by Frances Tawake

“A good leader is someone who can bring different sections of a community together,” reflected Alisia Evans, femLINKpacific’s Programme Associate: Research and member of femLINKpacific Young Women’s Leadership Team. “They make time to meet and hear the issues and ideas of their community but also make informed decisions based on the various voices that make up their community.”

Born in Fiji with a mix Samoan and English heritage, Evans’ family moved to the UK when she was 7 and, after completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Geography from Lancaster University, she returned to the country 16 years later.

Drawn back to her country of birth after research on personal identity and material culture in the Pacific during her degree studies, she came to realise and learn more about the Fijian community and their struggles to earn a proper living. Encouraged by her uncle, Aisake Casimira, she joined femLINKpacific as a producer and broadcaster for FemTALK89FM, going on to host ‘Morning Waves’.

The time and space opened her eyes to realise her feminist leanings, learning more about the importance of women’s rights, gender equality and most of all young women’s participation in decision making process.

“Young women are experts of their own issues,” Evans explained. “No one else can tell a young woman what she is experiencing better than she can and so participating in decision making and speaking her perspective is important to ensure that decisions that are made, on one hand, include her perspective.”

“On the other, they are able to recognise and respect the experience of a young woman.”

After taking up the role of Programme Associate: Research in 2015, Evans has been part of femLINKpacific’s continued community visits and consultations, documenting stories of rural women leaders and connecting their stories to the policy level.

She strongly feels that community radio is a very powerful tool in voicing everyone’s opinion as well as empowering young women in taking up leadership roles but it cannot do the work alone.

Evans feels that there are multiple challenges along the way that need to be addressed immediately.

“Young women must be encouraged to participate in decision making by their family as well and at the community they belong too,” she continued. “However my experience speaking to diverse young women from across Fiji, as well as in the region, is that young women are still regarded as immature or innocent.”

“They are seen as someone who needs to be protected and spoken for rather than encouraged to speak for herself.”

According to Evans this change can be done through education - using both formal curriculum as well as informal through outreach programmes of civil society, faith based organisations and government stakeholders; arming women with information to raise their voices and participate in decision making.

“It is important for young women to have access to information in order to have an informed opinion,” she added. “Information needs to be available especially for young women living in the remote and maritime communities across Pacific countries.”

“Information needs to be made available to all young women in appropriate mediums whether mass media or community media because it plays an important role is disseminating information that is relevant to the needs of Pacific young women of all diversities. (We) need to respect that young women are not all the same and this diversity must be seen as strength which can be utilised when we work towards a common goal such as increased participation of young women in decision making.”

It is this practice of empowering through information that Evans believes amplifies and strengthens a decision making process that is transparent and understood by every member of the community - maintaining a clear two way system of communication between those being governed and those who are in the governance or leadership positions.

At the end of the day, it is to make sure no one is left behind.