Enhancing Agency

‘We need to strengthen the power within women to stand up and make a change. Remove dependency or we will never get anywhere.’
Ms Ume Wainetti, Family Sexual Violence Action Committee, Papua New Guinea (UN Women, 2016).xvii

‘When they [young Nauruan women studying overseas] come back they are different and things are different for them. They want to work. They have become exposed to a different life. They don’t want to get married early. So that’s different these days. Yes, it’s new and different and we accept it.’
Hon Ranin Akua, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Nauru, sharing his observations on young women’s empowerment in the country (Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships 4th Annual Forum, Samoa, 2016).xviii


Efforts to enhance women’s agency need to work at multiple levels, to help create an enabling environment where a woman’s right to make decisions about her own life is recognised, where women are economically empowered and where women and children are safe from all forms of violence.

This can be challenging in the Pacific, where social norms and attitudes are based on complex gendered hierarchies that keep women disempowered. Understanding these context specific norms is essential to achieving change. Formal structures, such as policy and legislative frameworks, also discriminate against women. For example, legal barriers exist in the majority of countries across the Pacific including laws that constrain women’s ability to exercise their economic, social and political rights, as well as silent gaps in legislation, or references in legislation to discriminatory customary law. In particular, women face discrimination both informally and overtly, when it comes to land, marital property and inheritance.

In this context, amplifying women’s voice and supporting their ability to act against this discrimination is critical. This is why Pacific Women has funded 23 activities during the reporting period with a primary focus on enhancing agency and supporting an enabling environment. These activities include a large focus on research, with nine activities aimed at understanding the many dynamics contributing to gender inequality, so the program can collectively understand how best to tackle these complex problems. A further nine activities focus on building the capacity of national women’s machineries and other women’s organisations to support legislative and policy reform. Enhancing agency also includes activities that support coalitions to build a local understanding of solutions for change and activities working with men. Pacific Women supports these activities in recognition that enhancing women’s agency involves directly supporting catalytic women leaders, their organisations as well as coalitions for change.

Understanding what action can drive change, and who can catalyse change is important. An example of this work is a collaboration with the Pacific Leadership Program (PLP), where Pacific Women has identified women from civil society, government and the private sector who are already leading change in their communities, to undertake further training in adaptive leadership. Adaptive leadership skills enable individuals and groups to thrive in complex environments, particularly those undergoing a gradual, but meaningful process of change.

Pacific Women’s approach to enhancing agency recognises that change is already occurring, but often further support is needed to scale up and amplify this work. The We Rise Coalition is an example of this. Through Pacific Women’s support, the We Rise Coalition was able to expand its work from a partnership of two organisations to a coalition of four organisations working across Fiji, Australia and the region. These four organisations work together as Pacific and Australian feminists, recognising that the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Together, they have made progress on policy reform, human rights and women’s leadership, as well contributing to a stronger regional women’s movement.

The following case studies highlight examples of initiatives supported by Pacific Women that are contributing to enhancing women’s agency.


Project name: Support for Women’s Groups and Coalitions
Project partner: Pacific Leadership Program (PLP)
Total funding: $200,000*
Funding timeframe: 2015–2015

Each year, the world focuses on the progress of gender equality at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Before the 60th CSW in March 2016, Pacific Women partnered with PLP, UN Women, NGO CSW and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to provide 25 participants with preconference adaptive leadership training. The training strengthened Pacific participation, collaboration and leadership at the CSW.

L-R: Ms Anne Kautu, Senior Women’s Development Officer from Kiribati, in conversation with Ms Pula Toaka, National Coordinator of the Tuvalu National Council of Women, and other colleagues at the CSW60 preparatory meeting. Photo: Shazia Usman/Pacific Women Support Unit.

Participants included those who would attend the CSW in New York as representatives of government and CSOs, as well as those who would support the process from their home countries.

Adaptive leadership skills enable individuals and groups to have the adaptability to thrive in complex environments, particularly those undergoing a gradual, but meaningful, process of change. The two and a half day training in adaptive leadership developed participants’ leadership skills to work more strategically and collaboratively.

