By Adebimpe M. Femi-Oyewo
Empowering a woman empowers a nation – this was recognized by women who were present at the recent Fiji National Women’s Expo and had the opportunity to access social, economic and legal services provided by the Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) for Rural and Urban Fijians Project.
Akanisi Tawa, President of Natogo Wise Women’s Club, Tavua, Western Division found an opportunity to apply for a ‘Care and Protection’ support through REACH mobile services at the Expo.
“I am a mother of four children and also a grandmother. I sell vegetables at Tavua market and some handicrafts through our women’s club. Those are our source of income, which is barely enough to support my family,” she said.
“I was explained the documents required to apply for the assistance. And then I was assisted by a Legal Aid Commission officer immediately and provided with further assistance. I was given the statutory declaration to submit for my application”.
“I am hopeful that my application will be accepted this time. I am glad that I took the opportunity provided through the REACH Project,” she smiled.
Empowering women has a positive impact on their families and communities at large. Access to information, social, economic and legal services gives Fijian women a sense of boldness towards change.
The Expo organized by the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, brought women artisans to Suva, the capital city of Fiji and provided the platform to showcase their handicrafts and other products with the objective to promote their talent and provide them with access to new marketing opportunities. It included information and awareness raising sessions on health awareness and check-ups, financial products and climate change.
475 artisan women from the Western, Northern, Eastern, and Central Divisions of Fiji, many of whom are from rural and remote maritime communities, are now confident to make a positive change in their lives after the Expo.
Women and visitors at the Expo were able to meet and consult officers from the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Legal Aid Commission and Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission who were part of the REACH mobile service team. The REACH Bus, also referred to as a ‘mobile office’ was showcased at the Expo and used by the team to deliver REACH services to remote and rural communities.
Women were also informed of their constitutional rights through videos featured in three languages - English, iTaukei and Hindi.
Mr. Seremaia K Waqainabete, the Deputy Director, Legal Aid Commission said, “During these outreach programs, the Legal Aid Commission has been providing services such as free legal advice, information on the rights of citizens under the Constitution, free witnessing of documents like birth certificates, academic transcripts, as well as assist in the filling of legal aid application forms for those seeking assistance.”
Amelia Diwabau was another who made a positive step to improve her situation.
“I am from Mudu Village in Koro Island. The Tropical Cyclone Winston was devastating and destroyed my house, and so I currently stay in Suva with my four children and parents.”
“The officer advised me what documents I need to submit to apply for the family assistance so I could continue sending my children to school as well as looking after my parents. I like this service provided while we are here.”
Hon. Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation talked to women and said, “It is very important that in times where we are striving to promote women’s economic empowerment, we create an equitable enabling environment for our women.”
“Under the coordination of the REACH Project, we saw this time as an opportune to bring to you essential services that you may not be able to easily access,” she added.
Mr. Ashwin Raj, the Director of Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, who took part in the awareness raising activities with the women participants, encouraged them, “Every Fijian has the right to know exactly what these rights are and how to access institutions to be able to materialize those rights as well as where to seek redress when those rights have been impinged upon.”
During Expo 82 people (70 women and 12 men), accessed the services on the REACH Bus and 79 people (67 women and 12 men) acquired information and assistance at the desk during the three days of the Expo.
Mr. Bakhodir Burkhanov, Country Director and Head of Pacific Regional Policy and Programme, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji reported the result to-date, “the REACH mobile service delivery has reached 4,775 people in 48 districts across 11 of the 15 provinces in Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Divisions, on a mission to raise awareness of the social, economic and legal services available.”
Mr. Tsuguyoshi Hada Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Embassy of Japan, said, “Japan is happy with the overall progress of the REACH project since it started in 2015. I am very pleased to see that the REACH Project is a key sponsor of the Fiji National Women's Expo 2017. This is a practical contribution by the REACH Project, in line with its core objectives, which is to empower the women of Fiji.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals launched on 1 January 2016 with 17 goals, addresses the needs of people in both developed and developing countries - emphasizing that “No one should be left behind”. The REACH project will contribute particularly to achieving Goal 5: Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls and Goal 16: Promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.
The REACH Project aims to promote peace building, social cohesion and inclusiveness through awareness of rights, access to services, provision of legal advice and institutional capacity building in Fiji. The project is implemented by the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji in partnership with the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, and the Legal Aid Commission with support from the Government of Japan and UNDP.
*Adebimpe M. Femi-Oyewo is an Intern for the Effective Governance team at the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji