Fiji Delegation Tells Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Change Will Take Time, but New Decrees Aim to Protect Women’s Rights While Constitution is Formulated
Fiji Delegation Tells Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Change Will Take Time, but New Decrees Aim to Protect Women’s Rights While Constitution is Formulated
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
928th & 929th Meetings (AM & PM)
Fiji Delegation Tells Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Change Will Take Time,
but New Decrees Aim to Protect Women’s Rights While Constitution is Formulated
Committee Experts Urge Greater Voice for Women in Drafting New Constitution,
Express Concerns about Human Trafficking, Inadequate Health Care in Rural Areas
More than a year after the abrogation of its Constitution in April 2009, Fiji was working with a series of newly established decrees to ensure that the rights of women were protected as the South Pacific island nation shaped a new Constitution by 2012 before holding elections two years later, members of the Fiji Government delegation told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.
Introducing the country’s combined second, third and fourth periodic reports to the 23-member expert Committee that ensures States parties are complying with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, Juki Luveni, Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation, said the Government was making significant progress in reforms to advance the equality of women and protect them from adverse and unfair discrimination. Yet the Government was the first to admit, “with sincerity and humility”, its shortcomings in regard to its international obligations, and acknowledge that it had work to do to expand the advancement of women in the island nation, she added.
With a country that had both maritime and rural landscapes, members of the delegation addressing the Committee acknowledged that change and reform would take time. The focus in that was to remove the determinants that had caused upheaval in the past — there had been four coups in Fiji, and even with the pressure from the international community to enact “band-aid” solutions, those coups, which were race-based, had continued — and to then create a more stable system.
Dr. Luveni said that to ensure the protection of human rights since the State had been re-established under the Presidential Decree in 2009, the Government had promulgated numerous decrees, including the Domestic Violence Decree, the Crimes Decree, the Criminal Procedures Decree and Human Rights Commission Decree. And, in a direct move to bridge the gap between the Federal Government’s Department for Women and non-governmental organizations, the Department had created the Fiji Women’s Federation. It was meant to coordinate the programmes and activities of registered women’s non-governmental organizations, in order to help achieve gender equality and empower women throughout the islands.
The creation of several women centres, she said, would help rural women by providing a venue for meetings, training activities and health clinics, and also help them to enhance their leadership skills and prove to voters that they could manage programmes, participate in the nation’s development and become effective politicians, the delegation told the Committee. Two centres had opened since May.
Experts commended efforts under way, but urged that women be given a voice in shaping the new Constitution and that they ramp up their participation heading into the 2014 elections. The role of non-governmental organizations surfaced with the submission to the Committee of a so-called “shadow report”, written in parallel to the country’s official presentation. Saying they welcomed those reports, some Committee experts expressed concern that the authors of the “shadow report” in Fiji might face discrimination and personal persecution and victimization. The delegation assured the Committee that would not be the case.
Other concerns voiced by the panel of experts focused on human trafficking, the lack of health-care facilities for rural women and victims of sexual violence, inadequate supply of computers and textbooks in schools, women’s insufficient access to credit and the pervasiveness of patriarchal attitudes that produced a bias against women.
The delegation explained that the Government was working in all areas to help women improve their lives. It was encouraging girls to engage in non-traditional academic subjects such as engineering, draft drawing and carpentry. Programmes to help rural women use the country’s agricultural resources to earn incomes were in place, and women were targeted in a micro-enterprise scheme of the Government.
In response to questions about violence against women, the delegation said that, while there were no Government facilities for women victims of domestic violence, a non-governmental organization, the Women’s Crisis Centre, provided care for those women. The Government also had a Domestic Violence Decree in place that protected women, and the Government was training the police in that area.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 15 July, to consider the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the Russian Federation.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Fiji (document CEDAW/C/FJI/2-4). Led by Jiko Luveni, the Minister of Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation, the delegation also included Salote Radrodro, Director for Women, and from the Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative, Luke Daunivalu, and Esala Nayasi.
Introduction of Report
Presenting Fiji’s combined second, third and fourth periodic reports, Minister LUVENI said her country had experienced a turbulent history since its independence in 1970. That had included military coups, discouraging economic growth and an over-reliance on the agricultural sector, which had made the country vulnerable to political change and natural disasters. The Government believed it had made significant progress in reforms that would advance the equality of women, their protection from adverse and unfair discrimination, and aim to improve the long-term welfare of the vulnerable.
