media practices to produce and distribute content with, for and about women, including through the sharing of technology from tape recorders to access to the internet as well as though the establishment of Fiji and the Pacific’s first women led community radio network – FemTALK 89FM.


In the almost two decades that followed, femLINKpacific has demonstrated a commitment to support the implementation of Section J of the Beijing Platform for Action including to support women to hold governments to account by sustaining a regional women-led media network that mobilizes resources for women of all diversities, including young women, women with disabilities and LGBT allies to produce and broadcast radio programmes. In a very practical way, women are supported to define and communicate their peace and human security priorities.


There is now also greater opportunity to enhance networking through the development of information programmes for non-governmental organizations, women’s organizations and professional media organizations to respond to the needs of women in the media, and support Pacific-women-led innovation in media and communications. to promote the human rights of women and equality between women and men. In addition to the opportunity to use online media platforms such as Facebook and Internet, mobile phone technology has also been a new platform for mobilizing and supporting women in the agriculture sector, as well as a disaster preparedness and response tool such as Women’s Weather Watch.


Putting Section J in Action:


Too often the media asks, “where are the women?” and that’s why to demonstrate the role of community media, especially as a participatory medium employing solution based journalism, femLINKpacific worked from 2004 onwards to establish a network of correspondents who produce radio programmes and interviews through a dedicated network of Rural Women Leaders.

This community media network is enabling women to regularly report on development priorities and track the changes or the gaps in progress from the vantage point of women in their communities – many being heard from beyond the broadcast transmission range of FemTALK 89FM transmission range. By contributing to the radio programmes and media features, which are published in the free women’s newspaper, The Community Radio Times as well as featuring in the Radio with Pictures television series, the members of the Rural Women Leaders Community Media Network are empowering members of their own local clubs and becoming strong communicators for their communities when speaking to government officials.


Since 2004, femLINKpacific has demonstrated the relevance of a community radio network and what is possible when investing in gender inclusive public broadcast systems. The successful use of its “suitcase” radio model has shown that women are able to use media technology to help rural and young women to not only access news and information but also to produce their own radio programmes to bring attention to their own priorities. Radio, especially community radio, has proven to be an effective tool for disaster management because it is an efficient way to give information suited to the needs of the community, packaged in local language. It has been used to disseminate information and early warning messages.


Women’s Weather Watch is femLINKpacific’s inter-operable communication platform. At the heart of this system is community radio, linking a network of women leaders and correspondents to real-time information via SMS alerts (mobile phone and bulk system) as well as a Viber group and Facebook.


What started in 2004 as a mobile “suitcase” community radio with young women in-school volunteers from Saint Joseph Secondary School, conducting monthly “weekend” broadcasts with a 100W transmitter, now brings more than 800 hours of content bridging the gap between rural women and the capital city of Fiji, as well as broadcasting content produced with and by correspondents and contributors from Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.


In 2015, the technical expansion of FemTALK 89FM Suva was funded through a grant from the Australian Government, as part of its Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Programme. It built on femLINKpacific’s successful demonstration of the role of community media, particularly community radio, in addressing the under-representation of women and young women in decision making and political leadership at local and national level.


Primarily, much of the work of the “suitcase” radio was to bridge the rural-urban information and communication divide and the complex inter-generational gap that is exacerbated when young women engage with new Media and ICTs! (Information, Communication and Technology) Community radio provided a vital opportunity to teach young women broadcast skills reaching across to older women, share their views - often after years of being told to be silent.


The expansion of the “suitcase” radio and all of its growth since 2008 has only been possible through years of work and dedication by teams of young women producer-broadcasters. The Generation Next Project was femLINKpacific’s flagship project for young women throughout the Pacific region, funded by the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) which supported young women to become community radio producers and broadcasters.


Following the launch of femLINKpacific’s mobile women’s community radio station in 2004, femLINKpacific developed a series of training programmes for young women in Suva, Fiji that built on the role of in-school students who assisted in our monthly “weekend” community radio broadcasts. The Generation Next project emerged from these training initiatives with a vision to develop a core group of young women from diverse backgrounds and experiences, to be the producers and broadcasters Initiated in Fiji in 2005, the project has since enabled a cadre of more than 100 young women to take to the airwaves and use information and communication to bridge the divide between urban and rural women and their communities and national and local governance structures. The Generation Next project also has served as an entry point for young women into femLINKpacific, as several of them have become members of femLINKpacific’s core team at the community media centres in Suva and Labasa


Media Partnerships are also vital


Community media processes are empowering but are limited in their influence on wider societal change.


This is why femLINKpacific continued to invest and focus on strengthening media alliances by producing and contributing features and advocacy messages to regional media allies. In addition, at the national level, partnerships were forged with Fiji Television, producing 3 seasons of Radio with Pictures, as well as Digicel Fiji, conducting a series of SMS campaigns as well as learning on the use of the SMS platform available to enhance our Women’s Weather Watch (WWW) alerts and information-communication systems.


By 2018, as a result of FemLINK’s media initiatives more local women leaders are appearing in national media especially Radio with Pictures on Fiji TV and the FemTALK 89FM Suva broadcasts and quoted in Op-Eds. Influencing the mainstream, commercial media platforms means that they are finally starting to reflect the diversity of women and legitimise their leadership.


The organisation was demonstrating how community media can communicate women human rights language into policy action, enabling women to share their visions of peace and human security as leaders in their homes, communities and the country.


Not for Profit means you are accountable to being Accessible and Appropriate


Women’s access to information including affordability of new media and ICTs requires a deep accountability to what access means.


