Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime.
For women and girls in the Pacific, it's closer to 3 in 4, or more than double — a statistic that can generally be attributed to the region's strict gender power dynamics, unique social taboos, inadequate education systems, and limited female political and economic representation.
For decades, however, women’s rights activists throughout the Pacific have worked to sweep aside cultural taboos and promote discussions of social norms in an effort to diminish gender inequality. These activists have campaigned for equality while addressing the various health, environmental, and sanitation issues that so often disproportionately affect women and girls.
As the world marks 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a United Nations campaign which runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, Global Citizen is highlighting five incredible Pacific female activists in the hope that others will be inspired to take similar action.
1) Vavine Nadesalingam, Papua New Guinea
Nadesalingam is the founder of the Voices for Village Foundation, an organization dedicated to addressing education, health, water, and sanitation issues in rural Papua New Guinea. Nadesalingam also operates a local internet service that ensures rural schools can obtain the full range of benefits that comes from accessing reliable internet.
In 2016, Nadesalingam became the first woman in Papua New Guinea to represent the country at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Two years later, she won Entrepreneur of the Year at Southern Cross University’s (SCU) annual Alumni of the Year Awards.
"[It's an honor to] raise awareness about the challenges that women face in Papua New Guinea and how we need a level playing field to encourage more women in leadership,” Nadesalingam said during an acceptance speech at SCU. “I want to share my story to inspire other young people who are facing challenges, to tell them they can always find a way to be a positive impact in their community as well.”
2) Elizabeth Kite, Tonga
Met w/ our Minister of Health today. #Tonga so far have 0 cases for #COVID19 & she along w/ her ministry are determined to keep it that way! But, all hope isn’t just w/ them, it’s w/ the rest of us! We #youth - need to comply & abide by professional advice - to keep #Tonga safe! pic.twitter.com/hyTim0GLpO— Elizabeth V Kite (@ElizabethVKite) March 26, 2020
After realizing that Tonga's young people were not being listened to or recognized as agents of change, Kite founded Tonga Youth Leaders. The youth-led organization empowers the nation’s young people to become changemakers, provides grants to those addressing issues in their communities, and gives individuals a platform to share their stories with the world.
In September, Tonga Youth Leaders released a Youth of Tonga Vote program and handbook as part of an initiative to educate young people about their civic duty and the importance of exercising their right to vote. The program is currently running consultations across the country.
3) Leilua Lino, Samoa
In 2019, Leilua Lino, overcame trauma to share her story, and the strength in her smile, with the world.Posted by Samoa Observer on Monday, 30 December 2019
Lino is a survivor.
At age 9, she was raped by her father. Lino then attended the Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) campus, which helped her process the trauma and file a police report. Seven years after the domestic violence act, Lino took her father to court and testified against him. He was sentenced to 29 years in jail.
Now, Lino is an ambassador for peace with SVSG. She raises awareness about abuse through school and community awareness programs, which have already reached 3,000 children and encouraged a further 100 to report cases of violence.
“I created peace gardens in our SVSG campus, which have helped 200 children recover from trauma. I was set on becoming an ambassador of peace, to change the lives of those that suffered the same fate as mine, and to convince them that in life they are not alone: there is always someone out there that can give a helping hand,” Lina said in a SVSG statement.
4) Milikini Failautusi, Tuvalu
Milikini Failautusi (Health Officer) and Akelita (Health Promotion and Education Officer) conducting KAPs survey training with local nurse and volunteers in Nukulaelae Island.Posted by Tuvalu Red Cross Society on Friday, 30 October 2020
After being forced to move from her ancestral atoll to the main Tuvalu island of Funafuti due to rising seas, Failautusi became a climate activist. Beyond being a member of the Pacific Climate Warriors, Failautusi is the Tuvalu National Youth Council coordinator, as well as a member of the Pacific Youth Council and the Pacific Young Women's Leadership Alliance.
Failautusi also represented Tuvalu at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Thailand in 2014. There, she spoke about shifting long-standing cultural norms that keep women silent and the need for equal participation, equal wages, and an end to gender-based violence.
"Young women are not just victims of climate change, but active agents of change," Failautusi said during her speech at the Economic and Social Commission meeting, according to UN Women.
5) Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, Marshall Islands
Shot this video outside my house in Majuro on my way from Marshall Islands 🇲🇭 to NY to join the #globalclimatestrike. If you’re in NY, join Pacific leaders and our RMI Youth team Sept 20 @Foley Square pic.twitter.com/Vn1hyhn4PK— Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner (@kathykijiner) September 18, 2019
First and foremost, Jetn̄il-Kijiner is a poet.
Her book, Iep Jaltok: Poems From a Marshallese Daughter, tells the story of life on the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls and volcanic islands between Hawaii and Australia. The themes of nuclear testing, militarism, violence, gender, rising sea levels, and racism are woven throughout the book, all told through the lens of various Marshall Islands women.
Jetn̄il-Kijiner’s poetry has been featured in publications like National Geographic, CNN, and Huffington Post, and, in 2014, Jetn̄il-Kijiner performed a poem about the global climate crisis at the UN Climate Summit. The poem, which was dedicated to her young daughter, saw Jetn̄il-Kijiner call on world leaders to include Indigenous mothers in climate decision-making.
Jo-Jikum, a youth environmental non-profit co-founded by Jetn̄il-Kijiner, also seeks to educate others on climate change.