Connecting the dots in the Pacific gender research agenda

Members of the Advisory Group on Research and staff of the Pacific Women Support Unit at the July 2018 meeting. Photo credit: Pacific Women Support Unit.

The Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (Pacific Women) program’s Advisory Group on Research (AGR) is supporting critical gender research in the region.

The AGR brings together research academics and practitioners who have an interest in gender equality issues in the Pacific region. Members include representatives from academia, research institutions, development partners, civil society organisations and regional organisations as well as individual research practitioners. At the group’s two-day meeting in Suva in July 2018, participants discussed research ideas and operational issues related to their work.

‘We had excellent discussions around capacity building for gender research in the region, ethical processes and establishing a strong base for research grounded in feminist theory, methodology and good practice,’ said Linda Petersen, co-chair of the AGR. ‘It’s exciting because these are discussions that ensure that we’re grounding research in women’s lived realities.’

AGR discussions are informed by the varied backgrounds, perspectives and work histories of group members. Professor Betty Lovai from the University of Papua New Guinea focuses on the systems side of research. She said her work facilitates research, whether it be in her role as Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences or in multi-sectoral bodies like the National AIDS Council.

‘I understand the way research systems work,’ she said. ‘I am able to guide and direct people.’ Professor Lovai’s background in social work also enables her to take research ‘up to the policy level’.

Kim Robertson from the Pacific Community (SPC) is the gender statistics adviser. She sees opportunities for researchers who work with people like Professor Lovai to inform gender equality programs:

‘We need research to inform policy and to define good programs,’ said Ms Robertson. ‘We have data and surveys but, without the research, it is not nuanced enough. That’s where we really need the application of a feminist lens and tools and research into the causes of gender inequality.’

Professor Lovai and Ms Robertson come from different sides of the research spectrum but they are united by a sense of common purpose. The diversity of the AGR enables rich discussions that unfold during its meetings:

‘I may come with a perception where there’s a gap in what I’m thinking and then a colleague says something and I’m able to connect [their work to mine],’ said Professor Lovai.

‘It really responds to the call from feminist and gender researchers in the region of the last 20 years for a space where we can come together and share information,’ said Ms Robertson. ‘As members of the AGR, we can have frank discussions of what our strengths are, what information we have and how we can improve gender research in the region.’

AGR members are also sharing information and insights from group meetings with their colleagues and networks. Professor Lovai is also a member of the Pacific Women Papua New Guinea Reference Group, which provides guidance to the Pacific Women Papua New Guinea program, promotes coordination across relevant initiatives and informs policy development. She says both groups benefit from sharing knowledge.

‘It’s become part of our lives to keep on promoting gender equality issues and gender research,’ she said. ‘We share the information and decisions reached with the other gender researchers back in country.’

Research plays a significant role in progressing gender equality. For example, prevalence studies on violence against women provide compelling evidence of gender inequality. Research highlights contributing factors to gender inequality and identifies interventions that can contribute to change.

‘We need to continue to build that evidence to get movement on addressing gender inequality,’ said Ms Petersen. ‘We need to do research to be able to base the arguments for gender equality in truth and integrity.’

‘Research provides us with knowledge but the consequence of that research is the change in behaviour and practice,’ said Ms Robertson. ‘For example, research conducted using participatory methods means that the researchers and the research itself are part of that change.’

Looking to the next generation who will build on their work in Pacific gender research, Professor Lovai acknowledged the responsibility of senior academics like herself to mentor and support younger gender researchers. The AGR provides an opportunity for this mentoring. ‘I want early-career researchers to feel that they can do what they need to and I can provide leadership for them,’ she said.

With the Pacific Women Research Strategy paving the way, members of the AGR will continue to guide the program’s aim of supporting high-quality, locally-appropriate and sustainable research that addresses and informs responses to gender inequality in the Pacific region.

The meeting of the AGR was held from 3–4 July in Suva, Fiji.