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Grievance Mechanism to address gender based risks in forest communities

The Fijian Government, supported by the World Bank and the Forest Partnership Facility (FCPF), has developed the first-ever Feedback, Grievance and Redress Mechanism addressing gender based risks (FGRM+) within the national Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme. REDD+ was introduced in Fiji in 2009 and the REDD+ readiness phase has since been implemented through a multi-stakeholder approach. The Ministry of Forestry is the lead agency for implementation while the Ministry of Economy is the lead financial agency. 

The Ministry of Forestry since 2020 worked closely with WI-HER and Marstel Day’s project under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded global grant challenge on Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE), to integrate Gender Based Violence (GBV) considerations within the initial Feedback, Grievance and Redress Mechanism (FGRM) for REDD+ established in 2018 after nation-wide stakeholder engagement and consultation.

The FGRM was designed in 2018 taking into consideration both formal and informal networks for redress. The design process included strategic choices based on purpose and functionality of the FGRM, as well as integrating the mechanism into the National REDD+ Strategy.

The FGRM was designed to be used to respond to the concerns, complaints, disputes, and any other contentious issues that arise during the readiness and implementation phases of Fiji’s National REDD+ Programme.

The mechanism promotes and facilitates a two-way communication process between landowners and Government and serves as an effective outreach process to local communities.

This FGRM will function to complement existing structures that serve to reduce conflict on issues related to land use, land tenure, and land management whilst promoting mutually constructive relationships and building trust. In support of this mechanisms purpose has been the design of standard feedback and grievance redress forms in close consultation with the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development, the National Disaster Management Office, REDD+ Steering Committee (RSC) members, and project beneficiaries.

The FGRM is a community-based mechanism that is user friendly amongst REDD+ stakeholders with flexible procedures bridging the formal and customary overlaps of rights and interests representation.

Gender empowerment and transformation into conservation

With funding from USAID’s RISE Challenge, Marstel-Day and WI-HER in partnership with the University of the South Pacific, the Fiji Environmental Law Association, Live & Learn Environmental Education, and Fiji’s REDD+ Programme, the consortium has used WI-HER’s proven approach to integrate gender (iDARE) to improve the FGRM so that it better addresses gender-based risks and GBV as a result of payment for ecosystem services programming, like REDD+.

The FGRM facilitates two-way communication between communities and national government agencies or companies to solve issues arising from REDD+ programming through formalized dialogue.

In Fiji, 64% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence (double the global average), with a higher prevalence in intimate partner violence (IPV) in rural areas, including among affected iTaukei women. REDD+ Communications Specialist Reama Naco acknowledged that while she knew GBV was an issue, she was not aware of how it related to conservation or REDD+ at the beginning.

“Now I see environmental conservation as one of the avenues we can leverage to respond or react or mitigate gender based violence. It was something new for me, but it has made me realize that if we can help this problem of GBV in Fiji through this sector, then we should.”

Engaging the Government and local communities on FGRM+

As part of the project, the FGRM+ team were engaged in multi-stakeholder meetings with government representatives, civil society, statutory bodies, faith-based organizations, private sector, and local leaders and communities that for the first time included oftenmarginalized populations. Having all these actors engaged helped them update the FGRM harmoniously and with consensus and collaboration.

Permanent Secretary for Forestry Pene Baleinabuli explains that the support for the integration of GBV in the FGRM took time, but both the Government officials and other stakeholders including the provincial officers and village leaders are accepting to having more open discussions and recognition of GBV and to help find ways to resolve it.

“Government’s involvement in this activity is to only ensure that all voices are being heard and addressed and that no one is left behind. We understand very well the importance of a community-driven approach for successful conservation.

“Thanks to their involvement and the trust generated with communities, they have been able to take ownership of the process and identify solutions that really respond to their needs in terms of GBV prevention and response.

“The Ministry of Forestry’s interest is to ensure that the grievance mechanism works and to make sure that there are processes in place and tools to help move the process forward and maintain the trust between all stakeholders involved.

“This is critical to the successful implementation of forest conservation.

“While the Ministry is no expert in gender, addressing GBV within conservation is an area that we will continue to explore to build collaboration and to advance progress.

“As a way forward, the Ministry is fully engaged with the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation in addressing gender equality issues and this should translate to addressing GBV as well.”

“The purpose of the FGRM+ is certainly not to replace existing GRMs, rather it is designed to complement and provide an alternative path towards resolving conflicts,” Mr Baleinabuli said.

The Ministry of Forestry acknowledges the contributions towards the development of the FGRM+ by the many stakeholders including local consultants the late Mereseini Seniloli and legal expert, Mr Ulaisi Baya. 

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