Feb 23, 2018 Last Updated 5:27 AM, Feb 19, 2018

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.

WOMEN’S economic empowerment in the Pacific Islands region remains a key challenge, as women continue to experience limited job opportunities, remain under-represented in management positions and face weak employment and social protection mechanisms, particularly in the private sector.

Colin Tukuitonga, director general of the Pacific Community in his opening address at the 13th Triennial Conference, said the high-level representation from various countries and territories, the participation of partners from civil society and support of their development partners was timey as they work towards finalizing their Pacific Headline Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals, under the leadership of the CROP Sustainable Development Working Group.

“This provides us with an opportunity to ensure we have the right statistics and information to measure and evaluate progress towards gender equality and track how our region is doing in terms of advancing the economic empowerment of women, against our own national and regional frameworks and at the global level,” Tukuitonga said.

The Triennial conference and Pacific Ministers for Women meeting is the only regional platform that gives women the space to deliberate on challenges relating to advancing gender equality; and to explore solutions that as a region, we can all take on board to address the barriers that continue to stall progress for gender equality in the Pacific.

Participants were reminded to consider how they can make proactive use of this platform this week, to progress their national and regional agenda for gender equality as appropriate, within their countries and territories building to the regional level and ultimately the global stage.

More than 200 women from 21 pacific island countries and territories will deliberate on ways to ensure that our region’s economies grow with strategies for women’s economic empowerment.

Since 1947, SPC has responded to their members needs for scientific technical assistance and capacity strengthening, including social science which encompasses social inclusion and gender equality.

SPC, as the oldest of the CROP family member continues to lead and prioritize the advancement of gender equality in the region, as part of our business and mandate.

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