North America and Oceania may seem like a strange pairing, but especially because much of the activism of the women in the United States has already been covered, grouping some of the original commonwealth countries–Canada, Australia and New Zealand–together seemed logical. Oceania is comprised of dozens of small island nations that make up Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, in addition to Australia and New Zealand. Not to diminish the rights and struggles of the peoples of small nations or under foreign control but for our purposes, any location we consider will be an independent country with a population of more than 100,000.
Australia: The land down under is paying tribute to four women who have pushed to advance gender equality in Australia by immortalizing them in stamps: Germaine Greer, Eva Cox, Elizabeth Evatt, and Anne Summers will all be awarded the Australian Post Australian Legends Award for 2011. Last year Australia elected it’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who is currently on the losing side of public opinion with regards to marriage equality. Fifty-seven percent of Australians support marriage equality but she remains opposed to it. This page offers interesting insights into other battles women, especially migrant women, in Australia have historically faced.
New Zealand: The first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote, in 1893, and to elect a transgender person to parliament, in 1999, New Zealand prides itself on a (slightly misleading) image of gender equality. The youngest person ever elected to the NZ parliament (and editor of the below mentioned book written by women of the Solomon Islands), Marilyn Waring, recollects her journey to political power here. Issues of domestic violence, the gender wage gap, underrepresentation in politics, and discrimination against the indigenous Maori people all still affect Kiwi women. And while the LGBTQAI community in New Zealand does enjoy most human rights, including some representation in government offices, marriage and adoption are still hurdles to be overcome.
Fiji: An innovative technique for raising awareness of young, rural women’s issues in Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands is coming through community radio in Fiji. A weeklong training session, held annually, was arranged by FemLINKPACIFIC, which also address issues of disability, and peace and security through their inclusive, and intelligent approach. FemLINKPACIFIC’s Executive Director is personally breaking the silence around women’s health issues in Fiji by blogging with humor and poignancy about her experiences with breast cancer. Recently, Fiji islanders have had to deal with significant political violence, and Christian extremism which left women without governmental allies in the fight against domestic violence. Marital rape and lack of decision-making capabilities also leave many women in Fiji without a say in their own contraception and pregnancy options. Despite these obstacles, the women of Fiji have a long history of virulently demanding their rights.
Papua New Guinea: In a country where sorcery is blamed for deaths caused by AIDS, women suffer tremendous violence in the name of eradicating witchcraft. Nearly 2/3 of women in Papua New Guinea experience domestic violence at some point in their lives and fully half of all women there are raped, partly because there are no laws against these crimes. Sometimes crime goes the other direction and men and boys are victimized, showing how seriously a culture of rape affects everyone involved. But women in Papua New Guinea are courageously combating both physical violence and the spread of HIV though activism. Environmental issues such as mining, logging, fisheries, and palm oil production also have a significant impact on the lives of women in Papua New Guinea and so they speak out about those issues too.
Solomon Islands: The voices of the women of the Solomon Islands have rarely been heard, either within their country or by outsiders, but the book Being the First broke that cycle of silence. Women in this island nation have been an integral part of the use of restorative justice in peacebuilding after years of ethnic tensions and violence. Violence against women is a serious issue in this country and women have been vital in PeaceWomen to combat injustices. Young women in Solomon Islands are also speaking out about climate change and its disproportionate effects on women and indigenous peoples. The women of the YWCA are also critical in the fight for equality.
Samoa: Transgender activist and community leader, Dr. Vena Sele, has continuously fought for equality while expressing one of the traditional gender roles in Samoa as a fa’afafine. Some Samoa bloggers are taking on tradition by speaking out about taboo subjects. This article explains current laws with regard to human rights in Samoa, and this article is a witty explanation of how damaging misconceptions can be.
Tonga: At least one women’s rights activist in the Kingdom of Tonga has raised concerns that the November 2010 election of Lord Tu’ivakano was not the victory for democracy that it was touted to be. Women activists have every right to be weary of the men in politics in Tonga, especially since the country refused to ratify CEDAW and the newly appointed Police Minister was previously charged with assaulting his wife. The Women and Children Crisis Center WCCC, a Mama Cash grantee, is one group working to change the acceptability of domestic violence in Tonga. They have been internationally recognized for their work and won the Pacific Human Rights Award in December 2010, and the Global Social Change Film Festival & Institute Activist Award for their work in the film Paradise Glossed: Women, Violence and ‘The Friendly Islands’.
Canada: One look at Amnesty International’s Canada blog shows how determined Canadian women are in fighting for all women’s rights everywhere. Canada is a much more liberal, accepting and equal society than are we to the south, but no nation is perfect. Gender-based violence and blatant discrimination, including uninvestigated disappearances, against indigenous people still rock Canada on a regular basis. The government has not done much to address these inequalities but activists continue to speak out. On a side note–if you are a Canadian reproductive rights activist, age 19-30, go here to participate in a survey, please.
Mexico: While the Mexican government is sending women to jail for having an abortion, the femicides of Juarez, Mexico have been a disgrace to the world for years. More than 1,000 women have been killed there in the past 18 years. Many groups including Women of Juarez and Nuestras Hihas de Regreso a Casa (which has pages in many languages), fight to end the impunity in the brutal rapes, torture and murders of the women of Ciudad Juarez. Aqui hay un gran coleccion de articulos sobre los feminicidios. Y aqui Patricia Sanchez-Espinosa escrita que Ni Una Más será aceptable. And despite activists who speak out against this overwhelming violence being murdered as well, women in Mexico and around the world continue to raise their voices for justice for these women.
Join the discussion for the next 7 days as we explore the many forms of violence against women and the incredible activists and organizations that are working to change the world.