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Women at the front

Siteri Sauvakacolo
Saturday, November 04, 2017

INCREASING the availability of media and news content that tells a different story and affirms women's leadership is what Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls' life is all about.

You may have come across this name in the mainstream media more often, especially when it has something to do with women issues.

Sharon is the co-ordinator of femLINKpacific, a regional women-led media organisation that advocates for Pacific women as decision makers in the long-term transformation of their respective island countries.

Sharon was nominated as one of the 70 Inspiring Pacific women as part of the Pacific Community's (SPC) 70th anniversary.

"To be included as one of the 70 inspiring Pacific Women from Fiji is an acknowledgment first and foremost of the women who have shaped my feminism and my work today," Sharon said.

"Especially the young women and the women particularly from femLINK's Rural Women Leaders network who are catalytic in progressing this work.

"As this series of 70 Inspiring Pacific Women is tied into the 70th anniversary of the Pacific Community (SPC) it is very much about being part of the journey of collectively building and sustaining a Pacific women's movement for gender equality, peace and human security.

Being a proud woman's champion was something Sharon inherited from a very young age, especially from her parents and her mother, who had introduced her and journeyed with her through the Young Women's Christian Association which they were both a member of.

Her career in the media and journey within the women's movement began through the YWCA in 1986.

"So both are connected — I cannot really say one happened with or because of the other, but the work I do today to progress gender equality in and with the media is because of the information and communication gaps which still remain and because I had the opportunity to learn from the work of women-led and feminist media networks, especially the work of Anne Walker and the International Women's Tribune Centre in the '70s and '80s.

"Unfortunately, we have all this new technology and so much information but we are not producing content, particularly for me from a broadcast background, to tell the stories of women in the communities."

Her work was about addressing the persistent invisibility of women's leadership and contributions to their communities and countries.

Sharon shared that for too long, under-representation of women was because officials would say "we don't know where the women are"!

Using community media, using a people's communication for development and solutions-based journalism approach are ways they use to reach women in their communities, beyond the Capital City and enabling them to be heard through the airwaves of femLINK's community radio network.

A person's commitment to a profession is not just about the sake of doing it but the passion she may have inherited after years of falling in love with it.

For Sharon, she is committed to this work because it is about addressing the gender aspects of media and ICT (information communication technology) which are issues she has tracked closely particularly since women and media made it into the policy space ahead of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.

She said it was not just about counting the number of women in, or not, in the news media but addressing the regulatory environment and the information-communication infrastructure for women.

"It has been about addressing why public service broadcasting became 'commercially viable' and that media content and technology must not just work for able-bodied people but specifically for women with disabilities.

"So the way and how we work as femLINK is very consciously working to put appropriate and accessible technology into the hands of women especially rural women. It has not just been about using 'new media' but what is enabling, affordable.

"That is why we have embraced community media practice. Because the media content we get to produce is not about those with political power but actually it is about redefining power and leadership from the perspective of women in their communities."

While appreciating the modern world we live in, Sharon said she was committed to this work because we could use technology to address the gaps.

She was committed to this work because media, information and communication are such important peacebuilding tools and so our work as femLINK is connected to communicating gender inclusive conflict prevention and human security.

"I hope this campaign brings the recognition to all Pacific women who are working across so many different sectors to bring about change, to progress gender equality.

"What this campaign does is that it brings to light that working for gender equality is not just about working in the women's movement or a women's organisation, but it is happening every day in sports, in the arts and academia, in local government and national parliaments.

"What we need to do together is to not stop at the 70. I hope media organisations in the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories will make a commitment to build on the profiles and feature more women, every day ….that is where I hope my work and the work of femLINKpacific can help," Sharon concluded.

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