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.