The Fiji Times
Malimali revealed how the visions and dreams of a group of energetic young women materialised into what is today, femLINKpacific
All the news media used to interview men around the place on how the 2000 coup impacted their lives and their families, and we realised that there was no female perspective. People were not interviewing the women to find out how the coup was affecting their life, their income, the family budget. We realised that everything was from a male perspective, there was no female perspective.”
How did we start?
These were the words, shared to me over lunch, from Barbara Malimali, one of the women who were behind the formation of FemLINK Pacific.
Malimali revealed how the visions and dreams of a group of energetic young women materialised into what is today, FemLINK Pacific.
She fondly recollected how Deaconess Olivia, Mavis Basaiwaya, with other senior women from the National Council of Women Fiji, would come and sing Psalms at the Peace Vigil organised by the NCWFiji for the prisoners of the May 2000 coup.
Malimali and her young friends would regularly go to the vigils and hand out blue ribbons and after the vigils, they would hang out at the ROC cafe at the FNPF Dolphins Plaza and analyse how the coup was affecting so many women.
The group of young women Marlene Dutta, Adi Vukidonu Qionibaravi, Ana PadarathCowley, Mereia Tavola-Carling, Nina Seru, Tabua Salato and Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls would bond and watch the news and have discussions about how their families were being impacted.
Whilst the group offered support for Ana, who was the daughter of the late Lavenia
Padarath, one of the political hostages, they would analyse and agree that all the interviews on the media focused on men, and they recorded only the male perspective.
They believed that something had to be done to document women’s voices and this thought was the catalyst for the birth of Femlink Pacific.
FemLINK Pacific, according to Malimali was run by everybody putting in ideas and it was run from Sharon’s home.
The first chairperson was Nina Seru, Sharon became the first coordinator and Peter Sepeli was her assistant.
The first video camera was acquired through money given by UNIFEM (UNWOMEN now) and Sharon and Peter would go around interviewing women and how the coup affected them.
The FemTalk series, video interviews of women and women’s stories started then and two of their first interviewees were a chef at the Cathay hotel in Lautoka and Margaret Reade, a lady who then worked for ILO.
According to Malimali, this was before they progressed to the suitcase radio.
The group also organised the first Peace Jam at the Holiday Inn, where Laisa Vulakoro sang, and all the families of hostages all took part.
Where we are today?
These concerns and events happened 23 years ago, when a group of concerned young women decided to act on their concerns that women’s voices and perspectives on a critical national issue needed to be heard and documented in a male dominated media landscape, and the rest is what they say herstory. Though the political scenarios may have changed, leadership positions and the location of the FemLINK office may have changed, one thing has never changed and that is the fact that FEMLINK Pacific is a feminist media organisation that continues to amplify women’s voices.
Today there is emphasis on amplifying the voices of rural women, and marginalised members of society.
As we celebrate 23 years of our existence as an organisation, it is imperative that we reflect on how far we have come and analyse how much more can be done.
How relevant are we?
How effective are we?
How much more can we do to ensure that women’s voices as well as the voices of those who are often unheard in society continues to be given a platform?
We have digitalized our media, from the print to electronic versions of our community radio times, video series and suitcase radio to the use of technology facilitated mediums like the social media, and smart phones, to transmit and collect information.
Social media platforms like viber, facebook, and other forms of social media make the transfer of information more time bound, relevant, and impactful.
FemLINK now has a radio station FemTalk89FM and the Women’s Weather Watch and Disaster Preparedness projects.
We now have 15 districts around the country and regional collaborations, but what more can we do?
Where we are going?
We would like to reach out to all women in the nation by having more district focal points, especially in the maritime regions.
We would like to have a national coverage and not just 100 km coverage for our
FemTalk89 FM Radio stations in Suva and Labasa.
We would like to have more segments and collaborations with mainstream media like television and newspaper, and we would like to have more women included in crucial positions in media houses so that the voices of women and the marginalised is a conscientious act.
FemLINK Pacific’s presence and impact could be more effective if we are supported to become the information hub of the nation and the region on issues relating to women.
We are a media organization, yet we continue to fight for media spaces for women but what we want is to be invited always, as we bring in the voice and perspectives of women, and not have to justify why we need to be included in all media spaces.
We need more staff and more resources to continue to do our work but for now, we are thankful that we can still hold the torch and say we are still amplifying women’s voices due to the support of all our donors and funders.
We are a young vibrant 23 years old and that is something to be thankful for and we hope that we will still be here in years to come and that media companies become more women focused and work with us to make this a reality.
“It’s absolutely essential that media starts to reflect the reality of women’s lives or we’re not going to change the reality of women’s lives.”
Pat Mitchell (Media Executive Producer and Curator of TED Women)