The “Fiji Women’s Freedom Buses” campaign was carried out in Fiji to push visibility further than usual on 10 murders of women by their intimate partners. The campaign was held during the annual, ‘16 days of activism against Gender-Based Violence’. The idea of ‘Freedom Buses’ originated from USA civil rights buses, and we wanted a strong grassroots oriented campaign by and for Fiji women to link bodily autonomy, integrity and freedom, to issues of gender based violence.
It also arises from the idea of extremely high rates of GBV and 2019 statistics of 10 women (including 4 very young women) that died as a result of domestic violence in Fiji. 70 participants on 2 buses set the scene in solidarity by participating in the capital City Human Rights March organized by Fiji Women Crisis Centre, and then we boarded the buses from the rally, who waved us off around the country, including with embedded journalists who generated stories the whole time.
We hired 2 buses and stopped at every site around Viti Levu where a woman had been killed, and when we arrived at the Western side of the main island, we camped together at the local Coronation Church Hall, in the centre of the City. The following day we held a Women’s Event, gave speeches and rallied, did some teach-ins and shared stories of both gender based violence, and strategies to address it. We had Youth Champs for Mental Health and nurses and others present for safety and many side meetings were held as well, as women from the Western side, including those who came in from rural women-led groups, were also able to not just be in solidarity, but to speak with feminists and women’s rights activists on various needs, we had a large resource table that was cleared in a couple of hours due to demand, and many women sitting together and discussing issues, sharing their lives, etc. It was a wonderful, care-ful organising space.
In the buses, around the City and at the gathering, SGBV, SOGIESC, Climate justice, SRHR and human rights and other solidarity messages displayed on the placards were shared, and many posters, brochures, information sheets and such, to strengthen women-led work for violence prevention and to address EVAWG.
This collaboration allowed the different advocacy groups to demand gender-responsive policy and legislation and services in all kinds of areas, and the work since has clearly demonstrated the power of networks and movements beyond usual partnerships. We had women from i Taukei/Indigenous groups sleeping and campaign with LGBTQI+ people, with faith based groups, with youth led climate change groups, with Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, and drop-in sessions by the Ministry for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Mental health groups, and many others providing their expertise, and just being together in shared space and process to honour women murdered by their partners, and affirm that we are marking their deaths, and will fight for those still struggling with gender based violence, and to work for prevention.
The SOGIESC session and demonstrations we provided on the effects of patriarchal society and circle discussions on Intersectionality were very informative as well, since most of the women made connections to issues of coercive control, unequal power in families and kinship networks, and systemic problems of gender inequality in Fiji – issues that they have been experiencing and having the chance to better examine why it is still occurring in their lives, and in such numbers.