Making a point: Rosy Akbar on sexism in parliament

Minister Rosy Akbar (centre) with Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat officials and Ministry of Women staff. PHOTO: PIFS

On the eve of the first Pacific Women Leaders meeting, Fiji’s Minister for Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar has revealed how she deals with sexism in parliament.

“I have always spoken out to my male MPs about sexist comments in our focus party discussion, personal space, and that it does not do them good to practise sexism in parliament,” she told regional reporters this week.

“In certain circumstances, they have apologised, while in others it’s brushed aside, but I have made my point,” she said.

The alarming incidence of domestic violence in our region will be on the agenda of tomorrow’s morning.

The fact that 64% of women in Fiji are physically and sexually abused by their husbands or intimate partners reflects the reality of what women face, and how entrenched the issue is in the region.

Minister Akbar also acknowledged a recent report on sexual harassment on female journalists in the country. “Just last month, a study on sexual harassment on female journalists revealed that more than 60% of female journalists experienced sexual harassment in their workplace, and in response, Fiji is the first in the region to create a National Action Plan and the media is one of the 15 sectors addressed,” she said.

The National Action Plan (NAP) seeks to develop an evidence-based approach to prevent violence against women and children. “I have full confidence in NAP and when finalised in July, it is going to give us some real-time solutions to the problems we mentioned.”

Tomorrow’s meeting is expected to see a renewed commitment to the Pacific Islands Gender Equality Declaration.

The Pacific Islands Gender Equality Declaration was signed in Rarotonga in 2012. However, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s Director of Policy, Paki Ormsby, says, “progress has been somewhat stunted overall in terms of gender equality for a variety of reasons and it has somewhat compounded over the past two years during COVID.”

Minister Akbar says the treatment of women in the region is so culturally ingrained that it makes change challenging.

“This requires a change in mindset and, in a cultural context, it can be difficult to change the Pacific mindset as we are used to being a patriarchal society.” I guess it’s easy for me because I always speak out against it, “Akbar says.

The Minister called on the media to collaborate and engage to reduce the growing issue of sexism and violence against women and girls. “The question I want to ask is what can the media do to help us in this fight, because for change to happen we need a whole community, whole government, whole society, and I’m sure we can fight this battle if we work together in collaboration.”