As we weave on: Gratitude for the three years of our existence 

Co-written by the oldest and the newest staff of the Fund Team

PC: FWF/Rob Rickman

With the onset of COVID-19 and the aftermath of tropical cyclone Harold, it’s easy to lose sight of the things that we are most grateful for. As we slowly come out of lockdown, we look to May with renewed hope and optimism. Our gratitude stems from loving the work that we do, what we have learned in our journey and optimism for where we are headed.

May always holds a special place for the Fund, it is the time of year when we commemorate our inception anniversary (it’s our third birthday – WHOOP WHOOP!).  It has truly been a wonderful journey made up of many diverse women who continue to help us weave this beautiful, unique, and innovative basket we call the Fiji Women’s Fund.

We take this opportunity to share a few of the many things that we have been grateful for over the past three years:

 
1. Gathering the pandanus[1] – The beginnings of a beautiful basket

Michelle Reddy (Fund Manager)

The idea of a women’s fund managed and led by Fijian feminists started many years ago in small often under-resourced offices, homes and spaces with an overworked group of enthusiastic, passionate and fiery women human rights defenders. I know this because I was part of those many conversations having previously worked at the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM).

I am grateful for the women’s human rights defenders, feminists, activists in Fiji and around the Pacific who came before me, who have fought so hard and continue to fight every day against patriarchy so that women, girls and gender non- conforming people can fully exercise their human rights. I believe that the birth of the Fiji Women’s Fund wouldn’t have been possible without the women’s movement in Fiji.

But of course, an idea will remain just that without support, funding and determination.  I am immensely grateful firstly to the group of feminists who saw it through from an idea, to participating in a civil society analysis to designing the establishment of the Fund. And secondly, I am grateful for the funding and support of the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that made this idea a reality. It’s the people, the relationships, principles and the values that add to our existence.

 

2. Weaving intricate patterns and shaping our basket – Being part of the global sisterhood of women funds

Michelle Reddy (Fund Manager)

I still remember the excitement of starting my first day at the Fiji Women’s Fund on 1 May 2017. Over the past three years, we have grown into a team of eight staff members who have come from the women’s movement, civil society and development agencies. The myriad of experiences, knowledge and skills in the team has added to the Fund’s successes and many lessons learned.

In this time, we have supported 20 women’s groups, organisations and networks in Fiji on 30 initiatives that have enhanced their work on women’s empowerment and gender equality. Our grantees have collectively contributed to the lives of over 10,000 Fijians. It is during this time that we have learned from the global sisterhood of women’s funds. But my journey with the global women’s funds began way before the establishment of the Fiji Women’s Fund.

Whilst working at FWRM, I had the pleasure of engaging with two of the oldest funds, Mama Cash and Global Fund for Women who provided travel grants. Later in 2006 during Fiji’s fourth coup, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights supported FWRM with security funding. In a time of crisis, I’ve witnessed the vital role that women’s funds play especially in mobilising immediate and urgent funding. Their ability and influence to unlock a range of resources from multiple sources that are flexible, speaks to their mandate to support the myriad of transformative work women’s rights organisations, groups and networks do across the world.

Since our establishment, we’ve been part of the global sisterhood of women’s funds – Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds. Our first interaction was at the Prospera X Biennial in Sri Lanka in 2017. A year later, our application to become an Associate member was confirmed.

We have since participated in multiple Prospera Asia and Pacific chapter[2] events that have brought so many more connections. In 2019, around 150 women, girls and trans* activists from 20 countries, speaking eight different languages converged in Bangkok to examine the multifaceted reality of feminist funding in Asia and the Pacific region. The Convergence brought together grantee-partners, regional allies, and funders of the Prospera Asia and Pacific chapter to talk about resources and power and its process of negotiation. This is captured in the key outcome document called the Feminist Funding Manifesto.  The attendance of Pacific women at this important event was supported by the Australian Government.

In 2020, in collaboration with Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific, we launched Where is the money for women and girls in the Pacific? a scoping study on the funding realities for women’s organisations in the Pacific.  The study is a resource mobilising tool that we hope will empower Pacific women to transform the funding landscape in our region.

In the three years, we have had the opportunity to learn, unlearn, debate, collaborate and partner with so many of our sister funds. For me, the journey has also meant a re-connection with feminists who have moved into the women’s funds, establishing new relationships and friendships.

 

3. Testing the strength of our weaving

Tiriseyani Naulivou (Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Coordinator)

While I am the latest addition to the team, my professional relationship with the Fund began just before it turned one. At the time I was working for Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF) – one of the Fund’s first grantees. Prior to that, I remember hearing about the Fund from its then sole staff member – Michelle. I recall her describing the Fund as one that following in the footsteps of its sister funds, aspired to be an organisation that is “flexible, accessible and empathic” to the needs of the women and communities it supports.

As a person that only recently identified as a feminist, I was, excited to work at the Fund (also the first of its kind in the Pacific). I have settled into a work culture that seeks to guide our work through learning from our team and partners. This is especially, from our grantee partners, to understand their goals and how we can best support them to achieve those goals. On a parallel, our staff meetings would begin with check-ins that provide the opportunity to our team to share anything from their lives, and if needed, identify how we can support or seek support for each other. Those same staff meetings have seen spirited debates around how we’re ensuring that we are being supportive to our partners, appreciating, all the while, that the challenges they face are shaped by their realities – adding to the strength of our basket.

I have experienced, first-hand, the benefits of working for an organisation that values people and relationships of its team members.  When we were dealt the double crises of COVID-19 and TC Harold, like many others, our team members faced unwelcome realities that we each had to navigate in our work, and with our families and communities. For some of us, these new realities exacerbated existing trials that we were already facing and addressing in our lives. The Fund responded by providing appropriate and timely support for all concerned and I acknowledge the Fund’s ability to do so where other organisations may not have the resources.  We were reminded that these were unique times and that our priority should always be in taking care of ourselves and families. We cannot contribute as a productive team member if we have not taken care of ourselves. It is for these things that I am grateful during my journey with the Fund so far.

Our sincere gratitude to all who have helped in some way to shape our narrative and to those who in the coming years will add to our journey.

 

[1] The pandanus plant (Pandanus tectorius) can be found throughout the Pacific and provides fibrous leaves that are good for weaving. The wide leaves grow low to the ground, making them easy to reach by women collecting weaving materials.

[2] Women’s Fund Asia, TEWA, Urgent Action Fund Asia and the Pacific, HER Fund, Mongolian Women’s Fund, the Korean Women’s Foundation and Fiji Women’s Fund.

 

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