Pasifika Peace Talanoa – Pacific women speaking about peace
The GPPAC Pacific Regional Steering Committee: Vanessa Heleta (Tonga), Agnes Titus (Bougainville), Sharon Baghwan Rolls (Fiji), Sabrina Brown (Vanuatu) & Josephine Teakeni (Solomon Islands)
Women play critical roles in peacemaking in conflicts and turbulent settings around the world. Unfortunately they are frequently marginalised from the formal peacebuilding processes that follow. This doesn’t mean that women abandon the long, steady work of peacebuilding – in fact the reverse is true. Women are central to building peace even when they are denied a seat at the table. If they are given a seat, and the voice to go with it, amazing things happen.
This week I have seen this in action at the GPPAC* Pacific network of peacebuilding organisations. Led by representatives from Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Tonga, and hosted by FemLINK Pacific, the network prioritises women’s empowerment and human security as essential to the full realisation of peace and security in the South Pacific. I have been inspired by women who have brokered peace in Bougainville and the Solomon Islands, and others who have ‘stepped out of the kitchen’ to advocate for their rights and for peace. In so doing they have transformed their communities and themselves.
Today at the 'Pasifika Peace Talanoa' Nirmala Sharma, from Nasoni Settlement on Vanua Levu, Fiji, told us her story. Nirmala is passionate about the well-being of her community and is fearless in speaking out, but it wasn’t always like this. Nirmala told us how she grew up believing that her role was to care for her home and family while the men engaged with the world. Men represented the settlement on land and water issues, and were trying to get electricity to their long established but ‘informal’ settlement. Nirmala, like other women, was frustrated with having to rise early to light the fire, with having only kerosene lamps for light, and countless other problems. With the encouragement of FemLINK Nirmala gained the courage to speak out. Supported by her family and the FemLINK network, Nirmala found her voice. Two years later she succeeded in bringing electricity to her village. She hasn’t stopped since.
On Bougainville, the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation has been working to protect Bougainville women, and also to influence the men. Agnes Titus told how working through the Centre’s men’s hub, local men, and community leaders in particular, are starting to learn about peace and security from the perspective of women. They are learning that peace is much more than the absence of violence. For Bougainville’s women, human security factors like the assurance of safe water, electricity, health and other basic services are critical indicators of peace. It is early days, but this work is starting to change men’s attitudes, and to create new opportunities for women to be heard.
These stories and many others brought home the value of being inclusive in peacebuilding. All voices must be empowered to speak, to have the support of their peers and to develop a clear message. Just as important though, those who hold power need to be empowered to listen and to create space at the table for everyone. I’m honoured to have been shown the truth of this by such an inspiring coalition of Pacific women.
* GPPAC (The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict) is a member-led network of civil society organisations active in the field of conflict prevention and peacebuilding across the world. The GPPAC Pacific is one of more than a dozen networks worldwide.