Savaira and Amani took each other’s hands and exchanged marriage vows. Having been declared married, the couple then signed the register, along with their two witnesses and the Registrar.
Savaira and Amani had been together as partners for over seven years. They live in Amani’s village in Namosi, in the interior of Fiji’s main island.
Every morning they walk for over an hour up into the mountains, where they grow root crops and vegetables. Once a week they go to town to sell their produce. It takes three hours by bus each way from their village to the town.
“I had no time at all to seek government assistance. Here, we face so many hardships in terms of earning money. It’s not that easy. And because of the hardships we faced, our marriage was delayed,” said Savaira.
Their civil wedding ceremony was conducted in a unique way. It was organized inside a bus, which was ‘a mobile office’, custom designed and equipped to provide social services such as the registration of births, deaths and marriages.
Amani said, “All the officers from the different government departments were in the village hall. Everything that we needed was right there. So, we just got ready. She dressed in her jaba (long dress for women) and I put on my shirt and we went down to the village hall.”
Together with their fellow villagers, Savaira and Amani received the team of government officers at their village hall. They participated in awareness raising on the social, economic and legal rights enshrined in Fiji’s Constitution. The villagers were provided with immediate access to public services associated with these rights.
Amani and Savaira were among 18,432 Fijian who have accessed social services through the Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) for Rural and Urban Fijians Project. The REACH Project is coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and supported by the Government of Japan and UNDP.
“The evening we got married, she felt so emotional because she finally knew deep down that she was now married to me,” said Amani.
“We got back home and prayed, thanking the Lord that it had finally happened,” added Savaira.
Formally registering a marriage in Fiji gives the couple legally recognized status, which is a key requirement when applying for probate – the legal and financial processes involved in dealing with the property, money and possessions of a partner who has passed away – or designating the partner as a nominee or beneficiary under Fiji’s National Provident Fund.
Savaira said, “I now feel that I fully belong and have a stronger commitment to the vanua (land) and the church.”
The civil registration of the marriage lifted her confidence as a member of the community and secured her legal entitlement.
The REACH initiative assists all Fijians to overcome various challenges in accessing social services as guaranteed in their constitution. It promotes increased and improved government service delivery by targeting the furthest behind first.