Power, Politics and Coalitions in the Pacific

This paper presents findings from five case studies of coalitions in the Pacific region. It aims to address gaps in our understanding of the role played by civil society and coalitions in challenging gendered power structures and promoting women’s leadership and decision-making in the Pacific. This in turn provides insights for better supporting and enabling coalitions.

Four factors emerge from the case studies as influential in the formation and functioning of coalitions.

Formative events:  What brought people together to ‘do something’ in a concerted way? For example, the torture and death of a woman in a sorcery-related violence incident, followed by extensive media coverage and a conference generated the impetus for the formation of the PNG coalition examined in this study. Whether formative events are locally or externally driven appears to mould the future shape of a coalition and how it functions.

Shared purpose, interests and values: Clarity of shared ground and common purpose helps coalitions increase their support base, coherence and influence. The dominant forms of common purpose identified by this study are shared values and interests. For example, the Fiji case study illustrates how shared values around universal human rights and a common purpose of fighting a constitutional amendment bound together a broad range of actors to challenge gender relations.

Forms of leadership:  The nature of a coalition’s leadership can determine its sustainability and its ability to respond to changing circumstances, broker relationships and divergent interests, and challenge vested interests.  This study found that some coalitions understood and practised leadership as a process of adaptation; others understood leadership to be a characteristic of leaders.  For example, the Tonga Talitha case study revealed efforts to divest and decentralise leadership to overcome the limitations of individual leadership.

The nature of ownership: The degree to which a coalition’s agenda is locally owned and its ways of working are politically salient appears to be key to determining its effectiveness. This study found that the coalitions examined could be broadly characterised as local/hybrid variations. For example, the Kiribati coalition formed following a regional meeting and was initially supported by international donors. However, it quickly became ‘localised’ because its coordinator and members were I-Kiribati and they set its agenda and direction.

The report also discusses how the coalitions engage with different dimensions of power, and emerging lessons for coalitions and their supporters.

About the authors (2016)

  • Gillian Fletcher is a Research Fellow with the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce at La Trobe University.
  • Tait Brimacombe is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Human Security and Social Change.
  • Chris Roche is Associate Professor and the Director of the Institute for Human Security and Social Change as well as the Chair in International Development and Senior Research Partner with the Developmental Leadership Program.

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