Isis International is saddened to hear of the loss of a pioneering feminist in the Pacific and international women's movements.

Ruth Lechte at the International Women's Tribune Mexico City, 1975
Ruth Lechte at the International Women's Tribune Mexico City, 1975

Peace activist, feminist and environmentalist
By Anne S. Walker Ph.D, AM.
With input from Diane Goodwillie, Mark and Stephen Garrett

Ruth Elizabeth Lechte, peace activist, feminist and environmentalist, has died in Coolum, Queensland following a stroke.

Ruth was born in Melbourne, Australia, and attended the Methodist Ladies College (Kew). She taught science at Korowa Girls School before training as a social worker and youth worker at Westhill College, Selly Oak, Birmingham, UK. In 1962, she and Anne S. Walker went to Fiji at the invitation of a group of local women, to be the first staff of the Fiji YWCA.

With Amelia Rokotuivuna of Fiji, they worked throughout the 1960s with local women leaders to establish multiracial kindergartens and more than 50 youth and women's clubs. Activities included vocational training, public affairs, music and drama, crafts and art, and multiracial sports clubs in netball, softball, cricket and tennis.

The Fiji YWCA was instrumental in supporting and organizing the Pacific region nuclear-free movement following the start of nuclear tests in Mururoa, French Polynesia, in 1968. The Fiji YWCA, along with students from the newly formed Pacific Theological College and the University of the South Pacific, organised one of the first marches in Suva against the testing. The YWCA was also deeply involved in activities leading to Fiji's independence and in 1970, Ruth, Amelia and Anne were honoured with the Fiji Independence Medal .

When Amelia took over as General Secretary of the Fiji YWCA in 1974, Ruth became Pacific Area Secretary of the World YWCA. She advised women's groups, independence movements and youth initiatives region-wide, working with local women in several Pacific countries.

Ruth then worked with the World YWCA in the international portfolio of Environment and Appropriate Technology. Based in Geneva, Switzerland and Nadi, Fiji, she contributed to women's small business and service initiatives in more than 80 different countries. She served on the Board of the Environment Liaison Centre, Nairobi, Kenya and with the World YWCA and the International Women's Tribune Centre, organized displays on women's technologies and science during the NGO Forums at the UN World Conferences on Women held in Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).

After Ruth's retirement from the World YWCA, she worked on an environment education program for the Fiji Department of the Environment, was a Trustee for Fiji Women's Crisis Centre and the Fiji Traditional Healers Association (Wainimate), and supported young women and environment programs. She also assisted United Nations programs for women through UNIFEM in their Women and Politics training in Fiji, Vanuatu, East Timor, and Fiji and co-ordinated a Pacific Islands regional women in science and technology study. Ruth was awarded an Order of Fiji in the General Division in 1995, and an Order of Vanuatu in 2009 for "duties of great responsibility to the people of Vanuatu."

In June 2002, Ruth and her partner Diane Goodwillie moved to Coolum Beach, Queensland. They teamed up with the Coolum District Coast Care Group to volunteer for practical projects to protect the Sunshine Coast dunes, rocky foreshore, rivers, mountains and wetlands and to educate the public about biodiversity and the environment. They were founding volunteers at the Coolum Community Native Nursery and volunteered for national parks service in Epping Scientific Park, Lady Musgrave Island and Heron Island. They also supported the formation of young women's programs, including the YWCA in Timor Leste.

Ruth is remembered by friends and colleagues worldwide as a forthright spokesperson on behalf of the causes in which she believed and in support of the people she loved. She was a friend and mentor to young people and was devoted to her family and the children and grandchildren of her friends. Among her many interests was a passionate love of gardening, classical music, birds, cricket and her beloved Essendon Bombers.

Ruth is survived by Diane Goodwillie, her partner of 34 years, her niece Robyn and family Duncan, Nick, Tom and Alex Goode, nephew Rodney Lechte and her cousin Lisa Corben and family.


Notes on Author:
Anne S. Walker worked with Ruth E. Lechte at the Fiji YWCA from 1962-1972 and was later Executive Director of the International Women's Tribune Centre in New York for 26 years, returning to Melbourne in 2003.

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