She explained that the report was a collaborative effort, which embraced the consultations with more than 600 individuals, including Government officials, non-governmental organizations, development partners and others.
In May 2010, the Department for Women had created the Fiji Women’s Federation to coordinate the programmes and activities of registered women’s non-governmental organizations, in an effort to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. It aimed to bridge the gap between the Department and non-governmental organizations. The Department was also working with development partners to support that goal by constructing women’s centres in 14 provinces and semi-urban settlements. Those centres were meant to empower rural women by enhancing their leadership and programme management skills and providing a venue for meetings, training activities, women’s health clinics and other exercises to build their capacity.
Referring to the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution on 10 April 2009, she said it had not removed the right to gender equality or the right of ordinary persons to challenge discrimination before the Fiji Human Rights Commission and the High Court of Fiji. Other developments since April 2009 that ensured human rights included the re-establishment of the judiciary, the promulgation of the Domestic Violence Decree, the Crimes Decree, Criminal Procedure Decree and the proposed promulgation of the HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) Prevention, Care and Support Decree 2010.
She added that she had read the “shadow report”, written by unnamed persons, about Fiji’s commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It was clear that the report’s focus was not Fiji’s commitment to the treaty, but rather on mostly unrelated political issues. The community of non-governmental organizations in Fiji was divided about the admission of the “shadow report”; most of the women’s organizations were prepared to work with the Government in the reform process. The “shadow report” was silent about its consultation process and authorship, and it was outdated and did not refer to several important reforms adopted by the Government.
With regard to important economic reforms that impacted women, she said the Wages Regulation Order 2009 had helped boost minimum wages by 20 per cent and the Employment Relations Promulgation 2007 had brought about much fairer employment practices, providing, for example, maternity-leave benefits. As a patriarchal society with culturally driven attitudes on women’s subordination, women remained disadvantaged in many fundamental ways. The proper implementation of laws was essential, therefore, and Fiji needed to work harder to strengthen its laws and regulatory frameworks to achieve greater economic empowerment for women.
In that vein, she said many significant laws had been passed and workshops held to train the judiciary, prosecutors, police and legal aid lawyers on the extent of the laws and how to implement them in a gender-sensitive way. Rape, for example, was now tried only in the High Court and was no longer prosecuted in the Magistrates Courts by lay police prosecutors, the need for corroboration had been abolished, and questions on the previous sexual history of the victim was now limited.
Since the Crimes Decree had entered into force on 1 February, she said, extensive laws on human trafficking for the first time. The United States State Department’s report on human trafficking last month recognized the Fiji Government’s efforts in that area and removed Fiji from Tier 3 of the categories of countries. To give women greater access to the justice system, the Sentencing and Penalties Decree of 2009 required judges and magistrates to follow a careful sentencing process. Section 4, subsection 3, for example, required that the courts, when sentencing offenders for domestic violence, consider such factors as the impact of violence on the children and whether the offenders posed an additional threat.
The Crime Decree had created a new offence of torture as a crime against humanity, she continued. And, with the drafting of its new Constitution, Fiji would be ready to consider ratifying the Convention against Torture. The law on abortion under the Penal Code gave little protection to women who sought abortion, and while the Crimes Decree did not legalize the procedure, it provided much stricter guidelines for doctors to follow before they conducted abortions and required counselling of the patient by a doctor other than the doctor who would conduct the abortion.
She noted that the Department for Women continued its role as the Government’s primary adviser on women’s development and gender issues. The Cabinet had endorsed the implementation of the new Women’s Plan of Action 2010-2019 and the Department would implement the five areas of concern: formal sector employment and livelihood; equal participation in decision-making; elimination of violence against women and children; access to basic services; and women and law.
Turning to women in decision-making, she said Fiji was slowly moving towards its target of having 30 per cent representation of women on all boards and committees. There were plans to address women’s representation in Parliament under Fiji’s new Constitution, which was being developed in preparation for the general election in 2014. Regarding education, Fiji had 99 per cent school enrolment and had put in place several measures to sustain that high level, such as providing free textbooks to cover all primary school children by 2012.
