When emergency strikes in Fiji, Ilisapeci is one of the first humanitarian responders to leap into action.
She works for the Rainbow Pride Foundation, one of CARE’s local partners. They are an organisation dedicated to making sure LGBTIQ+ communities are protected and represented – as well as supported during a crisis like the pandemic.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across Fiji, Ilisapeci and her team at Rainbow Pride Foundation have been delivering support which is tailored to people of all genders and sexual orientations – considerations which are often overlooked during fast-paced emergency response planning.
Like many Pacific nations, Fiji’s traditional customs can make life difficult for the vulnerable communities Rainbow Pride Foundation represents. So the perspectives and sensitivities that Ilisapeci brings are especially vital.
“Having endured discrimination for my sexual identity and orientation – from my own family and church – I know there is a need to educate our Fijian communities,” Ilisapeci explains. “Being a bisexual woman, I am so proud to be the voice for diverse women who face violence, stigma and discrimination just because of who we are. I will fight for our human rights – in all spaces – so that we are recognised and respected as human beings.”
Indeed, Rainbow Pride Foundation does fight for equality at all levels of Fijian society. Based on their extensive research, published in their Down by The River report, they make efforts to affect change at government, community, and individual levels. This involves educating government officials on the importance of considering diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics in policymaking; running training sessions with community groups to increase the understanding and needs of their LGBTIQ members; and linking individual survivors of homophobic or transphobic violence with support sysyems and legal options to help them seek justice.
Ilisapeci’s emergency response work with CARE takes her to remote communities to provide support to people who might have nowhere else to turn – especially when domestic violence is involved. And the recent outbreak of COVID-19 across Fiji has seen the number of calls to the Women’s Crisis Centre triple – because lockdowns are keeping vulnerable people at home with their abusers.
It’s those people who keep Ilisapeci motivated to continue doing her work, and continue fighting for a more inclusive Fiji.
“Hearing the stories and challenges that LGBTIQ people face every day encourages me to advocate more for the rights of my community. I have had enough of the bullying and the beliefs in traditions and norms. Let’s not forget we are human beings as well, and we have every right to live our lives and make our own choices. I especially want our young members to feel empowered to stand up for themselves and fight for their human rights.”
CARE is proud to partner with Rainbow Pride Foundation in Fiji because, like us, they stand for equal rights and opportunities – for all people.
Read more about our work towards gender equality here.
Image © The Rainbow Pride Foundation