Below is a reflection from Alexia Fuller on her time as an intern at FemLINK Pacific in Fiji earlier this year. YWILPF Australia has run an internship program in partnership with FemLINK for the past few years that provides space for an exchange between FemLINK and community radio organisations here in Australia, and is a program we hope to continue in future.
The radio is a feature of many people’s daily lives. An alarm, which nudges you in the morning to pull yourself out of bed. A portable device the bus driver has pinned to his shirt, listening to the news of the day as he makes his morning rounds. A speaker, which sits behind the baker who hands you your morning breakfast as you run to work late. But at femLINK Pacific everyday the radio is used as a powerful tool of change.
In April 2015, I had the privilege of undertaking a short work experience placement with femLINK. The program is an exchange partnership between femLINK and an Australian women’s organisation the Young Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, simply known as YWILPF. The program has a short history, as I am only the first Australian woman to travel to Fiji.
Briefly, FEMLink uses the tool of community radio (broadcast nationally across all the Fiji islands) to tell stories about issues faced women in the Fiji Islands. Bright young Fijian women from diverse backgrounds including rural, ethnically diverse, disabled and LGBTQI communities, craft programs, which seek to educate rural Fijian women about their rights to peace, security and the right to live a life free of violence through media.
With each passing day I gained new learnings, ideas and realisations about the powerful tool of radio in enacting social change. Below I detail some key leanings from my time with femLINK.
Information truly gives the ability to speak truth to power and it is the work of femLINK that has reinforced this lesson. Information is empowering and enabling. It provides a platform for those who are not always afforded chance, to raise their voice.
Over a lunchtime conversation, I was told the story of a community on the west coast of Viti Levu and about the outcomes of femLINK’s radio initiatives. This community is located in close proximity to the largest damn in Fiji. The electricity produced on this site powers cities and towns all over Fiji except for this village.
FemLINK recorded and broadcast a segment on the issues the village women faced due to the lack of electricity. Their story was picked up by a national Fijian TV broadcaster, which made a TV documentary about the women. Through this exposure the government authorities stepped in and addressed the women’s concerns. Today, this town has electricity thanks to the first step femLINK in connecting these women to the decision makers.
Women’s empowerment is not merely a buzz-word in this organisation, it has profound and real consequences for women in Fiji. Within the organisation, networks of information exchange and empowerment are always taking place between the experienced femLINK staff, the young femLINK staff and the rural women.
The wiser and experienced staff train and mentor the younger staff. These young women are enabled to craft programs and produce radio, which seeks to empower Fiji’s rural women. The young women are in regular contact with the rural women who are part of femLink’s network through consultations, workshops and radio production. For many of these rural women, femLINK’s programs are the first time they have been exposed to global ideas of equality, peace and security. The end result is a cascade of empowerment at all levels of the organisation.
Everyday when I was with femLINK, I saw the consequences of empowering women. Young Fijian women with new-found confidence to raise their issues, their concerns and their ideas in forums that are often inaccessible to them. And these same young women collaborating with rural women to create, produce and generate radio content to be broadcast across the Fiji islands allowing rural women’s issues to be voiced and heard.
The radio to me is no longer a simple everyday piece of technology. Instead, when used in a certain way is a powerful and profound tool for social change. I thank Frances Tawake for being a kind and welcoming friend. I thank Emeli Anise and Hannah Hicks for their hospitality and making space for me in their home. I thank Lucille Chute, Jasmin Kaur and Audrey Seru for their ‘teachings’ on Fijian culture, especially the odd ‘grog’ session. And finally, I thank Sharon Bhagwan Rolls for her fierce and caring leadership. Until we meet again. Vinaka.