The Cabinet had deferred the ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol in April 2009, she said, explaining the view that, during this time of reform, Fiji had to focus on strengthening its laws and institutions that allowed complaints of unfair discrimination within its borders. The Human Rights Commission Decree provided for the creation of the Commission and for investigating complaints, and it prohibited unlawful discrimination based on gender. During the period of institutional strengthening and law reform, the Cabinet would reconsider ratification of the Optional Protocol, after every effort had been made nationally to deal with discrimination cases.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that the definition of discrimination in the 1997 Constitution was comprehensive, but included the word “unfairly”. Since that Constitution was no longer in force, was the definition of discrimination still present in current law, and, if so, could the word “unfairly” be reconsidered? In that vein, noting the recommendations of Fiji’s peers to restore constitutional order and rule of law, which was crucial to the protection of women’s rights, had Fiji taken steps and was there a time frame towards that goal? He also noted that the report stated that Fiji’s courts would be the watchdog of the implementation of the Women’s Convention in all branches of Government. Was that still the case?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, appreciating the challenges that Fiji faced in implementing the Women’s Convention, inquired about some decrees made several years ago towards that goal. How was the impact of those new policies and decrees being measured, and was there a special budgetary allocation and a national action plan? She also asked about any awareness campaigns targeting women in particular and if the new judges and magistrates brought in with the new regime had been trained on the Convention.
INDIRA JAISING, expert from India, said that the anonymity of the authors of the “shadow report” on Fiji reflected a fear of discrimination and personal persecution and victimization. She pointed out that the Committee welcomed shadow reports by non-governmental organizations, and she requested that the delegation give assurances that its authors would not be persecuted. Commenting on the report’s section on military and security officers being tried for human rights violations, she observed that another section of the report spoke of immunity for such officers. That contradiction did not “quite square with each other”, and she sought clarification.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, observed that the combined third and fourth reports had been done by the former regime and that the responses to questions and inquires had been done by the current regime. Was there continuity between the two documents? Also commenting on the “shadow report”, she asked whether — with the strict media decree and lack of support for freedom of expression — it was difficult to have constructive dialogues on human rights with non-governmental organizations, which would be, in her view, helpful.
DORCAS AMA FREMA COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, commented on the delegates’ statement that they were not ready to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol because of the need to build national institutions. She reminded the delegates that ratification did not mean that cases would not go through the national system, and she urged Fiji to ratify the Optional Protocol.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Expert from Slovenia, inquired about the status of the establishment of women’s centres in rural areas. She was also interested in whether or not there were inter-ministerial and departmental systems in place to ensure gender perspective in all programmes.
Regarding the definition of discrimination against women, a member of the delegation said there were several pieces of legislation in place, such as the Human Rights Decree and the Family Law Act, which helped to ensure protection of women against discrimination. Plus, the rights of all individuals would be embedded in the new Constitution. Other laws aimed at ensuring a robust legal system helped to protect women against discrimination.
Regarding electoral reform, she acknowledged that Fiji’s political problems had had serious negative effects on the country’s political life. As for the abrogation of the Constitution, she said that, since then, the Government had made reforms that had forged the independence of the judiciary, which was a priority. The adoption of a new Constitution was another priority for the Government, and a political dialogue was under way towards that goal. The country was in the process of shaping its new Constitution, which should be ready for implementation well before the general election in 2014.
Another delegate said that the Human Rights Commission Decree was in place to replace the Human Rights Protection Act. The Commission plugged in gaps in human rights protections left by the abrogation of the Constitution. He acknowledged that it did not go far enough. The Government intended to ratify all outside human rights treaties within a 10-year period.
Another delegate assured the Committee that the authors of the “shadow report” would not be victimized. The decrees were very new — adopted during the past year. She acknowledged that an impact assessment plan would have to be done.
The creation of the Fiji Women’s Federation had bridged the gap between the Government and the community of non-governmental organizations and was an effort to avoid a duplication of resources, another delegate said. Two women’s centres had been constructed and opened since May. Each centre, which served many villages, sought to ensure that the voice of rural women was heard.
