• Feminist Humanitarian Net

7 minutes with Sharon Bhagwan Rolls

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is the Technical Adviser to Feminist Humanitarian Network member, the Shifting the Power Coalition. The Shifting the Power Coalition is comprised of women’s rights and disability organisations across the Pacific region working together to strengthen diverse women’s voices, agency and decision making in disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

How do women experience the humanitarian system in the Pacific?

Following the devastation brought to Fiji in 2016 by category five Tropical Cyclone Winston I was suddenly aware that communicating the assessments and recommendations from rural women leaders across Fiji was not simply about communicating assessments and recommendations to the Director of National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) - there was the new space, the cluster system.

Engaging with the cluster system meant not just communicating recommendations to the Protection Cluster but to all the others and also the Communications Cluster - gasp! We were talking about appropriate and accessible information and communication systems not public relations!

The Shifting the Power Coalition at a recent meeting in Nadi, Fiji. (Photo credit:The Shifting the Power Coalition)

What is the Shifting the Power Coalition doing to address these issues and shift the power?

The Shifting the Power Coalition has been established and is led by diverse Pacific women and women’s organisations committed to advancing diverse women’s leadership and participation to achieve peaceful and gender equal societies. We are bringing together women’s rights and disability organisations to strengthen diverse women’s voices, agency, and decision making in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery by catalysing localised gender responsive humanitarian action with a specific goal of strengthening Pacific women’s leadership in emergencies.

We began working together in 2016, bringing the priorities and experiences in local and national disasters and conflict and crisis situations based on our lived realities. We agreed that together we can support women at local, national, and regional level to demonstrate the power and potential of our collective leadership.

The leadership of the coalition - from Fiji; Papua New Guinea, including Bougainville; Samoa; Tonga; Vanuatu; Australia; and the Pacific Disability Forum - draw from and share collective strategies to our local and Pacific-wide networks. What is also unique is that this integrates the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and the Pacific network of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).

So together, we are a Pacific coalition dedicated to feminist collaboration, working together to reshape the humanitarian agenda by embedding women’s rights and leadership in humanitarian coordination efforts.

We are an example of localisation that supports diverse women every day in our efforts to uplift and promote women’s leadership so that we are ready together - particularly as we know that our Pacific Island region will be facing more frequent and intensifying climate driven local and national disasters.

Why is a humanitarian system led by feminist principles important?

As Femin'atarians we want to see greater accountability to the gender equality and human rights agenda in the disaster management and humanitarian system.

For too long women, women with disabilities, the LGBTQI community, as well as young women and elderly women are simply regarded as vulnerable members of the community. So we can work together to shift the power.

We see there is a need to invest in women's organising, capacity enhancement, and solidarity to tackle power and gender relations in a way that will bring about transformative change in our communities and contribute to the overall progress to achieve gender equality goals.

So we are contributing to strengthening the collective movement for women's rights which is why we are also committed to progressing the call to action of the 2nd Pacific Feminist Forum, particularly to ensure diverse Pacific Women’s voices are amplified at regional level and influence key policy changes and processes on humanitarian response.

Why do you think a feminist humanitarian network is important in achieving this?

We have identified that in line with regional and national commitments to gender equality and women’s rights including the ratification of CEDAW by most of our Pacific Governments, Pacific women still have to prove themselves to be able to lead and influence local and national disaster planning and response.

How will being a member of the FHN benefit the Shifting the Power Coalition, and how will the Shifting the Power Coalition's membership benefit women around the world in humanitarian contexts?

As with any feminist collaboration it is important to tackle the way we have been disempowered and siloed into thinking of ourselves as vulnerable rather than making systems accountable to us and create a shift in the power structures from the local to global.

I believe the Feminist Humanitarian Network can also benefit from the Pacific Island experience because we are addressing the peace, humanitarian, and development nexus and our daily realities from our "Blue Pacific" region are presenting us with many challenges but also the resilient, inclusive power of diverse women!

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