Ms Anne Kautu was preparing to attend her third CSW as the Senior Women’s Development Officer heading the Women’s Development Division of the Kiribiti Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Affairs. ‘I used to see leadership in a different way,’ Ms Kautu said, ‘but going through the adaptive leadership training has made me think about finding that one voice.’

The purpose of this targeted adaptive leadership training was to assist participants to gain skills, consider strategies and catalyse action so that they more effectively represent Pacific women’s interests at regional and international events like the CSW. The tools, programs and resources have been developed by PLP in conjunction with Cambridge Leadership Associates to promote these aims.

Participants spoke positively about learning skills to improve cooperation on key issues of concern for Pacific women.

‘I thought it would [be] more of an information session on CSW’ said Ms Pauline Soaki, who was preparing for her first attendance at the CSW as the Director of the Women’s Development Division within the Solomon Islands Ministry for Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs. ‘But they really showed us the reality of what we will actually be doing when we are there. I also liked the discussions around solidarity what does it really mean having that one voice on issues that are important to the Pacific. The discussions have helped define my purpose at CSW.’

Samoa’s Ms Cherelle Fruean said:‘This pre-CSW prep meeting was an amazing experience for me! I wish I had attended one before my first CSW. CSW is a very intense meeting and can be very overwhelming. The prep meeting was a great way of introducing everyone to these concepts beforehand and also a great way of strengthening our relationships within the Pacific delegation at CSW.’ Ms Fruean, a Pacific Advisory Committee member for FRIDA: The Young Feminist Fund, also attended the 2014 and 2015 CSW.

Representatives of Pacific governments, civil society organisations and human rights activists spent 25-29 February in Fiji strategising for CSW60 and learning more about the concept of adaptive leadership. Photo: Shazia Usman, Pacific Women Support Unit.

*This activity is part of a larger program.

Project name: Strengthening feminist coalitions and partnerships for gender equality (We Rise Coalition)
Project partners: Diverse Voices and Action for Equality (DIVA), FemLINKPACIFIC, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and IWDA
Total funding: $4,800,000
Funding timeframe: 2015–2019

Four organisations have demonstrated that by working together as a coalition, they can increase their reach and impact. The vision of the We Rise Coalition is a Pacific where there is gender justice, ecological sustainability, peace, freedom, equality and human rights for all.

We Rise Coalition partners signing the Coalition Memorandum of Understanding in Melbourne, April 2016. Photo: IWDA.

DIVA, FemLINKPACIFIC, FWRM and IWDA have a ‘herstory’ of partnering successfully. In 2015, they further developed their collaboration by forming the We Rise Coalition to implement activities in Fiji and the Pacific.

‘We work together as Pacific feminists recognising that the whole is greater than the sum of our parts,’ explained Ms Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, the Executive Producer-Director of FemLINKPACIFIC.

The We Rise Coalition partners join their strengths, resources and networks together towards a collective objective: to develop, demonstrate and strengthen feminist coalitions and partnerships in order to grow and uphold inclusive governance, equality, diversity, justice and women’s human rights.

With support from Pacific Women, 2,235 people have been involved in We Rise Coalition activities: 2,048 women, 79 men and 108 people who identified as transgender. This included 396 women participating in national-level and 194 in community-level learning events on topics such as coalition building, feminist analysis and practice; and 189 women participating in activities supporting women’s leadership.

The coalition works in a number of ways to influence decision making, at local, national, regional and global levels, including strategic advocacy at intergovernmental meetings. Examples include DIVA’s participation in the Expert Group Meeting on Gender and Climate Change; DIVA and FemLINKPACIFIC at the 60th CSW; and FWRM’s participation in the Asia–Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development. A common thread through all these events has been the push for gender equality commitments in the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Coalition has played a driving role in coordinating Pacific civil society engagement with the 2030 Development Agenda.

Working locally in Fiji in the wake of Cyclone Winston, the We Rise Coalition was active in post-cyclone communications (including through a Women’s Weatherwatch campaign) and the recovery response, demonstrating the adaptability of the model in emergency situations. The Fiji-based partners stayed in close communication during the early post-cyclone period, visiting and providing immediate relief to women and marginalised groups in affected communities. All partners then shared the stories they heard during this early response to advocate for better policy and practice in official government and intergovernmental agency response and recovery activities.