Regarding the role of the courts, after the abrogation of the Constitution, the Administration of Justice Decree re-established the judiciary and its functions, a delegate said. Training was under way to empower the judges to enforce human rights laws, and gender-sensitivity training was being done to help implement the Domestic Violence Decree, which was enforced.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
NAELA MOHAMED GABR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Egypt, inquired about the development and new plan of action for the social justice act, seeking information about how it would impact the gender perspective.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, noting that indicators on educational life and health and reproductive rights showed improvement, pointed out that political and economic power for women did not show the same improvement and that women were still at a disadvantage with regards to property and inheritance rights. With men moving to urban centres and creating a rural exodus, women were “a bit lost in all this”. She also wanted more information on the new class on family life at the primary-school level, including if it had been limited to one area or the whole country. While commending the changes to the educational system, she expressed concerns about persistent stereotypes of women in family life and urged broader measures to eradicate those stereotypes.
SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, commended Fiji on organizing its Women’s Day. She noted that despite, the media constraints, the media had been instrumental in challenging military misconduct. Were there any future plans to lift the strict media constraints?
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, inquiring about the sex industry, requested information on the extent of prostitution, from street business and brothels to sex workers visiting clients in hotels. Commending the new Penal Code that criminalized the use of prostitution services, she asked about the efforts to introduce the new law. Also, were there exit programmes for former prostitutes?
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, noted that the Penal Code stated that prostitution was illegal and that sex workers were not afforded the same protection and rights of other workers. However, the Ministry of Health worked with sex workers, which she found commendable. “You do take care of them even though it is supposed to be illegal.” However, she also noted that prostitutes were fined $500, which was quite steep as compared to $30 in Thailand. She was also curious whether, in such a relaxed atmosphere, the decriminalization of prostitution for adult sex workers could be proposed. Because Fiji was based on tourism, and specifically on sex tourism, the report noted the economic issues and social implications of that industry. The Government was taking a multisectoral approach to address prostitution. She asked the delegation to describe that approach in concrete terms.
Turning to trafficking, she asked for Fiji’s definition, how police and law enforcement officials were trained, and what protective measures were being taken for victims of trafficking.
A delegate said the women’s centres would give women the opportunity to prove to voters that they could manage programmes and participate in the nation’s development, as well as become effective politicians. The Government was aware that it needed to secure a quota for women in parliamentary seats. That would be addressed as the Constitution was being developed. The Government capitalized on systems in place, such as the semi-annual provincial meetings, to bring women together from the 14 provinces and minimize the isolation of women living in remote islands.
Regarding the country’s patriarchal society, she said attitudes differed throughout Fiji, and in several places in the country, it was not difficult to engage men. Though weakening, there was still an extended family support system for the elderly in the villages. Regarding property rights, all women had land rights. If married, a woman moved to her husband’s land, but her land remained with her family. All indigenous women and men had property to which they could return. But if a person from the provinces moved into an urban area, they would have to find land for themselves. Eighty-six per cent of the land in Fiji was owned by the people. The Government was using laws to promote policies to enable land owned by a couple to be registered in both their names.
Regarding the participation of representatives of non-governmental organizations in the delegation sent to New York, another delegate explained that financial constraints meant the Government could only send two to this meeting.
As for freedom of the press, a media decree was in place that restricted the level of foreign ownership of the media to ensure that local values were reflected, a delegate said. Given the country’s volatile political history, it was necessary for the media to be governed by socially responsible laws.
Turning to questions on prostitution, a delegate said that the Immigration Act did not deal directly with that practice, but requests for student visas and permits were processed by the immigration authorities, who engaged with appropriate entities, such as universities. The Crimes Decree was focusing on punishing people who sexually exploited women, rather than on the victims. The owners of the premises where prostitution was carried out were now prosecuted. The Crimes Decree, which replaced the old Penal Code, was specifically aimed at people who exploited child prostitutes. Sections 111 to 121 of the Crimes Decree targeted the trafficking of women and children on both a global and domestic basis, strengthening the laws to prosecute the perpetrators.
The Government did not now have a database on prostitution, the delegate said, adding, however, that it was working with the police and prostitutes. Training was under way to identify alternative work for the women, such as in the catering or garment fields.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, reiterated her questions regarding the definition of trafficking, and the preparations and training of police and law enforcement. She also requested a description of the multisector approach being taken in those areas.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, expressed his disappointment with the new Constitution and new constitutional order time frame, and also asked for a more detailed explanation about the use of the term “unfair discrimination on the basis of gender”.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked how the Fiji Women’s Federation decided what areas to work on.
