Amplifying the collective power and leadership of Pacific womanitarians

A Pacific coalition dedicated to feminist collaboration to reshape the humanitarian agenda by embedding women’s rights and leadership in humanitarian coordination efforts says every day is an opportunity to uplift and promote women’s leadership in the humanitarian sector as they launch a short film ‘The Voices of Pacific Womanitarians’ ahead of World Humanitarian Day (19 August 2019). This film is part of the Strengthening Diverse Women’s Leadership in Humanitarian Action project, supported by Australia’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (Pacific Women) program.

While welcoming the focus for World Humanitarian Day 2019, which is set to celebrate women humanitarians and their undying contribution in making the world a better place, the Shifting the Power Coalition is calling for greater accountability to the gender equality and human rights agenda as women leaders of the coalition work together to drive a transformative agenda.

It is about tackling power and gender relations over the longer term by demonstrating diverse women’s capability and leadership for the benefit of the whole community:

‘The Shifting the Power Coalition has been established and is led by diverse Pacific women and women’s organisations committed to advance diverse women’s leadership and participation to achieve peaceful and gender equal societies. We are bringing together women’s rights and disability organisations to strengthen diverse women’s voices, agency and decision making in disaster preparedness, response and recovery by catalysing localised gender-responsive humanitarian action with a specific goal of strengthening Pacific women’s leadership in emergencies,’ says Taimalelagi Ramona Tugaga, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Samoa General Secretary.

Since its formal launch in November 2018, coalition members from Fiji, Papua New Guinea including Bougainville, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Australia, and their local and Pacific-wide networks including the Pacific Disability Forum and the Pacific network of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), are working together to support women at local, national and regional level to demonstrate the power and potential of our collective leadership:

‘We have identified that in line with regional and national commitments to gender equality and women’s rights including the ratification of CEDAW by most of our Pacific Governments, Pacific women still have to prove themselves to be able to lead and influence local and national disaster planning and response,’ says Vanessa Heleta, the Executive Director of the Talitha Project in Tonga.

The film can be viewed here:

In the coming year, a major undertaking of the coalition, supported by the Pacific Women program, will be a research project that brings greater attention to women’s leadership in the humanitarian system and spotlight local women’s experiences.

The research will provide recommendations that will contribute to progressing policy commitments to women’s participation and leadership in line with national policy commitments and treaty obligations. The research findings will also address the current gaps in global research initiatives where due to the nature of Pacific Island disasters and humanitarian crises Pacific Island women are often invisible in such reports:

’This will be a further opportunity to also better integrate women’s rights and disability rights obligations at national level,’ says Nelly Caleb, the National Coordinator of the Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association (VDPA). ‘For too long women, women with disabilities, the LGBTQI community, as well as young women and elderly women are simply regarded as vulnerable members of the community. So we are working together to shift the power.’

The coalition is also committed to progressing the call to action of the 2nd Pacific Feminist Forum, particularly to ensure diverse Pacific women’s voices are amplified at regional level and influence key policy changes and processes on humanitarian response.

‘We take a nexus approach,’ says Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, the coalition’s Technical Adviser, who is also the Regional Representative of GPPAC, particularly as Pacific Island Forum Leaders bring greater attention to climate justice. ‘Our nexus approach is also about linking together the gender equality commitments to peace and security, development and humanitarian systems – that it is not about either or – it is the application of women’s rights and feminist practice at all stages.’

Shifting the Power Coalition press release: 17 August 2019.