In recent years spaces for feminist civil society have been shrinking at the global level. Yet the efforts to have feminist civil society voices heard continue at both national and regional levels. This thesis explores how feminist civil society actors in the Pacific are responding to backlash and shrinking space. In particular, it focuses on the activities these actors undertake to build and strengthen regional alliances and identifies the conditions under which these alliances can help form a collective vision – a vision which is shared across the region, yet at the same time recognises the diversity within the region.
Empirically, the thesis draws on semi-structured interviews with feminist civil society actors and key representatives of regional institutions, as well as document analysis of gender statements from various organisations and institutions in the Pacific region. In order to develop a better understanding of feminist civil society activities and their impact in the region, the thesis focuses on two recent initiatives in the Pacific: the Pacific Feminist Forum and the We Rise Coalition. Both initiatives have a particular focus on the regional level, and they both seek to consolidate and amplify the feminist voices in the region for the purposes of building feminist alliances.
A close analysis of these two initiatives offers crucial insights into the processes, prospects and challenges of building regional alliances. More specifically, this analysis shows that Pacific women build alliances and enact solidarity (‘sisterhood’) in the region by emphasising the negotiated, strategic and intersectional aspects of these practices. The negotiated nature of the Pacific feminist identity is illustrated in the ways Pacific women combine unity with diversity and build inclusive regional feminist alliances with significant impact at both regional and global levels. It is also manifested in the way feminist civil society actors enact solidarity which is plural, strategic and fluid, and which emphasises the constant negotiation process involved in building feminist alliances and making them work.
The thesis reveals that sisterhood or solidarity is not a given. It needs to be actively created and re-created by the actors on the ground. Drawing on these insights, the thesis also shows that an alternative way of understanding and enacting regionalism is both possible and desirable in the Pacific. The thesis shifts the attention from formal institutions to civil society initiatives and identifies the conditions under which such initiatives can have an impact at both regional and global levels. While the thesis primarily focuses on feminist organisations, it also offers important insights for other organisations and networks which seek to form collective action at the regional level .