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, requested further clarification on the advisory committee and its composition, as well as its mandate and any results from its efforts.
YOKO HAYAHSI, expert from Japan, wanted more information about how women, within the time frame of developing the new Constitution, would be contributing.
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked how the Women’s Convention would be directly applied.
One delegate stated that the Crime Decree did not give the definition of trafficking, but just gave the acts and offences of trafficking. Regarding the empowerment of police, exchange with the Immigration Department provided continuing education to police working in that area. The Judiciary Department also received that training. Capacity-building was in place for law enforcement personnel being sent overseas to other departments and agencies. At present, no data on prostitution had been provided, but the experts were assured that the delegation would provide that when it became available.
Regarding the participation of women in the drafting of the Constitution, the rural and national population were involved and their inputs would be used in drafting. There was a one-year time frame given before the text’s finalization and one year for familiarization before the election in 2014.
Regarding the Women’s Federation, participation was not compulsory; each non-governmental organization decided if it was interested in being part of it and how they wished to operate. Members of the Women’s Federation Advisory Committee included heads of umbrella non-governmental organizations, among them, the National Council of Women, National Catholic Women’s League, and Soqosoqo Vakamarama, an indigenous women’s organization. Although there were only two rural women’s centres at present, their managers had been invited to serve on the Advisory Committee, which advised ministers on women’s issues they wanted addressed by the Government.
The implementation of the Women’s Convention had begun within the Government’s National Development Plan, which had then been mainstreamed into the planning documents of ministries and departments. All women’s issues were now being picked up by line ministries, which then incorporated the concerns into their departments. The Women’s Federation “captured” those action plans for implementation from the National Development Plan and developed work plans, which were then used by the women’s centres and other groups. From that process, it was evident that there was “clear articulation” of how implementation of the Women’s Convention trickled down to the community level.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. HAYASHI, expert from Japan, regarding articles 7 and 8 of the Convention, respectively on political and public life, and representation, sought clarification on how women would be participating in the Constitution’s formulation. She also asked for more information about the Media Decree and its interaction with the public emergency regulation, and how it would affect women’s right to do outreach activities. She sought reassurance from the delegates that women would be allowed to do so.
Concerning women human rights activists not being allowed to leave the country, she asked for an explanation on the travel restrictions. She also asked for reassurance that the authors of the “shadow report” not be penalized.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, commended the equal composition of men and women on the delegation and added that the report was well presented and clear. Noting that the Fiji Senate was “by appointment only”, she said that, in order to bring women into the political arena and fulfil the requirements of the Convention’s article 8, up to at least 50 per cent of the Senate seats should be filled by women.
A delegate pointed out that there had been four coups in Fiji, and even with the pressure from the international community to enact “band-aid” solutions, those coups, which were race-based, had continued. The need to eliminate the race-based determinants in institutions and culture required time. Currently, all Fiji citizens were referred to as Fijian, and not by race. With a country that had both maritime and rural landscapes, change and reform would take time. The focus in that was to remove the determinants that had caused upheaval in the past and to then create a more stable system. Regarding women activists, there were no restrictions on outreach activities and they were free to function as they had in the past. There was also no travel ban in place. If there were restrictions, they were court ordered. But at present, all citizens were able to move freely.
Another delegate said that women would participate in drafting the Constitution. In developing the People’s Charter of Change, Peace and Progress of Fiji, every village and sector of society had been asked for their views in reforming society and implementing institutional reforms. That had been done without regard to race or gender. The drafting of the Constitution, which the Prime Minister’s office was supervising, would ensure that the interests of both men and women would be represented. The interests of all stakeholders, including those of non-governmental organizations, would also be ensured. The electoral process would not be advanced without meeting the benchmarks of the road map the Government had set in place to be achieved before the general elections in 2014. Currently, economic reforms and infrastructure development were Fiji’s focus.
The Media Decree and the public emergency regulation did not affect outreach programmes and activities for women, another delegate explained. All that was required was an application for a license or permit for any meetings or gatherings.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, noted that 10 per cent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 were not in school in Fiji. She requested data on the racial and gender demographic in both rural and urban areas. Commenting on gender segregation, she noted that, according to the report, in 2003, girls had accounted for only 30 per cent in the technology field, with the majority in domestic service. What special measures were being taken to encourage girls to study non-traditional areas, which was an essential component to eliminating gender discrimination in the work force?
