According to the interim government, the Fiji Women's Federation will be the official advocacy group for women's rights and interests in the country.
Geraldine Coutts asked the coordinator of FEMLINK, a Fiji-based media organisation for women, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, about what she knows about the Fiji Women's Federation.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Suva-based the coordinator of FEMLINK, a media organisation for women
SHARON BHAGWAN ROLLS: It's still a little vague I have to admit. I do know several things. As you know I do serve as the second vice-president of the National Council of Women, so I am aware that members of the National Council of Women, including some of our executives, have in the last two months been in meetings at the Department of Women and one of the things that I was made aware of was the proposal of the revival of what was initially known as the National Women's Advisory Council. This was set up several governments ago, where women were selected, and at that time it was the prerogative of the elected minister obviously to have a certain number of experts and advisors. We are in a different time, of course, and when you look at what you just highlighted, some of its terms of reference, I'm a little cautious because we do have existing women's NGOs. For example if I just use the model of the National Council of Women, we have 40-plus affiliate organisations that are multi-ethnic and that maybe it really would rather see this as a time of strengthening the autonomous women's groups to then be able to enter into dialogue. But the formulation or the setting up of this I understand will be from this sort of group that have been meeting to date with the minister, and they will select the representatives. So it is still a little bit vague. I think that while it is talking about women's human rights and upholding women's human rights, I think we must put it into context and really look at will there be representatives from two of the strongest women's human rights based organisations in the country, Fiji Women's Crisis Centre as well the Fiji Women's Rights Movement. Those that are outside of the affiliation of the National Council of Women. So how will all this be played out? So I think it's one time for caution. Obviously, one would never want to stop entering into dialogue with the Department of Women, but I think we also need to be ensuring our autonomy as well.
COUTTS: Sharon, you mentioned the Department of Women or the Ministry for Women, are they touted to run it or will this be independent of the interim government?
ROLLS: If this is going to be the model, this would be within the framework of the Department of Women. So this would be very much within the government framework. That's why I'm saying that it's important that women's NGOs, existing women's NGOs, realise that we can certainly use any space to continue to dialogue but we must ensure our autonomy and strengthen our existing structures. So rather than creating a whole new structure we should be asking the question how can we use our existing structures such as the National Council of Women. We also have the Indigenous Women's Network, the Soqosoqo Vakamarama. How can they be strengthened so that we're bringing in the viewpoints of women into what I would see as a policy space? Because it is being established by the interim administration, it's not another women's NGO, I think that's clearly it.
COUTTS: We'll get back to the existing structures if we have time but I'd like to just pose this question now: is this a way of silencing some women? Because we know that the interim government has criticised Shamima Ali for being outspoken at times, and Edwina Kotoisuva has been disallowed from going to the youth conference on in Suva at the moment. Is this part of it?
ROLLS: I would say that's why we have to be very cautious about it, because on one hand they're touting that it would be about promoting women's human rights but let's look at what's happened since 2006 and it's really important now that we strengthen the solidarity across the women's movement, to say "yes we believe in the rights of women and the right to speak but women have beared the brunt of some violence since 2006 and women's voices are being controlled and curtailed". So it's very, very clear, which is why I'd rather see a space for dialogue rather than a whole new entity which could actually then be about controlling the women's agenda.abcwire.send-mungmung.ra