By Neehal Khatri
In early April, as the initial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were reverberating across Fiji, 8 civil society organisations (CSOs) came together to form the Fiji CSO Alliance for COVID-19 Humanitarian Response.
The alliance is made up of local CSOs working on the interlinking issues of community development, human rights, social justice, gender equality and violence against women.
The CSOs that came together to form the Alliance include the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND), Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC), Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality Fiji, Citizens’ Constitutional Forum (CCF), Social Empowerment and Education Programme (SEEP), femLINK Pacific, Rainbow Pride Foundation (RPF), and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement – which also serves as the alliance’s secretariat with a core working group of 5 staff members. In August, DIVA for Equality Fiji transitioned out of the CSO Alliance to focus on its ongoing relief and humanitarian work. The CSO Alliance now has 7 members.
Adopting a collective and complementary approach
Against a backdrop of massive job losses and increasing domestic violence as the borders shut down and movement restrictions kicked in, the leaders of these CSOs saw the need for a collective and complementary approach to respond to the crisis. The socio-economic situation had also worsened after Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Harold hit in early April, displacing hundreds of people to evacuation centres and putting additional pressure on vulnerable communities.
According to FWRM Executive Director Nalini Singh, the first phase of the CSO Alliance’s work focused on coordinating the sharing of information and providing direct support to people in need. Then came the need for the Alliance to be vocal about highlighting emerging humanitarian issues and sharing their concerns through press conferences.
‘In the face of COVID-19, this Alliance has strengthened solidarity among the CSOs and helped to better coordinate efforts. For partners who are working on the community frontlines as well as those who have had to close the office and work remotely, this Alliance has been an important mechanism to contribute innovatively to the different areas of work,’ Nalini said.
Valuing solidarity and collective work
A history of solidarity, building relationships and working together as a collective on interlinking issues has been integral to the quick formation and effectiveness of the Fiji CSO Alliance for COVID-19 Humanitarian Response.
Fiji Women’s Fund Manager Michelle Reddy shared: ‘Social movements in Fiji and across the world have contributed to encouraging the practice of democracy, leadership and citizenship. Feminist and women’s organisations, networks and groups have been an integral part of social movements. The Fiji CSO Alliance for COVID-19 Humanitarian Response is a great example of different organisations getting together to forge locally-driven strategies. Since the Fund’s inception, we have valued the role of coalitions, alliances and contributed towards supporting movement building’.
The Australian Government is supporting some of the CSO Alliance partners with their humanitarian relief efforts through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership and the Fiji Women’s Fund.
Stepping up humanitarian response
With the negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis continuing with little sign of improvement, the CSO Alliance has stepped up relief efforts to help communities that have been severely affected.
In August, FRIEND and FWCC together with TISI Sangam in partnership with the Alliance opened a COVID-19 CSO Humanitarian Centre in Nadi to better coordinate and streamline support for families and communities affected by the crisis.
The centre is located in the Western Division because it is the area most affected by the pandemic. It is focusing on distributing food rations and seedlings, facilitating training workshops on livelihoods and providing counselling and certain legal services.
As the COVID-19 crisis in Fiji and across the world evolves, the CSO Alliance continues to monitor the humanitarian situation and adapt their responses accordingly – both as a collective and through their individual work.
To learn more about the Fiji CSO Alliance for COVID-19 Humanitarian Response, click here.