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked when schools would receive computers, books and other educational materials, as indicated in the report. There was also a mention of schools being equipped to educate disabled students, and she requested information about the Education Ministry’s plans and strategies in that regard.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, noting that the equal employment policy had had little impact on the presence of women in the work force, asked if counselling was available for women to stimulate occupational choices of non-traditional jobs. Regarding the pay gap, she noted that there were 10 wage councils, but she said she did not know their mandate.
NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, asked about the forced retirement at age 55 of civil servants, asserting that that had serious financial effects on female civil servants. He also commented on the report’s description of cultural attitudes restricting female employment and asked what action plans and measures were being taken to challenge that.
Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, observed that women made up only a minority of the formal work force, and asked for information about the obstacles they faced in that regard. She also noted that not having a mandatory maternity leave was discriminatory, urging that provision for such leave should be included in the new Constitution. She pointed out that countries that did not utilize women’s talents did not emerge from poverty.
ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, noted that teenage pregnancies were increasing, but that there was no mention about sex education in the school system. What measures were being taken to educate girls in that area? Furthermore, cervical and breast cancer rates indicated a limitation of health services and education for women, and she also requested information on the measures being taken to address that. With HIV and AIDS, although preventive steps had been mentioned, they were vague and not gender-specific. The reference to the 12 women’s centres had not contained information about girls’ and women’s access to them. Turning to prevention of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, she asked why programmes targeted at reduction had not been successful.
Taking up the issue of family planning, Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, inquired about actions being taken to educate women about contraceptive use and strategies when dealing with unwilling partners. She also noted that the “shadow report” discussed the prevalence of violence against women. Yet, there was no policy against such violence in the Ministry of Health. What present or future measures were in place to address that?
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, questioned whether there was indirect discrimination against women in the area of credit. She asked if the Government had considered taking specific measures to create favourable conditions for women to gain access to credit to start their own businesses. She also asked what measures had been taken to help rural women in that regard.
Among several questions posed by FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, was whether there were there any specific programmes in place to protect the rights of older women in various sectors, such as housing and health. In that connection, she noted that, as younger men and women left the rural areas for better economic prospects in urban areas, older women were left with more responsibilities in the rural areas. She also asked if women working the land had property rights and whether gender was considered in the development of housing plans. How many shelters existed in rural areas to protect victims of trafficking and prostitution?
On education, a delegate said there was now free tuition in all primary and secondary schools. The Government provided bus fares to students in areas where there were buses, and free textbooks went to students in islands where there were no buses. Women were encouraged to engage in non-traditional subjects in school, and boys and girls could choose whatever subjects they wanted. Women were encouraged to take up subjects such as engineering, draft drawing and carpentry, and a girl’s graduation from a technical school was highlighted by the media.
The delegate noted that Fiji had limited employment opportunities and educated people had traditionally looked to the Government as an employment source. The Government had established a mandatory retirement age of 55 years to give younger people more employment opportunities and to let retired people develop other sources of employment using the land.
To questions concerning the informal sector, the delegate said the Government was helping women engage in the production of agricultural products, such as vanilla farming and honey production, which would produce additional income. Women were targeted in its micro-enterprise scheme, and the Government encouraged banks to provide small loans and training to women in rural areas.
Regarding pregnancy and education, the law allowed any girl who left school when she was pregnant to return after she delivered her baby, the delegate said. It was mandated that women in the workplace could take a three-month maternity leave. Every village would have a women’s organization, entrusted with looking after women’s livelihoods, she added.
Fiji had a good number of health centres and nursing centres to provide access to reproductive health services and to promote the use of condoms, in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, another delegate explained. The Government had a family planning campaign, and there was a family-life education programme, which was incorporated into the school curriculum. Many young people living with HIV had “gone public” with their status and even gone on road shows to meet with the public. That had helped to eliminate the discrimination against them. There was a non-governmental organization that helped people living with HIV.
On another point, the delegate acknowledged that Fiji was losing doctors and that the Government was trying to train more physicians in its medical training centres. With a decree governing the care of children and women, doctors were compelled to report any cases stemming from abuse or violence.