In addition to working with communities and leaders at all levels, the Coalition also invests time in defining and understanding the benefits of this Pacific grown coalition model. Noelene Nabulivou, DIVA’s political adviser, acknowledged the value of being part of the coalition: ‘The We Rise Coalition model is assisting DIVA to sustain ourselves as an organisation, and as individual Pacific LBT (lesbian, bisexual and trans) feminist activists working in small island societies. The We Rise Coalition model, for DIVA, is becoming clearer and more relevant as time goes on. It is not always easy, but we are committed to the Coalition’s feminist vision.’

For FWRM’s Michelle Reddy, the strength of the coalition approach ‘is much more than just four organisations working together on joint projects. It is a way of partnering to build strength in each of our organisations, and the women’s human rights movement in Fiji and the Pacific.’

Project name: Pacific Regional Ending Violence Against Women Facility Fund (Pacific Fund)
Project partners:UN Women and Fiji Girl Guides Association (FGGA)
Total funding: $1,500,000*
Funding timeframe: 2014–2015

Girl Guides in Fiji are becoming powerful ‘Voices against Violence’ in their communities.

Since 1924, girls and young women in Fiji have been actively participating in the FGGA. There are now 5,522 members aged between seven and 21, making it one of the largest organisations for girls in the country. Girl Guide and Girl Scout movements are present in 146 countries and support girls and young women to develop their full potential as leaders and active citizens of the world.

Fiji Girl Guides used poetry, oratory, song and dance to get across messages about ending violence against girls at the launch of the Voices against Violence curriculum in Suva in November 2015. Photo: Ellie van Baaren/UN Women.

Together with UN Women, the Worldwide Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has developed a curriculum for its members on ending violence against women. In Fiji, Pacific Women is supporting this to be rolled out as part of FGGA’s ‘Voices against Violence’ program.

At the 2015 National Guides Camp in Sigatoka, 400 girl guides and 100 guide leaders were exposed to two days of the Voices against Violence curriculum. In addition, 12 guide leaders were trained as trainers.

Voices against Violence seeks to improve knowledge and attitudes relating to gender equality and violence against women. It builds the confidence and skills of girls aged from 7 to 15 to establish and sustain respectful, non-violent relationships and to advocate for personal rights, including being empowered to say no to violence.

The model capitalises on one of the strengths of the organisation as a provider of non-formal education to girls.According to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts: ‘Non-formal education can create a powerful force for change by empowering girls and young women to understand and assert their rights, and by challenging root causes of violence such as gender stereotypes and inequality and reaching out to boys and young men.’

Pacific Women’s support to FGGA also strengthens organisational skills in the association. In 2016, three FGGA project team members along with 11 guide leaders were instructed in conducting baseline surveys to assess the FGGA’s own competencies, analyse data and develop project activities. FGGA also worked with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre to develop a child protection policy.

Girl Guides who complete activities in the Voices against Violence curriculum are not only empowered to change gender inequality, but also earn a badge in recognition that a girl has developed new skills or mastered a challenge.

Banners created by Fiji Girl Guides were on display at the launch of the Voices against Violence curriculum. Photo: Ellie van Baaren/UN Women.

*This activity is part of a larger program.

Project name: Pacific Regional Ending Violence Against Women Facility Fund (Pacific Fund)
Project partners: UN Women and Pacific Disability Forum
Total funding: $1,500,000*
Funding timeframe: 2014–2015

Ms Lanieta Tuimabu is the Office Manager for the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation (FDPF) and a Board Member of the Pacific Disability Forum. Through a variety of projects sponsored by Pacific Women, Ms Tuimabu has been an active influencer in ensuring protection and advancement of women and girls with disabilities.

Ms Lanieta Tuimabu is a strong Pacific disability rights advocate and works with key organisations such as the FDPF and PDF, in ensuring the protection and advancement of women and girls with disabilities. Photo: Shazia Usman/Pacific Women Support Unit.