According to Lanieta Tuimabu of the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation “In terms of accessible information, for what does it really mean for us women with disabilities...we see there is a variation of access needs depending on the type of disability in terms of information, accessible information. It’s not a... one size fits all. It has to be looked at on the impairment.”


For Susanna Evening, Catholic Women’s League, Fiji: “What community radio means to me is it is very easy access of information to the rural women, to the community and to me it is very important because communication is a tool of development for the women.”


This is one of the reasons why FemLINK developed Women’s Weather Watch:


The system is a two-way information system enabling the network members to also provide real-time situation updates which are used for media and podcast productions. The system is coordinated from femLINKpacific’s regional hub based at its Suva community media centre and activated in the disaster preparedness stage and is also used as a disaster impact assessment tool.


It can be operated from a desktop or mobile device. Women’s Weather Watch is about more than addressing the infrastructure and political structures but a gender inclusive information and communication channel that bridges the gap between rural women’s needs in the immediate response, the National Disaster Management Office and Meteorological Service.


Women’s Weather Watch documents the lived experiences of women in disaster affected communities and supports the leadership of women to ensure more gender-inclusive preparedness and humanitarian response during times of disasters – storms and cyclones, droughts and floods as well as tsunamis, as well as in the recovery stages post-disaster


At the same time new media technology, particularly the internet and digital radio production, has enabled femLINKpacific to develop into a regional media hub connecting networks of Pacific women commitments to advancing gender inclusive peacebuilding practice in the Pacific.


FemTALK 89FM Suva remains an important broadcast hub of regional priorities raised by our network partners with 40% of airtime dedicated to regional content produced during regional network meetings, and by teams of correspondents and contributors who belong to the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) Pacific network. Media content includes short films, the Pasifika Peace Talanoa magazine as well as podcasts. femLINKpacific and her partners are demonstrating how Pacific women led regional media network is using appropriate and accessible ICTs in line with commitments in the Beijing Platform for Action in terms of content creation as well as monitoring the news.


Progressing Gains


Programming that reinforces women’s traditional roles can be equally limiting.

The world-wide trend towards consumerism has created a climate in which advertisements and commercial messages often portray women primarily as consumers and target girls and women of all ages inappropriately. Women should be empowered by enhancing their skills, knowledge and access to information technology. This will strengthen their ability to combat negative portrayals of women internationally and to challenge instances of abuse of the power of an increasingly important industry.


Self-regulatory mechanisms for the media need to be created and strengthened and approaches developed to eliminate gender-biased programming. Most women, especially in developing countries, are not able to access effectively the expanding electronic information highways and therefore cannot establish networks that will provide them with alternative sources of information. Women therefore need to be involved in decision-making regarding the development of the new technologies in order to participate fully in their growth and impact.


The outcomes of the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women reaffirmed the vital role the media can play in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls, including through non‑discriminatory and gender-sensitive coverage and by eliminating gender stereotypes, including those perpetuated by commercial advertisements


Based on 18 years of developing and managing a women-led community media network it is imperative that there is investment to sustain programme and operational infrastructure including capacity development. Development partners are well placed to support and sustain a Pacific women-led media network by:

  1. Promoting research and implementation of a strategy of information, education and communication aimed at promoting a balanced portrayal of women and girls and their multiple roles.
  2. Supporting the development of and finance, as appropriate, women-led media, including community radio programmes, and the use of appropriate and accessible media and ICT platforms to disseminate information to and about women and their concerns.
  3. Supporting the development of and finance, as appropriate, women-led media initiatives, including community radio programmes, to promote women’s leadership, and women’s many different life experiences, including but not limited to their experiences in balancing work and family responsibilities, as mothers, as professionals, as managers and as entrepreneurs, to provide role models, particularly to young women.


Comments 7

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Nov 21, 2018
Nov 21, 2018

Hi dear,
How are you doing? Thanks for sharing your workshop information with us.

Will take a look at it later.

Jill Langhus
Nov 21, 2018
Nov 21, 2018

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for this enlightening post about some recent history about Pacific women in the media. I'm glad to see there is steady progress toward them being heard and that there is a bright outlook for future empowerment of women in the media there, too.

Hope you have a great day!

leila Kigha
Nov 25, 2018
Nov 25, 2018

Thank you Sharon for sharing your workshop information with us. Thank you for shading light on such important issues.

Beth Lacey
Nov 26, 2018
Nov 26, 2018

Very interesting article.

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 26, 2018
Nov 26, 2018

Dear Sharon,

I am so glad to know you are there, and to have this important report. I'm so glad too that you mention the first UN Conference on Women that was held in Mexico in 1975, and the Beijing Platform for Action years later. Both gave us hope that we were finally coming together globally.
The news of all femLINKpacific has accomplished is powerful, as is learning about the Blue-Ribbon Peace Vigil in Fiji in 2000 and especially being reminded of all the ways that radio can be so important and useful, especially in making fast connection possible between rural women both ongoing and in an environmental emergency, through Women’s Weather Watch to the the National Disaster Management Office and Meteorological Service..
I so agree that Not for Profit work is paramount. Thank you for this comprehensive update on what many of you continue to build together.

In sisterhood,

Blanche Yamba-Cordero
Feb 19, 2019
Feb 19, 2019

Hi Sharon! Thank you for sharing this post. Please continue your work and hope to see more stories from you on women in media.


Sister Zeph
May 31, 2019
May 31, 2019

Thank you for sharing a very informative article my dear

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