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Noelene Nabulivou leads Diverse Voices and Actions for Equality (DIVA), in Fiji. A veteran advocate and activist for women's empowerment intertwined with LGBTIQ rights, climate justice and other interlinked issues, she spoke at the Asia-Pacific launch of UNFPA's flagship State of World Population Report 2021, My Body is My Own - the first-ever United Nations report on bodily autonomy. This is a transcript of her prepared remarks, as delivered on May 20, 2021.


Good morning, afternoon or evening,  Representatives of Governments of France and Mexico and others online and in Thailand, UNFPA, UN Women and Generation Equality Forum partners, civil society, friends:


I’m speaking to you from Fiji, a small island state in the centre of the Pacific Ocean covering a quarter of the surface of the Earth, with 22 island states and territories. I would like to share 8 key points in 8 minutes and some personal insights, as requested. This is knowledge from activist movements in which I live and work daily:

As reflected in the Beijing+25 feminist declaration there are some essential tasks for States and all of us, I cannot get to in any detail, but shared here in chat and afterward on our Facebook page.


*Post in Chat: URLs to the 3 documents, and text (at base of this document)


Here are 8 key points, and some personal reflections in this limited time:


First - Every human being needs to stand equitably alone and equitably with others, in order to survive, thrive and be free and equal. Bodily autonomy and integrity is essential to both aspects. At DIVA for Equality we talk about doing the work of breaking and building toward better futures.


Second - In order to achieve freedom to be oneself, and to relate safely and openly with others, liberation must be experienced on all territories, our own body, other bodies, collectivities of bodies, institutions and entire societies. It is about liberation, peace and balance in our species, other species, ecosystems and the entire ecosphere, this living planet.


Third - Why change? Some will always be in power, others not? I facilitate hundreds of workshops and training sessions every year, on SOGIESC, gender justice and human rights at universities, in local community groups, with governments, anywhere. Questions always include, ‘Why should we change” ‘What about men’s rights?’ ‘What if my religion tells me x or y people are bad?’ And so on.


I have 2 answers to help: First, this is ultimately a question of universal equity and justice. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, poverty is not normal. Nor is inequity.  Secondly, all else aside, these old systems built on racist imperialism, coloniality, might is right, patriarchy, radical capitalism and its military-industrial arms, religious separatism and heteronormativity - they have not worked. Look at the evidence. 8 white men own the same wealth as 60% of the rest of the population, 90% of coral reefs are dying or dead, 3/4 of all freshwater species extinct, 70 % of rainforests gone, and 150-200 species a day becoming extinct. Small island states facing existential crisis and disappearance in our lifetimes. Bees and insects, the entire mammal population under threat. In my own country, 2 in 3 women facing intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, and 84% of LBTQ women and gender non-binary people facing violence because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a death culture on this living planet. We must refuse it and build another. Say no, and say yes to new, just systems.


But so many cannot work for this change without retribution. Whether one’s very life is criminalised, as with LGBTQI people in 71 countries and territories; to  female genital mutilation, domestic and intimate partner violence; child, early and forced marriage; to the structural violences from one’s sexuality, caste, poverty, land grabs, environmental disasters, climate injustice, specific exacerbated violence, stigma and exclusion faced by Indigenous peoples,  transgender and gender non-binary people, people with disabilities, sex workers, and so many more.


Fourth. To achieve enough positive change in time, we must see a civilisational system change. We must uproot gender inequality and other oppression, and transform social and economic structures that maintain them. Or we will not survive, as now recognised by an absolute majority of scientists.


Fifth. This means those who have been gaining most from old, archaic, inequalities within and between countries and territories, must now work hardest for change.  All men, and especially those holding the most power at the top of old patriarchal pyramids, white people who gained most from imperialism and coloniality; the corporations and radical capitalists, religious fundamentalists using might and fear of a punitive God to dominate others;


Sixth. It is easy to write text on justice, but much harder to give up power and empower others for change toward justice. Who has the right to work for change without retribution? Who does not? Who has sovereignty at bodily and societal level, and not? What legislation, domestic and foreign policy policies specifically enable change? Many heard today and in the report.


Seventh. We can save ourselves and ameliorate if not repair all the damage already done but we need a reconfiguration of States and societies. Hence excitement about this report. People cannot move change without agency, without human rights, without deep democracy. They must exercise free, prior and informed consent; autonomy over their lives including  their sexualities, identities and bodies, desires and pleasures free from all types of  discrimination, coercion and violence.


Eighth. Changes to legislation and policy, inside states, are important, as are changes in homes, communities, workplaces and more. Work continues on SOGIESC and SRHR including work to decriminalize, destigmatize and increase access to abortion for all people who  can become pregnant, including by expanding their capacity to self-manage  abortion, guaranteeing the right to accurate and quality information on  abortion, and eliminating barriers to abortion; also the long-term work of prevention and service provision on SGBV; [ And many more I have no time to speak, but on Chat and in my longer written remarks. On unpaid care, domestic and communal work, decent work, social floors, social protection and infrastructure, addressing mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage at local and national levels linked to regional and global CC, DRR and humanitarian work.]


We must also move quickly away from fossil fuels to safe, affordable and renewable energy democracy; hold IFIs and entire development systems more accountable; change unfair, inequitable micro and macro-economic systems including the work right now for vaccine justice as an expansive agenda beyond just the struggle for countries can freely develop, expand and utilize local resources and technology to manufacture vaccines, and about addressing older, broader inequity of a handful of barely regulated for-profit companies control the world’s access to vaccines and therapeutics. Saying no to inequalities within and between countries.