Drafting a toolkit to assist with disability inclusive programming to end violence against women, modelling adaptive leadership for her five staff at the FDPF and representing Pacific women with disabilities at the 60th CSW in New York, are all in a day’s work for Ms Tuimabu.

She has found the two adaptive leadership programs organised by Pacific Women and PLP to be ‘very helpful’ in her active role at the FDPF. At the training in February 2016, she explained: ‘it was a new concept and I was worried, thinking how effective will it really be. But it was effective. And being part of this meeting today has enhanced my knowledge.’

Adaptive leadership skills enable individuals and groups to have the adaptability to thrive in complex environments, such as the one Ms Tuimabu works in. She has since put her adaptive leadership skills to use at the FDPF.

‘After the training, it really built my personal skill in terms of managing very high-risk issues. I have also cross disability staff where I have to understand each one’s ability and disability and how to effectively communicate with each one of them. I have staff with hearing impairment and one staff with physical disability and one who is in a wheelchair. I am visually impaired.’

Ms Tuimabu felt that the adaptive leadership training also prepared her for representing the Pacific Disability Forum at the 60th CSW.

‘I hope my participation at the CSW would be very meaningful, ensuring that women’s issues in the Pacific will be heard at the UN level. Whether it is women’s empowerment, women’s economic empowerment, access to health services, ending violence against women. Some women with disability have been sexually abused and have had unwanted pregnancies. This is one of my focus areas that I will lobby on.’

In addition to her leadership and advocacy roles, Ms Tuimabu supported the Pacific Disability Forum with the development of a practical, user friendly toolkit for designing and implementing successful projects to end violence against women and girls.

Global data shows that women and girls with disabilities are more vulnerable to experiencing physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.

The toolkit was developed though support from UN Women’s Pacific Fund, which is funded from Pacific Women. The toolkit contains group exercises, role plays and case studies, as well as a section on action planning for the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities.

US-based Handicap International has recognised the tool kit globally as one of the top 10 projects on good practices about the elimination, prevention and response to violence, abuse and exploitation of women and girls with disabilities.

*This activity is part of a larger program.

Project name: Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships (PWPP) project
Outcome area: Leadership and decision making
Project partner: International and Community Relations Office, Australian Department of the House of Representatives
Total funding: $2,850,037*
Funding timeframe: 2013–2018

With a population of just 11,000 people, Nauru is one of the least populated countries in the world. The PWPP project annual forum provides an opportunity for representatives from small Pacific nations like Nauru to share their experiences and hear from other parliamentarians in the region. The Hon Ranin Akua is the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Nauru. He was one of the eight male parliamentarians who attended the 4th PWPP annual forum in Samoa in April 2016.

Hon Akua explained his support for women in politics: ‘Our Minister Charmaine Scotty [Nauru’s Minister for Home Affairs, Education, Youth, and Land Management and the only woman in Nauru’s parliament] has done a lot for Nauru and is one of the key persons in Government,’ he said. ‘I support women to be in politics and to be part of everything. My mother is a leader I am trying to become like her but I still cannot. I wish we had more women in politics.’

Sixty parliamentarians from 21 parliaments in the region participated in the 2016 PWPP annual forum, with the theme of exploring economic empowerment in the Pacific. Although primarily a forum for women MPs, men have been involved in the last two gatherings.

Currently, only 6.7 percent of parliamentarians across the Pacific (excluding Australia and New Zealand) are women. However, Hon Akua believes that trends are changing in Nauru. Young women are choosing different paths from their mothers, who traditionally stayed at home to look after husbands, children and aging parents. Hon Akua observed that young women often travel and study overseas and come back more empowered.

‘When they come back they are different and things are different for them they want to work. They have become exposed to a different life. They don’t want to get married early. So that’s different these days. Yes, it’s new and different and we accept it.’

As participants in the PWPP annual forum, both Hon Akua and Minister Scotty will take away a set of priority actions identified by the delegates to assist their government in taking genuine action at the domestic political level and to implement change in support of women’s empowerment.

*This activity is part of a larger program.