Fiji National Council of Women: 'Now is the time to make a difference in shaping the nation"


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19 March 2012

I GREW up on "Once upon a time" stories and back then we did not have television so the Sunday afternoon story times by the Fiji Broadcasting Commission as well as the reading of Walt Disney classics were an enjoyable way to pass the time.  Whatever I was doing on Sunday mornings and afternoons, our parents knew that story time was a magical moment where we had to sit and listen to such magical stories.

It was here I was first introduced to Puff the Magic Dragon and other mythical creatures.  Then as I grew older, we had in our church what was known as Sunday school where we would hear of Bible characters like Moses, Samuel, David, Daniel, Naomi, Ruth, Miriam but my best female character was Esther.  As the movie world made this biblical character a screen star, I then realised the significant role, that we as women play, not only in our families but in the shaping of a nation.

We are often so caught up in daily chores and we often leave politics to our men but it took Hadasha or Queen Esther to act and the course of her nation was changed and her people were saved.  Queen Esther heeded the advice of her uncle Mordecai and through God's wisdom chartered the course of Jewish history where they were not slaughtered but saved.  You and I as women might say we are a far cry from Hadasha but have you ever thought that you were here in Fiji now for a reason and apart from being a mother and a caregiver you are here to help our men folk in setting the course of our nation.  We were put here to help and that means even in the politics and governance of our nation.

This past week has been a challenging but exciting week for Fiji as we embark into a new journey. First the government announced its road to elections via the constitution review process timeline.  Then the members of the public were invited to be part of the dialogue via the civic education and consultation culminating in the constitutional assembly in 2013.  Then the announcement that the Great Council of Chiefs is to be de-established.  The changes happening could be viewed both as a welcome move, or by another section as a peculiar move, but for those who are not moved either way, let me try to highlight some of the things that we will need to look at in the constitutional review process.

As citizens of Fiji, and as women who are the bedrock of our home, our families, our communities and our society, it is crucial that we inform people in our sphere namely our children and family members that we have a duty to uphold the law of the land.  The law of the land, has at its highest authority the constitution.  In the courts, should there be a conflict, the constitution will reign supreme so our role in ensuring that we put fair laws via the constitution process is crucial.  We must bear in mind that Fiji is a multicultural society with many cultures dwelling side by side and like any good society the importance of co-existence should be crucial.  Therefore as mothers, what are we expected to be looking at?

The constitution is quite a massive document but for each of us, the women, mothers, grandmothers, matriarchs of our families, the onus is on us to read up on past constitutions, look at other international examples and have an analysis of how we would like to see ourselves in years to come.  We do not necessarily have to look at all the articles but we need to look at crucial parts especially where our existence as women and that of our families are addressed.  We would be looking at issues in previous constitutions and see whether they were relevant such as the compact, citizenship, rights, social justice, parliament, executive government, judiciary, State service and expenditure, group rights, emergency powers, amendment of constitution and appeals process.

With the announcement of the government on the de-establishment of the Great Council of Chiefs, we also need to look at who takes over the roles of the Great Council of Chiefs in government such as the appointment of members to the senate and the appointment of the president and vice president.  Looking at the constitution will now mean that we have the opportunity to look at certain areas and raise concerns at how these areas can be improved.  Our analysis should be based on the premise of what can be improved or changed for better co-existence in Fiji. We should look at international conventions and see their relevance to our context as women .  In previous constitutional consultations and researches, women were not represented as much in consultations so it is therefore important that when we are given all the help to access the consultations that our voices be heard and our views on how we wish to see our land governed in generations to come be recorded and reflected in the consultations.  For citizenship, we could be looking at dual citizenship. What are the rights of my child if I am a foreign woman and have a child from a Fijian man?  In rights, we could refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the rights of the child, rights of women, rights of iTaukei and see how this could be incorporated in our constitution.  In social justice, we could be more mindful of ensuring that social justice and affirmative action is taken.  In parliament, we need to be mindful of constituent boundaries, electoral boundaries, how many representatives are expected to stand for elections and most importantly how many should be women.  We need to assess whether we need a quota for women, new electoral policies for political party registration regarding women candidates or temporary measures to ensure women get elected into parliament.  In the executive government, we will need to state how we wish to have appointments into the senate or even the appointment of the president and vice president as these were domains of our chiefs in the GCC.

We also need to look at the roles of different arms of government and accountability.  We need to look at group rights and ensure the customary rights of all the people residing in our land are taken into consideration as we have become more cosmopolitan in nature while still ensuring the rights of the iTaukei.  We also need to ensure that the emergency powers and the amendments to the constitution as well as repeals be commented on.

We as women in Fiji at this point in time, in the course of our nation's history are not here by chance.  We have, just like Hadasha or Queen Esther, been ordained to be here for a season and for a reason.  We have the divine role of nurturing our families but now it is also our role to chart the course of our nation and speak up about the constitution. You and I will be held accountable for this in years to come.  Will you be like Hadasha and say you charted a positive path as you contributed to the drafting of a new constitution or will you be like Lot's wife who only thought of the past and instead of moving forward chose to remain in the past and was turned into stone?

* Fay Volatabu is the general secretary for the National Council of Women Fiji. Email: secretary@ncwfiji.org or ncwfgs1@gmail.com.

[Fiji Times - Fay Volatabu]

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