By Madeline Storey
I began my journey with Pacific Peoples’ Partnership (PPP) at the end of 2016. Originally from Australia, I came to Victoria, BC to work in the non-profit sector. I was unbelievably lucky to find an internship with PPP, and even luckier to work with such a knowledgeable, helpful and welcoming team.
During my time with PPP, I learnt a great many things. Throughout my life, I’d heard about the beauty of the South Pacific, the islands and the people living there. Being close to Australia, I was familiar with the tourist narratives from places like Fiji, Hawai’i, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. What I didn’t know about were the devastating effects climate change is currently having in the region. Nor did I know about the prevalence of gender-based violence in South Pacific communities. I also wasn’t aware of how people outside the South Pacific homogenize the cultures and knowledge of the region.
During my role as Communications and IT Intern, I learned these things about the South Pacific, and am forever changed by them.
Exploring the roots of PPP
The PPP journal, Tok Blong Pasifik, has featured a rich variety of news and views on the Pacific since 1982. It’s been a key way the organization has connected with members and partners over the years. One of the first tasks during my internship was to upload 34 years worth of past issues of Tok Blong Pasifik onto the website. This meant I got to know the journal extremely well! With over thirty years worth of issues, it was a mammoth task, but I was able to explore the history of PPP through the process.
One issue of Tok Blong caught my attention immediately. In 1992, the year I was born, PPP made an issue on Gender and Development in the South Pacific. This is an entire publication dedicated to sharing women’s voices from the region. With an interest in gender and women’s empowerment, I was pleasantly surprised that PPP had produced an issue all about women in the early nineties!
Since its inception, PPP has been allies with communities of the South Pacific, particularly with women in the region. While conducting research into PPP’s past programs, I found many successful women’s campaigns PPP produced or co-produced in South Pacific communities.
1989 – 1992: Mairisin Meri Program: Training Papua New Guinea Village Health Workers.
This partnership aimed to increase local capacity to respond to medical emergencies. Local
women were trained in first aid and provided with a dependable supply of medicines, while local
men were trained to build quality hygiene facilities. Nutritional education was offered to communities.
1997-2001: Ecowoman: Women’s Leadership in Environmental Management (Fiji).
The Ecowoman project grew from the determination of Pacific women to promote sound, ecofriendly science at the grassroots level. Project leadership came from the South Pacific Action Committee for Human Ecology & Environment (SPACHEE), a collective of women in science and technology, representing traditional methods and modern approaches. Project communities sought help to get rid of water hyacinth and watercress choking local rivers, bogging boats, becoming safety hazards for swimming children and reducing their edible mussel harvest. Pilot projects explored weaving hyacinth into crafts, feeding it to livestock and marketing it as a vegetable. The CIDA-PPP project also funded a series of Ecowoman newsletters and the development work on a database of women with science and environment expertise.
1998 – 2003: WAINIMATE: Women’s Traditional Medicine Network (Fijian and Canadian
Women’s Association for Natural Medicinal Therapy (WAINIMATE) was established by Fijian women in response to concerns about the loss of traditional medicine knowledge and medicinal plants in Fiji and other parts of the Pacific. Bearing many of the responsibilities of maintaining Pacific communities, women are often most directly affected by inappropriate development practices and structural adjustment decisions that threaten their families, health and environment. WAINIMATE established gardens within urban hospitals and rural health centers, and trained hundreds of nurses, doctors, dentists and health administrators in the identification, use and cultivation of plants. And, perhaps most importantly, WAINIMATE worked closely with Ministry staff to develop national legislation and a strategy platform, which officially and effectively integrated the provision of traditional medicine within the national health care strategy and delivery program.
2009-2012: Papua Land of Peace: Civil Society Leadership in Conflict Transformation (Manokwari, West Papua New Guinea).
The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, or Tanah Papua, compose a land of stunning natural beauty and rich, complex cultures. Yet everyday, Papuans face longstanding human rights abuses, economic disparity and environmental contamination of their lands. This initiative enabled knowledge sharing and best practices of community-based resource stewardship, cultural strengthening, human rights and gender equity. It fostered cooperation between Papuans and counterparts across the Pacific and Indonesia, and created opportunities for enhancing PPP’s knowledge of how best to support the aspirations of our partners and the communities they serve. This project harnesses rights-based approaches toward integrating capacity strengthening and education on sustainable livelihoods, Indigenous rights, HIV/AIDS prevention, and violence against women.
2013-2015: Indigenous-led HIV Transmission Prevention Strategy (Tanah, Papua).
In partnership with Persatuan Terbatas Peduli Sehat – Association for Community Healthcare, University of Auckland and the University of Calgary, and with support from the Canada Institute of Health Research, this program involved culturally-informed HIV prevention education and the reduced risk of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
2013-2015: Enterprising West Papuan Women Initiative (West Papua Province, Indonesia).
In partnership with the Institute for Research, Analysis and Development of Legal Aid, and with support from Lush Canada and private donors, this program fostered livelihood opportunities for women, promoted gender equality, enhanced the role of women in leadership positions, and involved the construction of cooperative centres in Arowi and Mansinam for job skills training and to assist women facing domestic violence. These cooperatives serve a network of over 2,000 West Papuan women.
With PPP’s long history of amazing gender programs and initiatives, I was excited to contribute to the gender and gender-sensitive programs at the organization. I soon found out that all programming at PPP are gender-sensitive. As an organization, taking a gender-based approach to other strategic areas, such as climate resilience and knowledge sharing, is imperative because vulnerable groups such as women and children are more at risk to the effects of climate change and often don’t have a role in decision-making in male-dominated communities.
Two of my most favorite projects on gender at PPP were a women’s campaign I ran in March and a newsletter article I wrote for February’s Pasifik Currents, PPP’s newsletter, which was published by Huffington Post Canada.
The #PacificWomen campaign was launched in honor of International Women’ Day (March 8th) and Women’s History Month in Australia, the UK and US during March, 2017. I put out a call on social media and through PPP’s network to collect stories from resilient, tenacious and courageous women from the Pacific. The stories we received were more than I had imagined! We were able to celebrate women from American Samoa, Hawai’i, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Canada and Australia during the campaign.
Persistence was a common theme which ran through the stories. Unfortunately, there are multiple barriers to success for women in remote communities of the Pacific, such as distance (geographical isolation), access to resources, static gender-roles in communities and lack of access to education. My hope in producing this campaign was to highlight amazing women who succeeded in their lives even when there are greater odds stacked against them.
For PPP’s February 2017 Pasifik Currents, I was tasked with writing an article about gender. As gender equality is a passion of mine, I decided to research and write about women in the South Pacific. I ended up reading countless articles about international development, community structures, colonialism and more.
While taking all these things into consideration, I ended up writing about the ‘Gaps Between Gender Policy and Community Experiences in the South Pacific’. Through writing this article, I tried to articulate the intersecting challenges of being a woman in the South Pacific.
To my delight, my article was picked up by a Huffington Post Canada blog – ‘The Reality of Gender and Community in the South Pacific’. Often, women’s’ experiences in the South Pacific are ignored. My goal in having this article published was to draw more attention to their experiences. Luckily enough, I was given the platform to do so. I hope that moving forward, Pacific women are able to share their stories themselves.
I feel that women supporting women is of great importance. Working with April, Siobhan and Pawa at PPP, I felt supported and guided through my internship. I was able to work with all these ladies on multiple projects and have learned so much from them.
My time with PPP has taught me so much about the South Pacific, climate resilience, knowledge sharing and has allowed me to gain a new perspective on gender equality. I’m forever grateful for the experiences I’ve had with the organization and the amazing people I’ve been able to work with.