Viva Tatawaqa, Fiji

Diverse Voices and Action for Equality

5 September, 2014

I really believe that it’s through this kind of conference in Samoa, with leaders there listening, that we get the chance to express our concerns and invite sustainable and achievable partnerships that really work for young women like me. Otherwise, who is listening to us? So often it seems like no-one. I also do this work because I think it’s very important to recognise, appreciate and carry on the work of all those that have created this kind of space where we can participate as young lesbian, bisexual women and trans people (LBT), and as young women from the Pacific.

Many already know about the kind of work that Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality Fiji does. We create safe spaces and opportunities for lesbian, bisexual women and trans people in the Pacific. But that’s not all that Diva for Equality does. We also focus on participation of young LBT women in the political arena, economic justice climate change, and sustainability of our eco-systems.

Why does Diva for Equality work on this areas? Because regardless of backgrounds, marginalised groups , gender identity or sexual orientation or any other identities and status you have, DIVA for Equality cares about everything that women care about – especially those with little money and political status in our communities. 

At this SIDS conference I focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. I wanted to see recognition and inclusion of SRHR in the youth forum, and in the main forum too. And we made it happen with friends from Pacific Youth Council, UNFPA and many others. We can all talk about economy, politics, ecosystem, climate change, regarding sustainable development but I highly believe that if we don’t talk about health, then we really are not concerned about the reality of sustainable development. We cannot talk about sustainable development and not recognise SRHR, because when you talk about SRHR you are talking about people’s main health, bodies and rights, and that is very important to anybody.

‘Sustainable Development’ needs to be focused on people, and people need to be healthy to obtain all their other rights, to carry their work load without getting sick, and they should also know that whether they are young, old, a person with disability, with diverse gender and sexuality, or positive or negative HIV/AID status, that their contribution and issues regarding Sustainable Development are just as important and considered as everyone else in the small island states where we live.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is very important and must be considered by everyone, including SIDS leaders. Our SRHR is very important to talk about, among ourselves from our own region, with our diverse backgrounds and gender and sexuality, and regardless of our beliefs, traditions, or culture. 

Why are the ‘S’ and the ‘HR’ so important and not just covering reproductive health, as sometimes happens in our region? Well, sexuality is very important to all our lives, so that if we talk about sexual rights then everybody is included , even young lesbians, and trans people. Also not every women will be a mother, so we need to talk about more than just maternal health or reproductive health. We have to talk about gender equality and women’s human rights issues. This is another concern I have, is that we can all talk about equality in the region, and human rights without discrimination as in the Moana Declaration, and other documents. But what we don’t think about is the real urgent needs of women with HIV and AIDS, or about how marginalised groups like LGBTIQ, and persons with disabilities, or young people in remote areas with no services, can get the health care,treatment and services that is their human right. We seem to think of the easy work, not the hard work, and leave out some people.

I’ve worked with young LBT women who experience stigmatisation just because of how they cut their hair or dress, or because of who they love and live with. Some of them experience large amounts of pain and suffering. If we keep allowing tradition, cultures and beliefs to be our barriers then I think we then cannot really guarantee a sustainable health and human rights for our young people or coming generations. 

Help us change that! So familiarize yourself with sexual and reproductive health and rights, because you not only get to know more about your health and sexuality, but also all your human rights. It is only by knowing more, and taking action on human rights to bodily integrity and autonomy, that we can stop the violations on women, all the different kinds of discrimination and violence diverse women face in the Pacific.

So the 3rd Global Conference on SIDS in Samoa and the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway document that the leaders signed is a very important and challenging event for all SIDS regions that are engaged in this sustainable development work. We must not only talk about the present or the past, but also in the long run(future) . 

It was such a privilege to be part of this conference, as I got a chance to address issues regarding young Pacific LBT women that I work with in my organisations and networks, especially DIVA for Equality. We need to be more visible in these meetings, and to have support to come to such conferences and workshops, to tell our own stories and issues.

I believe that coming into this kind of space in Samoa SIDS 2014 is very important for all young LBT women. We may not be satisfied with some discussions, some feedback, some comments or the ways that process is used to raise some of our issues. But I urge all LBT women, young women and diverse women of the Pacific – Don’t give in or give up! Even if some people behave in such a way to exclude or try to ignore us, at least they know that we do exist and our issues are also as important as others. 

I hope many more LBT women, and including young lesbians, bisexual women and trans people would make use of this kind of opportunity when given a chance, and speak bravely about their issues regarding sustainable development. I hope that many more stakeholders will provide resources for us to come and be part of sustainable development and other meetings. I hope that more partners will work with us in these issues in the Pacific.

I also only hope that whatever statements and projects comes out of this 3rd Global UN Conference on small Island Developing states, that they will all include acknowledgement and appreciate the input and participation of all women, including young women with disabilities and women with diverse sexuality and gender identity. 

Viva Tatawaqa

Management Collective Member, Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality, Fiji

Also: DAWN Associate, WMG on Sustainable Development, SIDS Cluster

5 September 2014