The Pacific Feminist Fund, the first stand-alone regional fund for Pacific women’s rights organisations was launched Monday in Fiji, by feminist Pacific development geographer, Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem.

Professor Underhill-Sem said many attempts to direct and/or increase resources for women have been made in the past, like the solidarity banking in New Caledonia and financial services for women living in rural Solomon Islands. These attempts, she said, offered the region success stories and lessons.

“There has also been a lot of learnings, the most important being the need to create an independent Pacific Feminist Fund, to facilitate engagement with new financing modalities and to improve the transparency of funding data so that dialogues with Pacific women’s organisations are more informed and inclusive,” Professor Underhill-Sem, who is also one of the four trustees, said.

“We are convinced that this model will address the stagnating and declining funding for women’s empowerment in the Pacific. The percentage of total Australian Aid to the Pacific that was directed to gender equality and women’s empowerment activities only slightly increased from 50 percent in 2012 (when the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration was signed) to 51 per cent in 2017 (half way through the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Project). The Pacific Feminist Fund has emerged from the confluence of these patterns, innovatively thinking globally.

“Amidst the diversity of peoples that constitute the Pacific, the politics of indigeneity, race and climate change will continue to add further complexities. However, our understanding of gendered power relations in the Pacific shows that patriarchal privilege prevails to the detriment of women regardless of the hue of their skin, the superiority of their skill or knowledge, the quality of their education or their leadership potential. While it may take generations to transform this – the PFF will be ensure the pulse of feminist hearts remain strong and fuelled by resources that will make a difference.”

Professor Underhill-Sem acknowledged Pacific feminists who laid the foundations on which today’s feminists and women’s rights advocates continue to build on, for the full realisation of women’s rights and gender equality as human rights.

The most recent available data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries’ aid projects shows that of the total funding targeting gender equality and women’s empowerment, only 1.6 percent went directly to women’s equality organisations and institutions. While aid integrating gender equality is increasing overall, funding for dedicated gender equality programs lags behind. Of the USD$1.6 billion in gross aid disbursements to the Pacific by OECD DAC members in 2017, US$13.3 million gross disbursements were made to WROs, a mere US$2.5 million gross disbursements were made directly to local, Pacific WROs.

Grantmaking supports these community organisations realise their full potential. The agenda belongs to the women’s organisation. Apart from the grant and some technical advisories, entities like the Pacific Feminist Fund do not influence the grantees in any other way.

The modality used for such funds accommodates organisational (small) sizes and minimal capacity to manage human and monetary resources. Grantmaking is an enabling lever for women’s organisations making a difference in communities and in families which are usually left behind because they do not meet the prerequisites of bigger, traditional donors.

“The origins and beginnings of an independent fund that is mandated by the Pacific women’s and feminist movement is political. It means that we are first and foremost accountable to the movement. “The presence of the home-grown women’s funds in the Pacific, that are situated and led within the Pacific movement is important. In 2017, the establishment of the Women’s Fund Fiji and Urgent Action Fund Asia and Pacific was hugely celebrated. And now we have the Pacific Feminist Fund. Now with the launch of the Pacific Feminist Fund in 2023, a new fierce and bold feminist fund. It’s ground breaking!!,” Michelle Reddy, the Pacific Feminist Fund Co-Lead said.

The Pacific Feminist Fund is registered as a Charitable Board of Trustees in New Zealand and will also register in Samoa. The Board of Trustees is made up of Pacific feminists, Yvonne Underhill-Sem, Teretia Tokam. Virisila Buadromo and Ofa Ki-Levuka Likiliki Guttenbeil.