To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, The World Bank spoke to some of the region’s young and emerging female leaders for their take on the future of their countries and the major challenges ahead.
Shazia Usman lives in Suva, the capital of Fiji and describes herself as a feminist, an activist and a Fijian.
She’s currently working as a Communications Officer for the Pacific Women Support Unit, which provides technical support to the Australian Government’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program. She is an advocate for human rights, especially gender equality, and also runs a small feminist art and accessories business called the Feminist Black Sheep. Recently, she became part of the Advisory Committee, Asia-Pacific region, for FRIDA: The Young Feminist Fund and is also the incoming Coordinator for the Emerging Leaders’ Forum Alumni – (ELFA members are graduates of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movements empowerment program).
“I'm a feminist activist based in Suva and work in gender and development communications. My interest in the representation and visibility of women in the media began as an undergrad while I was studying journalism at the University of the South Pacific (USP) and interning at the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM). It was in 2006, during the election campaigning period, that I became affiliated with the feminist movement, when I assisted with their Women Ask research and advocacy campaign.
From a very young age I was very strong on equality, and women’s rights in particular (having experienced injustices and patriarchy firsthand) and found ‘home’ in the feminist movement through FWRM.”
What does the future look like for Fiji? What’s possible?
I always look at the world from a gendered perspective, simply because I believe the experiences of women, men and people with diverse gender identities, differ depending on who has power, control and privilege. In 25 to 40 years I would like Pacific parliaments to be representative of women and men equally, with representation also from minority communities.
I wish for a Fiji free of violence - where women can walk down the street without being scared; where there is no violence at home. I want our young people, especially our young women, to live a life free of societal pressure and expectations. I want to see young women choosing education over early marriage and I want parents to be supportive of these choices. I want a media that’s free, fair, responsible and accountable – where women are represented with integrity.
What’s necessary for Fiji to make this future a reality?
For Fiji, I believe a transformation in the education system is one of the ways. Things like human rights, the concept of equality, even things like our bodies - when it comes to sexuality, gender identity and expression, biology - I really think we should talk about this from a very young age and not from a moralistic viewpoint.
Education and attitudinal change is key to respecting and appreciating diversity. We need the political will to make this happen. If there are some cultural practices that are harmful to women and men, we as a country need to acknowledge and address that.
Where do you see the Pacific, as a region, in 25 years?
Because of the work that I do as part of a regional effort to address gender inequality, I see violence against women as one of the biggest problems. This is a global issue and not just a Pacific one. Can you imagine your home not being safe? Where you fear your own family members? In 25 years, I want a Pacific that respects women as humans. Not because they are mothers or sisters or wives, but because they're human beings. I want a violence-free Pacific.
What gives you hope for the future?
There are many [things] in my line of work! I love my job because every day I get to meet really amazing, inspirational women who, despite all odds, with limited support, still do amazing, amazing things.
Climate change is a huge, crosscutting issue, affecting the Pacific, and I am proud to see in Fiji there is very strong movement, with women at the forefront, demanding justice and a place in global negotiations.
I see FWRM and other women’s rights CSOs and regional development bodies as hope because they continue to invest in women.
Being part of the FRIDA is also a joy because I know that I am part of a global community that supports young women. When I see people investing in young women and young women working together for other young women, it gives me hope.
Finish this sentence: ‘In the Pacific, it’s possible…’
…for women and men to work together hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder, to shape the region we want.
The first step is recognizing the existence of inequalities, and that we all contribute to them; not just men, not just women, we all contribute to them.
We still have a long way to go. But I know that Fiji and the Pacific will be a country and region that respects human rights and respects people for who they are.