Collaborative research on digital feminism in Fiji

DLP researcher Tait Brimacombe and researchers from the University of the South Pacific (USP) are exploring how feminists and women's rights activists in Fiji are using digital technologies. The Digital feminism in Fiji project aims to identify pathways for women into online activism (individually or collectively), and lessons for activists and donors on the opportunities and challenges of online activism, and how it could be better supported.

USP researchers Glen FinauRomitesh KantJope Tarai and Jason Titifanue are at the forefront of research on the use of digital technologies in Fiji. In an earlier study, for example, Finau et al. (2015) found that social media in Fiji has evolved as the ‘new and safe’ space for political discourse, and that three-quarters of young women and men felt that social media gives them a voice to express their views.

Initial results from the new project were shared in a paper ‘A New Frontier in Activism? An Exploration of Digital Feminism in Fiji’, prepared by Romitesh Kant, at the 2016 Australian Association for Pacific Studies annual conference, 1-3 April. It suggests the valuable role of social media as a means of circumventing restrictions on voice in mainstream fora: research participants identified examples of debates and protests on social media that had been picked up by other media channels and had contributed to concerete outcomes. A participant noted, for example, that when a health minister made a disparaging remark about people with mental health problems, conventional media refused to carry criticism of it. However, a social media campaign gathered such widespread support and attention that the minister was obliged to apologise publicly. 

All the focus group participants acknowledged the important role played by digital technologies, especially social media, in shaping and influencing their feminist identities. Many also said they had been able to learn more about ‘black’, ‘post-modern’, ‘third wave’, ‘South’ and ‘queer’ feminism so that they could redefine their feminisms to fit their cultural and social context.

Some focus group participants talked of using digital technology to seek solidarity and connect with other feminists and activists. They noted the impact of celebrities who publicly support feminism, using digital technologies to transcend the physical space between them and young feminists: “Let’s say that this is a celebrity feminist and you'll never get to meet them in real life, but [technology] gives you an opportunity to communicate”.  

However, some activists feel constrained about how they can use social media. Some talked of self-censoring if they felt their views might offend family or community, for example, and others closely involved with government-funded organisations felt it was sometimes difficult to also join in with campaigns demanding government reform. 

Findings from the study will be published later this year.

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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