Be Audacious !

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Posted November 17, 2020 from Fiji

I'm sitting at the new church hall of the Wesley Methodist Church in Suva. I say new because as a child our Sunday School events would be staged in the old wooden hall. But  several cyclones later the hall is new. It is  built on the foundation of the old.

I'm here early for the start of the Fiji YWCA Special General Meeting ahead of the Biennial Conference. It will be a significant meeting transitioning from several years of uncertainty and challenges. But that aside, the meeting will be catalytic because it builds on a solid foundation of the YWCA movement in Fiji and the Pacific. It has brought together a spirit of collaboration amongst a number of us reviewing the amendments to the Constitution, reaffirming the role of the National Council and Executive Committee - how can a national association with a long her'story have clarity of purpose, vision and actions within the current women's right and Feminist movement in Fiji and the Pacific - connecting the local social, economic and political priorities of diverse women in particular young women through programme activities, advocacy and communications and collaboration.

My feminist journey began with the YWCA in the Lautoka branch as a young woman guided by my mother who was part of the foundational group of women who supported the formation of the YWCA.  The women who paved the way through their activism, engagement and dedication continues to inspire. I am still able to connect my faith and Feminism.

Being Audacious in Faith. We are all women of faith and we are reminded that the work of the YWCA goes beyond organising programmes. In the movement of ending violence against women -the roots of the Thursday in Black was an initiative of the World YWCA through the World Council of Churches. We honour those who have paved the way as we also honour the faith of women who have believed in the power of a movement. Who have persisted to challenge powerful and often violent structures. This is about organising for the next generation, it is about our future legacy. How do we extend the "C" of the YWCA extending beyond our ethnic cultural group just as we hear and learn from the story of the Canaanite woman who challenged Jesus. We are reminded that our faith empowers us to challenge - and bringing a change in the message that empowerment and gender justice is for all.  

2020 is indeed a year to reaffirm and rise into a new future - for equality, development and peace.

Background from the Sydney Morning Herald:

In 1962, Ruth Lechte and Anne Walker went to Fiji at the invitation of a group of local women to be the first staff of the Fiji YWCA. With Fijian Amelia Rokotuivuna and women leaders, they worked throughout the 1960s establishing multiracial kindergartens and more than 50 youth and women's clubs.

The Fiji YWCA was instrumental in supporting and organising the Pacific region's nuclear-free movement after nuclear tests started at Mururoa, French Polynesia, in 1968.

Ruth Lechte … feminist, activist, environmentalist and supporter of women's rights. 

The women joined students from the newly formed Pacific Theological College and the University of the South Pacific to organise one of the first marches in Suva against the tests.

The YWCA was also deeply involved in activities leading to Fiji's independence.

In 1970, Lechte, Rokotuivuna and Walker were honoured with the Fiji Independence Medal. and, when Rokotuivuna took over as general secretary of the Fiji YWCA in 1974, Lechte became Pacific Area secretary of the World YWCA.


Comments 11

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Hello, dear Sharon,

It is wonderful to read your journey to feminism and how it began with your association with YWCA. Amazing. I love that you are able to balance your faith and feminism, and it is not how others perceive that Christianity clashes with feminism.

Yes to gender justice! I stand with you. Thank you for sharing your this story with us and the history of YWCA in Fiji. Cheers to all the empowered women in your resilient country!

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls

Thank you Karen!

Nov 19
Nov 19

Hi Sharon,

I agree with Karen's observation on how you have balance your faith and feminism.
It's nice to read the history of YWCA in Fiji. This helps me understand why YWCA formed and established.

Nini Mappo
Nov 19
Nov 19

Hello Sharon,
I find it absolutely revolutionary that a feminists' meeting is being held inside a church. But then again, Sussanah Wesley, the 'mother of Methodists' was probably herself a feminist in her trail-blazing approaches to ministry, parenting and what women were not allowed to do at the time. Thank you for sharing your journey. I enjoyed journeying with you and to imagine the leadership trajectory the young Aussie YMCA leaders went on for putting up their hands to come to Fiji those many years ago!

Nov 20
Nov 20

Je suis avec toi. Merci d'avoir partagé cette histoire avec nous et l'histoire de YWCA aux Fidji. Bravo à toutes les femmes autonomes de votre pays résilient!

Dawn Arteaga
Nov 20
Nov 20

How lovely that you were able to revisit that special site to rebuild Sharon! I fully agree with you “ 2020 is indeed a year to reaffirm and rise into a new future - for equality, development and peace.”

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 20
Nov 20

Hi Sharon,
It warms my heart so much when I read about the foremothers who stood strong for women's rights before us. The YWCA has always made it a priority to provide a safe place for women to visit, be with other women, and to have a safe place to stay if needed. So much of what women did before us continues to be hidden. It is empowering to know about their awareness and action fo what women needed, and also asa reminder that we are up against a lot of resistance, t be fighting to have the same basic safeties in place after all these years. Thank you for the story of these foremothers.
Deep Sisterhood,

Gloria Ifeyinwa Ayogu

Great write up on how your feminist journey began and how you were able to connect your faith and Feminism. It's so amazing!
You are not in this alone. Keep it up!

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Nov 22
Nov 22

Greetings Sharon,
thanks for sharing the work you are involved in with the YWCA and yes I know this pandemic has brought in the activism spirit in many women to study laws, policies and rules that have been overlooked, buried, swept up under the rug and the like.
Our Faith and the way we were raised will always be with us and you have your mother for deeper inspiration.
More blessings to your advocacy and strength. All the best for you, forward!

Mama Queen

Nov 24
Nov 24

It's so amazing how you are able to connect feminism with your faith dear Sharon .
"2020 is indeed a year to reaffirm and rise into new future - for equality, development and peace."
I absolutely agree with you .
Thanks for sharing your write up with us .
Much love

Kat Haber
Nov 27
Nov 27

Love your story and the impact YWCA has in Fiji, Sharon! Your work is so audacious!

Tell me, how is Fiji adapting to sea level rise?

I grew up in the United Methodist Church in Wisconsin and resonate with your values.