I was asked to weave into this presentation, my own story and activism. I have tried to do this through the 8 points above but more to close:


I’m a cis woman, lesbian, a mother, aunt, feminist activist and organiser from a small island state. I am of Indigenous Fijian descent through my father’s side, and settler European descent in Australia through my mother. I’ve been working on issues of social, economic, ecological and climate justice since I was a young activist at 17 years old, and I’m now 53 years old.


I’ve faced, with others, a lifetime of State and non-state oppressions and pressures to make myself smaller, to be softer, conform and capitulate, to fit within a heteronormative patriarchy. As a younger woman, I was brutally bashed by a stranger and left with my mouth and chin split open. I have been assaulted, spat at on the street, verbally abused and called names because of my sexuality, had my house stoned, rejected from family and close friends and their families. I am not able to marry the woman I love in my own country, so I did it elsewhere. I cannot formally adopt as a family unit, even though our home is loving and quite functional, unlike many heteronormative ones. There are many state and corporate services I cannot access, and safety and security concerns as LGBTI activists not felt by mainstream  civil society. But I also have a very supportive set of parents and friends, and my feminist tools and movement, and that is my continued strength and resilience.


Many do not have that. 45% of young LBT people leave home or are kicked out of their childhood home before the age of 18 years. How do they build lives of bodily autonomy and integrity with such high levels of structural violence, poverty, homelessness and transience, and all its attendant problems of social, economic, ecological rights violations? It is not possible without the right and power to say yes, and no.


Feminism and heterodox progressive movements have provided me and so many others with the tools and resources to work for personal liberation, and liberation of others on all territories. The work of social movements, of those inside and outside governments, will be the change - building wider coalitions of good people to break bad systems, and building useful ones that benefit all. We are working hard to ensure more people have the tools. Including insights from this report.


This is not a naive frame, on the contrary, as Israeli philosopher Yval Harari says, ‘We have no real idea how you feminists are making such huge changes in the world, some deep shifts, from the early advances to the state on gender equality scarcely 120 years ago.’ Yes, we are far from where we need to be, and the changes are ad hoc with strong pushback from those speaking about gender ideology, as if patriarchy is not a gender ideology, pushed relentlessly on us for millennia. There are alternatives. We are building them, because we must and time is short.


In conclusion, we need a virtuous cycle of the best data, ideas and analysis, tools, adequately resourced, and to frame gender justice and universal human rights, peace and liberation as a coherent global movement. This is work in which I and others are engaged. This report is part of that work, and the ideas and work represented in this report, is of MANY who have done this work for decades.


As we approach so many tipping points on planetary boundaries, as we re-assert primacy of freedom and liberation of all bodies, of all people, we must make it crystal clear that regression must be collectively countered from text to action, that reform is not enough because it only rubs off rough edges but not the cold, dark heart of oppressive systems. For that, you need reconfiguration and transformation, a million revolutions across the planet, a million loud Yes to justice, and no to unjust systems, including patriarchy.


This reconfiguration of social, economic, ecological systems will be hard as we accelerate, but it is entirely necessary for survival of ourselves, other species and for a safe, livable planet.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak at the launch of this useful report, built on the work of so many activists in social movements globally. Thank you.





Beijing-25Feminist Declaration


Manifesto for South Feminist Organising:


DIVA 10 Tips for Grassroots Organising (2020):


Direct text post into Chat:

(Excerpt from Beijing25 Feminist Declaration)

14. Respect the rights of all individuals to exercise autonomy over their lives, including their sexualities, identities and bodies, desires and pleasures free from all types of discrimination, coercion and violence, and fully realize sexual and reproductive rights, and ensure bodily autonomy, integrity and sovereignty, by taking the following actions: 

  •  Eliminate all laws and policies that punish or criminalize same-sex intimacy, gender affirmation, abortion, HIV transmission non-disclosure and exposure, or that limit the exercise of bodily autonomy, including laws limiting legal capacity of adolescents, people with disabilities or other groups to provide consent to sex or sexual and reproductive health services or laws authorizing non-consensual abortion, sterilization, or contraceptive use;
  • Put in place affirmative measures to reduce violence, stigma and discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics, enact legal protections for LGBTQ, gender non-conforming and intersex people, and take other legal, policy, and educational measures to support individuals to exercise autonomy over their bodies and lives;
  • Ensure access to timely and quality gender affirming services and care, including all health services and ability to obtain legal gender recognition based on self-determination;
  • Ban all non-consensual, medically unnecessary, and harmful surgeries on intersex infants and any reproductive health interventions such as sterilization, contraception, and abortion performed on women or girls with disabilities without their consent;
  • Decriminalize, destigmatize and increase access to abortion for all people who can become pregnant, including by expanding their capacity to self-manage abortion, guaranteeing the right to accurate and quality information on abortion, and eliminating barriers to abortion, including by limiting the ability of health care providers to refuse services on the grounds of conscience;
  • Examine and address the shortcomings of existing laws and policies that  criminalize violations of women’s and girls’ rights to bodily integrity and  autonomy, such as female genital mutilation, domestic and intimate partner  violence, and child, early and forced marriage, in order to ensure an approach  to justice that does not further marginalize or stigmatize affected people and  communities; and invest in addressing the root causes of these violations by  replacing punitive laws with comprehensive social interventions that address  multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence, and put  survivors of violence and discrimination at the center;
  • End the criminalization and stigmatization of adolescents’ sexuality, and ensure and promote a positive approach to young people's and adolescents’ sexuality that enables, recognizes, and respects their agency to make informed and independent decisions on matters concerning their bodily autonomy, pleasure and fundamental freedoms;
  • Reform guardianship, conservatorship and mental health laws that permit forced treatment of persons with disabilities, denying their legal capacity and bodily autonomy.]