The fourth workstream for DIVA for Equality is about urgent action – human rights violations response, urgent basic needs of our constituency AND loss and damage from the climate emergency. Our feminist approaches to urgent response are not charity-framed, nor only for certain types of family groups. We explicitly focus on inclusion of poor Indigenous/i Taukei households including those with no links to traditional lands, no elite connections on which to draw resources, those with limited resources and little/no savings, etc. This framing moves us from the idea that i Taukei people all have resilience networks and land payment income because they are Indigenous. This is not correct. Poverty exists in Fiji, it happens for a complex set of reasons, it is a gendered and intersectional process, and urgent action, medium to long term preventative, service-provision and advocacy work are required, on many fronts.
We explicitly prioritise assistance for LGBTQI+ headed households and safe houses through Hub requests and through 6 week to 2 monthly unconditional cash transfers as resources allow since the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, and when specific areas are facing loss and damage from cyclones and other disasters. We also assist Indo-Fijian poor households especially in informal settlements and rural areas who do not receive formal help or are backgrounded in support. We also assist sex-worker headed households, Single parent-headed households, elderly people living alone, widows, survivors of gender based violence, women and parents with work injuries, disabilities or mental health difficulties, high poverty households, high risk marginalised groups, and others in informal settlement communities. During 2020-2021 (and currently a hybrid response) we solely prioritised urgent action for COVID19 and climate emergency affected communities. We are only now moving back to more community based programming, our freeskools and other.
This set of urgent responses has assisted Governments and public to understand the importance and strength of human rights, bodily autonomy and community organising in times of emergencies. The constituency networks showed very quickly that they have the knowledge and experience to make their own decisions over solidarity and mutually-organised feminist aid. The women-led and LGBTQI+ led community action groups held DIVA and authorities accountable as service providers by their attention to equity and justice issues in distribution. We pulled together lists of most marginalised and vulnerable for initial need, the distribution was done by women’s groups, and together with helpful Government/civil service allies, we worked our way through public health and other obstacles, to deliver effective aid packages by households and communities. We know that there were many instances where the aid went even further than planned, as communities stretched the goods if they heard of any of our prioritisation categories who needed help in their areas.
In this time we have pushed Government Ministers and civil service and other civil society on gender and sexuality issues, pro-poor policies and disability issues, highlighted gaps and obstacles for people who are poor and disenfranchised to access State services and worked with the response teams to assist. We brought to their attention more people with co-moribities and NCDs, women who are survivors of violence in lockdown situations, and helped them get to feminist and human rights framed services. We also strongly advocated to the government, UN and service providers on menstrual health, WASH, and on emergency contraception, usually with positive results. We very early in the COVID19 period pushed quietly and steadily for unconditional cash transfers beyond FNPF/state reliance on national insurance programmes which the Government implemented. We advocated for food aid packages for families in isolation for 14 day stints responding to COVID19, on urgent response of Police and Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission to EVAW in community lockdowns when the violence and lockdown alcohol consumption increased in informl settlements and we had more calls for help. We helped to get children past internal borders, helped women in maternity units with COVID19 to get supplies and information. We kept medication accessible to patients with comorbidities, helped family members to access their loved ones in intensive care, among other daily requests. In terms of norm shifts, the government high level and civil service took our calls and emails seriously and listened to our input, even if sometimes stressed or irritated at our requests. During the initial lockdown in 2020 we also served 26,000 school meals in high-poverty areas, and we sent out monthly packages of food, sent unconditional cash transfers for food aid, and sent SRHR and frontline health care packages to women in rural and maritime areas all through the 2 years of worst impacts of COVID19 in Fiji.
We continue to provide assistance as we can to high-poverty and at-risk individuals and households with priority for our network members and communities but open to as many as we are able to support. It is not always possible to respond as we wish with limited funds, but we have been able to provide substantive care economies in times of great loss and damage. We intend to continue, and the FARMarama Eco Centre will help us to further this work with communal cropping, emergency centre, and more. The DHive is in 2022 starting a FreeShop and Repair/Recycle Shop. We are always interested in material change and we see that it is structural change made real, when we are able to provide consistent and substantive support to communities in ongoing ways, to people most in need of assistance – even while insisting that it is always the Government of the day and the State that has the specific duty of care to the people of Fiji.
In the words of Tracy Chapman on our Poverty to Power programme t shirt, ‘Poor people…gonna rise up, and get their share. Poor people…gonna rise up, and take what’s theirs.”