Choosing to Challenge: From the Mat to the Policy Table

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Posted March 3, 2021 from Fiji

The achievement of gender equality and women's human rights is both essential and a constant work in progress.

2020 with the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action and the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security we were reminded of the decades of political treaties and commitments, national legislation and policies but the gaps in achieving equality for all women – in all our diversities. The time is now for urgent action for accountability to human rights and to end discrimination.

We also know that gains can be easily undone. So, we all need to work harder and better together. We need to engage in inter-personal processes, find allies in the faith community and religious institutions as well as invest in redesigning processes to enables collaborative conversations and realize change.

Ultimately, ending discriminatory social norms needs policies and public support as it is essential to ensure lasting results for gender equality and women’s rights to ensure intersectional equality.

In the Pacific, the Shifting the Power Coalition ( is Choosing to Challenge the status quo and redefine disaster management and humanitarian systems at a time when our Pacific region faces the impact of the climate crisis as well as COVID19. A key message across the coalition is that women’s rights are non-negotiable in COVID-19 response programming. In 2020 TC Harold and TC Yasa and then TC Ann and TC Lucas already in 2021 have been reminders that we need to think seriously about doing things differently - shifting the power in disaster risk reduction and management and transforming the humanitarian systems to integrate diverse local women’s leadership, knowledge and innovation.Commitments to women’s rights and disability inclusion, including the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration, the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Pacific Platform for Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights, must be integrated in prevention, early intervention and treatment, as well as long term recovery efforts such as the Boe Declaration Action Plan.

The way we work as the Coalition reaffirms that there is also need to ensuring young women are invested in to also challenge the status quo and that we must work together to strengthen the visibility of the leadership and agency of women with disability in humanitarian action and climate change work.

But transformative changes also require increased direct, core, flexible, multilayer, sustainable funding to feminist organizations, groups, activists, and movements, including by partnering and promoting women’s and feminist funding mechanisms particularly to ensure funding for historically excluded individuals and groups

From my experience, working across the peace-development and humanitarian nexus using appropriate and accessible information, communication and media has unveiled the reality that despite the commitments to gender equality and women's rights including at regional and national level there remain persistent social, economic and political barriers coupled with the daily challenges caused by complexities brought on by climate change and COVID-19.

Yet together we have been demonstrating that our collective power is essential for transformative action:

  • As front liners and first responders at times of disaster and crisis;
  • As local peacebuilders engaging with former combatants, indigenous and faith leaders to transform the notion of security and peace in a way that is inclusive; as innovative content producers ensuring communities are informed and able to hold duty bearers to account and we have many feminist initiatives such as World Plus and the Global Media Monitoring Project to help us do this work
  • Diverse activists including young women are organising in innovative yet inclusive ways to tackle discriminatory norms and practices including in spaces where decisions are made about issues such as climate change
  • Feminist collaboration is overcoming notions of the north-south divide and paving the way for engagement with allies including indigenous and faith leaders as well as media owners, producers and editors.

But too often, the women’s rights and feminist movement is expected to do all of this without dedicated resources. We must also ensure that there is funding across the women’s rights and feminist movement – maintaining focus on shifting power to the activists and groups leading movements, enabling them to respond to the most urgent needs in the quest for gender justice.

The journey to and from the series of UN Conferences on Women, since 1975 in Mexico, has enabled generations of women to be innovative and redesign processes to ensure our inclusion. But there have been gaps in where and how we engage including in faith, religious, indigenous and media spaces.

My mother introduced me to the YWCA movement. She and my father empowered me together to find my space and voice in the women’s movement and wider community. I have worked hard as a mother of my daughter and son to ensure that our conversations and spaces enable them both to reach their full potential. I am also lucky to have a brother who is a feminist faith leader of the Pacific Conference of Churches.

And now as a feminist grandmother (#FeministNaniJi) I want to ensure that our work for equality, inclusive development and sustainable peace offers solutions to the challenges that have continued from the time of our foremothers. So that gender equality is not regarded as something about women but recognized as a collective responsibility by and for men, boys and institutional leaders – traditional and religious leaders.  

Collectively we must be driving sustainable transformative change to dismantle patriarchy, to ensure there is power sharing in community spaces to parliamentary and multilateral processes where decisions are made about health, economics, climate change and peacebuilding – because to change is necessary and possible from the mat to the policy table.

This story was submitted in response to #HerStoryMakesHistory.

Comments 3

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Adeola Samuel
Mar 03
Mar 03

Interesting! It’s truly important to find ones space and voice to be heard. Thank you, your movement foster discovering one’s full potential and striving with right resources at our disposal.

Mar 03
Mar 03

बहुत ही अच्छी जानकारी दि है अपने धन्यवाद

Busayo Obisakin
Mar 04
Mar 04

Dear Sharon,
Thank you so much for sharing your challenge with us, We indeed need the encouragement for all of us to come together to dismantle patriarchy to ensure power sharing equally in our communities. This is what we choose to do and we shall achieve it by the strength of all of us together.