Archive for March, 2012
Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
As a communications based feminist organization, FemLINKPACIFIC echoes the sentiments of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre about the need for clarity in the interpretation of laws and decrees. This is in light of the recent statements emanating from the Labasa Police claiming that gossiping is a criminal offence:
“What is also needed is clarity on communication rights because women and local communities need safe spaces for communication. This should be the focus, rather than threatening concerned groups with arrest, we would hope the police and local government authorities would investigate the cause of the possible conflict with the market community, rather than judging it as mere gossip“ says FemLINKPACIFIC Executive Director, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls.
FemLINKPACIFIC has been documenting experiences and issues with local market vendors since 2001: “What needs to be supported and encouraged is an enabling environment for the vendors to organize to address issues in their work environment, which is the local market.”
To date, in 2012, FemLINKPACIFIC has featured interviews with 15 market vendors from Nausori, Suva, Lami and Labasa as a regular weekend feature called “The Market Report”:
“More specifically for Labasa we are aware there is immense congestion within the market and the competition for small spaces for the multitude of vendors can result in conflicts and tensions.”
“The message is the same. There is a need for infrastructure improvements especially as women, often the sole income earner for their family, travel long distances to sell their produce. This includes 24 hour access to the toilets as many have to sleep at the market to safeguard their produce, often without additional security for their protection.”
In May 2011, FemLINKPACIFIC, with the support of the UNDP Strengthening Capacities for Peace and Development, enabled an interactive dialogue using community radio between market vendors, the Labasa Town Council as well as the Government’s Strategic Framework Unit.
Market vendors highlighted the need for improvements to the design and layout of the market for more equitable flow of market shoppers:
“While some vendors called for extension to the markets, others welcomed the opportunity to sell outside the market area; however, this also requires shelter from the sun and rain to protect produce from being damaged by the heat. However, a vendor with permanent stall inside the market said that it is not easy to maintain an income as many customers find it easier and cheaper to buy produce from vendors outside the market who don’t have to pay stall fees. She suggested this should be managed better. Another market vendor said that because her stall was away from the main entrance, she does not get good returns because shoppers are not able to reach her due to the congestion in the market.”
Market vendors in Labasa have also called for safe and affordable accommodation for the vendors who have to travel into Labasa town with their produce as many continue to spend the night at the market. There is no safe storage space for their crops.
“This has also demonstrated that community media in particular radio is a vital platform for rural women to claim their communication rights and relate their human security and development rights perspectives.”
In the wake of International Women’s Day and more important the recent UN Commission on the Status of Women, it is also sad to see the disconnection between the policy and human rights commitments to rural women, and the practice at local level:
“We reiterate the call to action from the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre for gender sensitive and conflict prevention training. Additionally, local government authorities, must play a lead role in responding to issues affecting market vendors.”
For more information please contact Sharon Bhagwan Rolls (679) 9244871 / 3310303
Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, it is important to become familiar with issues relating to ‘gender’. I share this with the people of the Pacific in mind and how various capacity development work in the region have highlighted the importance of its (gender) meaning, association, use, promotion and challenges.
Generally when the word ‘gender’ is spoken, many who are yet to become familiar with the word tend to think it’s a ‘women’s issue’. This is mainly because gender issues have largely been promoted by women who have not only experienced but witnessed a great deal of inequalities toward various life and work issues as far as women and girls are concerned. In many situations, they have promoted these issues with strong emotions and feelings as they continue to see injustice around the world. More recently, some Pacific men have also joined in to fight the cause of bringing women’s issues to the table. Whilst some progress has been made to this regard, there still remain surmountable challenges.
So what is gender anyway?
Simply, gender refers to culturally based expectations of the roles and behaviors of men and women.
So why then has the issue of ‘gender’ continued to largely remain a ‘women’s’ issue?
Capacity development work on gender in the region has highlighted some interesting opinions and aspects.
