By Taylor Blais
Fiji is paradise. White sand beaches, crystal clear blue water, thousands of coconut trees. These certainly were my expectations when moving here. But I soon learned that there is way more to it than that. That the “single story” that I had been told about Fiji my entire life, that it is a vacation spot, is only dipping my toe into what it actually is.
I have been living in Suva, the capital of Fiji for about 2 months now, and my preconceived notions about Fiji have changed completely. As an intern with the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM), I’ve had the privilege of working with the most amazing people. I work with leaders in the international feminism world. Strong women and men working very hard to better the lives of people in Fiji and around the Pacific. It is very hard not to be absolutely star struck by these individuals. I work for the organization that held the first ever Pacific Feminist Forum (PFF) in 2016. The organization, which, together with a working group of regional partners, recently organised the 2nd PFF in May of this year and plans to create more of these spaces in the future. This event brings human rights activists together from around the South Pacific to discuss major women’s and human rights issues affecting them directly. Fiji is a hub for feminism around the Pacific and it has established itself as a leader. Spearheading so many amazing movements within Fiji, but also inspiring so many women around the Pacific to start their own movements in their respective countries. I did not get the chance to attend the PFF this year, but I have gotten the chance to transcribe some interviews that were done with women from all around the pacific that attended, individuals from Vanuatu, Samoa, a lot of Small Island Nations. I have been so intrigued as to how highly they all speak of FWRM. How inspired they are about the changes that FWRM has made, and the plans they have for the future, and how they can implement these different ideas, in their own ways, in their own communities.
I also attend classes at Fiji’s regional University, Fiji National University (FNU) and learned a lot about how climate change is affecting Fiji, and many Small Island Nations around the Pacific directly. Because of sea levels rising drastically, they are losing land mass and resources by the minute. It is widely acknowledged here that climate change is occurring because it is affecting them directly; no one is ignorantly refusing to believe that climate change is occurring because they do not have the privilege to do so. There are many amazing organizations such as International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), South Pacific Tourism (SPTO), and so many more within Fiji that work on conservation and activism and advocacy around climate change in the Pacific. People in Fiji are fighting the good fight against climate change even though they release some of the lowest amounts of carbon emissions around the world. It is the Western world that fuels climate change, but now the South Pacific is taking on the brunt of the consequences.
Yes, Fiji is made up of beautiful crystal-clear waters, and I have drunk from a lot of coconuts during my time here. But It is so much more than that. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned in my little time working and living here is to never judge a book by its cover. Fiji is so much more than its looks, and it is a force to be reckoned with on a global scale. Never underestimate.
Taylor is entering her third year of Psychology at the University of Lethbridge with minors in Women & Gender Studies and Population Health. She is interested in international women’s and human rights issues, as well as global health. Taylor has been working as an intern with The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) for almost three months, during which she has been working primarily with the communications team, engaging the public through social media and learning about the digital side of social justice work. She had the privilege of attending the “Pacific Connections: Community Filmmaking for Gender Equality in the Pacific” workshop held at the University of the South Pacific (USP). Taylor’s passion for women’s rights and feminism has grown immensely since she has started working for FWRM. She hopes to continue this nature of work in the future, carrying the skills that she has built from this experience into her future endeavors.