Apr 11, 2021 Last Updated 4:12 AM, Apr 8, 2021

THE Fiji NGO Coalition on CEDAW has said as Fiji moves towards another election, it must show that a robust constitutional democracy has replaced all vestiges of authoritarian rule. In their written submission to CEDAW, the NGO Coalition report states “authoritarian military presence remains,” and women’s political rights and participation, both at the local and national level, will continually be constrained. “In 2018, the Fijian elections will serve as a benchmark of whether women have the political agency and opportunity to engage at the political level or whether they will continue to be marginalised from public life,” the NGO Coalition said.

CEDAW was informed Fijian women continue to face wide gender disparities in Fiji. Based on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index of 2015, Fiji ranked at 121st out of 142 countries. By Anish Chand “In the last five years, Fiji’s rank has declined from 108 to 121.5 These results indicate that women’s progress, specifically in the economic and political empowerment sphere are severely curtailed,” the NGO Coalition said.

CEDAW was told the Fijian 2013 Constitution has not expressly adopted CEDAW’s definition of “discrimination” and makes no explicit reference to women. “Both the CEDAW Committee and women’s rights NGOs agree that a general equality provision is insufficient to cover the intersecting structural factors that continually impede women’s progress. 

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THE number of sexual violence reports in general and particularly against children in Fiji has skyrocketed, according to statistics released by the country’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office. This year alone has seen 112 cases of children under 18-years-old being victims of rape and sexual abuse. Jarring statistics have also come to light in a report prepared under the Fiji Health Sector Support Programme (FHSSP) late last year, revealing 14,052 sexual offences reported to police between 2011 and 2015 involving adolescents.

This included 1259 rapes of girls and 212 rapes of boys under the age of 18. The report also noted a dramatic increase of rape of younger children aged between 6 and 12 years old age group from 146 victims in 2014 to 166 victims in 2015. These alarming figures no doubt leads one to question the surge of cases flooding Rise in sex crimes in Fiji media reports and with that, the current state of society when it comes to protecting children.

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Fiji lacks data

 FIJI lacks the data to drive and inform policy-making, a challenge that was identified during the four-day 13 Triennial Conference of Pacific Women at Novotel, in Lami.

Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Fiji Mereseini Vuniwaqa said there were key issues collateral to the empowerment of women, gender based violence which they were grappling in Fiji.

She said there would be a multi-sectoral approach, from different sectors, in infrastructure, in health and other sectors of the economy that will impact on the empowerment of women.

“So I am very happy with the outcomes document and the revised PPA and I am certain that we can go back now as a ministry and as a country to revisit what we have been doing and use the yardsticks that has been provided at this forum as a way to do a preliminary evaluation of what we are doing so far and what we can do better,” Vuniwaqa said.

“Apart from setting a roadmap on next steps, it also allows us as a government to measure what we have been doing so far, whether that is the direction that the region, as an entity taking and what it is that we can do differently and do better.”

According to Pacific Community (SPC) Director General Colin Tukuitonga, empowerment and gender equality have been the subject of talks within Pacific Island countries for decades, but somehow remain “ sluggish”.

While analaysing the outcome of the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and Sixth Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women meeting, Tukuitonga said the document became the navigation chart or road map because it contained the collective submissions on what countries regarded as important.

“So for us now the challenge is set up funds, partnerships, the relationships, the resources that we need to make this happen,” Tukuitonga said.

“I am encouraged in particular with the endorsement of the pacific action plan and I am a little impatient with policy that is not followed with action.”

Tukuitonga, however, was keen on some actions which actually help Pacific Island countries to move forward despite the SPC viewing the outcomes document as a shopping list.

He said the document gave guidance on what participants regarded as important and what was needed to move this agenda forward.

APPROXIMATELY 80per cent of all market vendors in the Pacific are women, and these earnings make up a significant portion of incomes of many poor households.

In spite of their contribution to the local economy and to markets, women are often excluded from market governance and decision-making

“Though people see market vendors as ordinary women, their contribution in terms of the money earned and contributed to the economy is very important,” said Maureen Sariki, President of Honiara City MVA in Solomon Islands.

Women leaders of market vendor associations (MVA) from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, shared their stories of hardship and success at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women in Suva

As President of the MVA, Ms Sariki has built strong relationships with the local government resulting in market vendors now being consulted in the development of market budgets and plans.

Also from Solomon Islands, Janet Ramo, President of the Auki MVA, says that before the Markets 4 Change (M4C) project, “[the women of Malaita] don’t have an understanding and discipline of the importance of saving – many are intimidated by formal banking – also there is almost no interest and the fees are high.”

In response, Ms Ramo used the structure of the market vendor association, plus the skills learned in M4C financial literacy training to start a local savings and loan scheme and a cooperative store – improving accessibility of financial services to market vendors and encouraging saving and investment in livelihoods.

“With this project, I see myself as a business woman – I no longer look down on myself – I am happy,” added Ms Ramo.

When asked about the success of the MVAs, Ms Sariki said “market managers are now referring issues from market vendors back to the MVA to resolve, we are leaders and have the power to make decisions.”

Leisavi, from Port Vila, Vanuatu, started as a market vendor but quickly became interested in joining the MVA.

As Vice President of Silae Vanua market, she participated in trainings on financial literacy, agriculture, communications and leadership, as well as attended workshops on disaster resilience and helped organize events.

“I want to learn more, so I applied to the Australia Pacific Technical College (APTC) and I was lucky to be selected to study Certificate 4 on Community Development” said Leisavi.

These women, through the MVAs, are leading, representing and advocating for the needs of all market vendors, specifically women, working in the informal economy.

“The Northern Islands have many market vendors who want to sell at the market and the MVA helps give equal time between all in the market so it is fair for everyone” said Melody Leo, Executive Committee member of Northern Islands MVA in Vanuatu, explaining the complex rotational system that the Luganville market put in place after the MVAs met and agreed on a system that would be fair to all.

Women progress slow

THERE is a staggering imbalances in the Pacific economies between women and men which clearly reflects why progressing gender equality has been slow, more so this year which is critical to the Pacific’s sustainable economic development.

And every single woman in their own countries, in their own communities, in their own clans and families need to walk the talk and make sure that they enjoy the same economic rights as men.

Kiribati Vice President Teima Onorio while addressing the delegations at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and Sixth Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women said there was solid evidence that an increase in women’s economic empowerment wouldl lead to economic growth.

“With simply can’t afford to leave out or in some cases exclude half the population out of our economies,” Ms Onorio said.

“It is bad economic policy no matter which way you look at it.”

According to Ms Onorio, women are definitely taking the lead in the Private Sector in Kiribati.

The major private businesses are all owned by women and all the daily stalls selling food and clothes are run by women.

The chamber of Commerce records show an increase of women’s individual businesses, 1116 for females and 875 males.

In the public sector, 44 percent of the total workforce is female and 38 percent is male.

In Kiribati, women from nearby outer island travel daily to the capital by boats to sell their local foods.

They have no time to sit in markets and wait for people to buy their products but walk around with their heavy buckets of food door to door at offices and homes.

“We can never imagine what these women go through but we acknowledge their courage, sacrifice and hard work just to earn for her family,” she added.

Since women make up more than half of our population, Kiribati Government strongly support the focus on empowering women as it makes good economic sense, strengthens economic development, foster economic growth and nation building.

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