Responding to queries on other issues, the delegate said that some islands had no banks and, thus, it was encouraging banks to set up facilities on the islands that had roads. While poverty existed among rural women and they did not always have money to pay for education or health services, there was always food available.
Single women and disabled women were included in the Government’s housing scheme, the delegate said to other questions. There were no shelters in rural areas for women victims of domestic violence, but the villages offered community support. The 14 women’s centres would serve as health facilities. She added that nearly every maritime island had a nursing centre.
Regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, Fiji was developing a framework to foster an inclusive society for all persons, a delegate said. It was also working very closely with non-governmental organizations on a policy focused on the empowerment of all persons, including women and children, with disabilities. The Government was constructing a new facility on one of the islands for persons with disabilities, and looking into constructing additional centres, as well.
Concerning the public emergency regulation, the Government felt the freedom of association was to be balanced with the protection of national interest and security, especially if a gathering might insight political unrest, the delegate said. The procedural requirements for any proposed meeting were intended to safeguard the public interest.
Follow-up Experts Comments and Questions
VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, expert from Kenya, commented on Fiji’s patriarchal society and values, and asked for information about how the new family law was bringing about protection for all women in Fiji.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, noted that married people were mentioned in the law, but that “de facto” relationships were not. How were women in informal marriages protected by the law? In terms of property and land ownership, the report stated that both men and women were equally entitled to own land and that in the case of the land being owned by a couple, it had to be registered to both the husband and wife. In the case of divorce, would the wife be entitled to half the land? she asked.
Noting that Amnesty International had said that the full text of the 2009 Decree on Domestic Violence had been limited to the Government’s media statement, she asked how women could become aware of their rights under that new legislation if it was not fully available. Also, under that new decree, were shelters available for victims of domestic violence?
She pointed out that “bulubulu”, a custom of amicable reconciliation, had previously been included the Criminal Procedure Decree, but said she had not noticed that that specific section had been repealed under the new Criminal Decree. She said she considered that worrisome as there was no justification of forced reconciliation in a domestic violence case.
Ms. JAISING, expert from India, asked which would prevail in the case of an “intersection” between customs and the law; would the system be willing to put aside the custom and go with the law instead?
Regarding de facto relationships, a delegate said that there was no specific law covering property distribution. But, as pointed out earlier, the law of contract would prevail, and on issues of title and ownership, partners were encouraged to share property.
The Decree on Domestic Violence, as mentioned earlier, was still a new law, the delegate said. Training currently was being conducted for the police and judiciary departments, as well as those responsible for implementation of the law. It was the delegate’s personal view that the law was a public document and, hence, accessible to anyone. When custom and law intersected, the law would always prevail. The practice of “bulubulu” was in fact declining as women were now more aware of their rights. Furthermore, in courts, “bulubulu” was no longer accepted.
With the new implementation of no-fault divorce, there did not seem to be any significant problem, he said, promising to provide statistics on that at a later date.
Follow-up Experts Comments and Questions
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, requested clarification on the Women’s Department, asking, in particular, if it was a full ministry.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said she did not want a personal view on the publication of the Decree on Domestic Violence, but an official one. And, she had asked whether or not shelters were available for victims of domestic violence.
Ms. HAYASHI, expert from Japan, said she understood that time was required to get it right in the lead-up to an election. But if the Government was to have open dialogue with its citizens in order to overcome determinants that created instability, then freedom of expression and association was essential. The delegation had said that women activists would have freedom of expression in outreach programmes, but it had also stated there were safeguards in place on the freedom of associations.
The delegate clarified that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation was referred to in the Department of Women. Although the Government did not have shelters for domestic violence, a non-governmental organization, Women Crisis Centre in Suva, had some provisions for victims. She also noted that, in Fijian tradition, extended family ties were strong and victims often moved in with their families.
The Domestic Violence Decree enforced prosecutions in courts and had ongoing training for law enforcement personnel, with a focus on gender sensitivity. “Bulubulu” was not part of the Criminal Procedure Decree. Law enforcement now had to deal with domestic violence as an offence, despite “bulubulu”, and had to proceed with due process. Victims also had a procedure through which to complain against the police officer if her rights were not processed correctly.
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