1. Many people – both men and women – are not familiar with the word ‘gender’ and are unable to differentiate between the words ‘gender’and ‘sex’. (‘Sex’ refers to the biological characteristics which define humans as female or male). A simple brainstorming exercise, which looked at identifying what activities men and women performed within a 24 hour period highlighted mixed opinions and reactions to what constituted ‘gender’ and ‘sex’. At first, some men and women did not really understand the difference between sex and gender, thus had various meanings and associations attached to it, however as the activity continued in much earnest and debate, they all became more familiar with what gender and sex really meant. They found that the activities the men and women undertook within a substantial part of that 24-hour period, could be in fact constituted ‘gender’ definition. Many also reflected upon how and why it took them so long to understand the true meaning and association of the word ‘gender’ and be able to differentiate it with the word ‘sex’.
2. Unfamiliarity of the word ‘gender’ has also limited a large majority of male participation in capacity development programs. When a gender-related training program is offered – whether sponsored or not, many supervisors or managers, who are largely male, choose female colleagues to attend these training. This is perhaps due to their simple association with ‘gender’ as being a ‘women’s issue’. Thus many gender training programs have either seen majority women or all women participating (which could in fact be criticized as being gender bias). Complementing this is yet another challenge i.e. limited male gender trainers. Because of the various so called feminist views, meanings and associations attached to the word ‘gender’ male trainers have subsequently limited their participation to become ‘gender’ trainers. During various capacity development programs on gender, it had been found that when there was a presence of a male gender trainer, reception from the male participants had been encouraging. They felt more confident and did not shy away from participation nor did they feel intimidated or have negative attitudes and feeling about issues in discussion. It also meant that there was greater consideration in way of full engagement and participation by all. These challenges could be minimized if supervisors or managers (both male and female) themselves become familiar with the word ‘gender’ and ensure that trainings be held with gender balanced participation in mind. Also, it was found that in capacity development work on gender where men and women had attended, both tend to come away with enhanced understanding of each others roles and responsibilities thus higher acceptance toward gender related aspects. This has also brought about more men taking on a “Male Champion” role and many feeling more compassionate about the work women do on gender.
3. Traditional associations have also made familiarity of the word ‘gender’ difficult. Traditional leaders as well as elderly heads of households (both men and women) who have great influence in the society find it rather difficult to promote gender with its true meaning and associations. In this regard, ‘change’ has had its share of resistance and thus work on gender with this audience has been rather challenging. However, it has been noted that with the right capacity development approach, even the hard core traditionalist have embraced the idea of gender equality and related aspects being a source for good governance and greater prosperity for all. Interesting results emerged after capacity development programs on gender were held with traditional stronghold audiences ranging from village council members of Samoa, members of municipalities in Kiribati and Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, to the highlanders of Papua New Guinea. Upon completing various exercises during a gender training program and becoming familiar with true meaning and association of the words gender and sex, they realized the contributions made by both women and men and thus found increased value in sharing their roles and responsibilities at various decision making levels.
4. Gender related education at home has also been a challenge. Some participants, largely female and some male, who had attended various gender training programs have been able to share lessons learned at home without much difficulty. Upon follow-up, it was found that many had witnessed greater understanding of gender issues on their home-fronts, while others have continued to face many challenges including traditional, stereotypical, peer pressure, resistance to change and lack of support from male and/or female family members in promoting the true meanings and association of the word ‘gender’ and its related issues.
These are just a few of the many reasons and aspects as to how and why ‘gender’ has largely remained a ‘women’s’ issue in the region. Whilst well-thought capacity development programs using the right tools, concepts, methodologies and training approaches suited to the Pacific region have worked well, there remains the difficult challenge to make participation gender balanced, ensuring that gender becomes everyone’s issue. Understanding the true meaning and association of the word ‘gender’ should be seen as greatly assisting in refocusing our agenda on the issues of good governance, service delivery, poverty reduction, the MDGs and general equality and human rights across sectors and regions.
Opinion by Ms Hamidan Bibi
A Capacity Development Consultant working in the areas of leadership, governance, democracy, gender and media and communication in the Pacific region.
The views/opinions in this article are soley of the writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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