Fijian activist named as a international woman of courage | Pacific Beat

Fijian activist named as a international woman of courage

Fijian activist named as a international woman of courage

Updated 7 March 2014, 18:18 AEDT

Fijian youth activist and political hopeful Roshika Deo has been named as an "International Woman of Courage".

The award is made each year by the United States' Secretary of State, to women who have shown leadership, and worked to create change in their homeland. Ms Deo has spent all her adult like working to help with women's equality in Fiji, including the fight against violence against women, which while recognised as a major issue, is rarely spoken about publicly. As well, she has put herself forward as a candidate in the Fiji elections in September, the first democratic election in the country since the 2006 coup. And while the military backed regime which holds power in Fiji has said the new constitution enacted last year sets a map to a more equal and free society, Roshika Deo disagrees, saying fear, violence and intimidation are still being used by those in authority.

Presenter: Pacific Correspondent Campbell Cooney

Roshika Deo, Fijian political activist

DEO: There's so many other people that do so much more advocacy on violence against women, but from what I believe, how they saw it was slightly different was it was someone younger that was leading a movement on violence against women and there was so much inclusivity, so there was a lot more other younger women and lots of younger men that were also inspired and gained so much awareness and knowledge and wanted to participate in this event and do something and also that we mobilise women right at the community level to participate in this campaign. So it was making the concerted effort and making sure that the enabling environment is there for women, like from villages, from rural areas, women that don't usually participate in these kind of things when it happens mainstream.

COONEY: You have also been awarded for your political activism. It's been an interesting 8 years when it comes to Fiji politics. You've been under a military regime, one person, the country has been ruled by decree certainly since 2009 and for people involved in political life it's been pretty difficult, limits on meetings, limits on what you can say and limits and difficulties in getting your message to the public. Did you face those sort of issues over the past 8 years in trying to get and become a player in the political scene over there?

DEO: Yes, for sure, and like everyone else in Fiji that has. I mean in the beginning trying to apply for permits. I've had like personally like permits that I'd applied for in a voluntary capacity for things that I am recognised have had rejected or were like even for the one million rising permit when we apply to do the street procession, that also I think is a political event, because violence against women is a very much a political issue and police saying oh you know, I'm going to give you the permit, but these are conditions, you can't say this, you can't say that, you can do this, you cannot do that. So there are those kind of restrictions and then having any time I organise a gathering or go anywhere, I have the police intelligence, the CID calling me all the time, and even like when you speak out against the regime, like say, for instance, when you speaking out on domestic violence issues even. If it gets in the media or something like that, then there's repercussions for that. There's attempts to charge to you, the use of fear, intimidation, violence is becoming so normal and we're becoming so desensitised to it. So even when I announce my intention, that I was interested to stand for politics, I wanted to stand for elections, and a few articles of those got shared on Facebook and the backlash, it was just amazing how people reacted, the kind of things people were saying, the misogynist attack, the racist attacks, the homophobic attacks and people making memes of your face and secreting it all over Facebook with all these disparaging messages and so all these things happen, not only the state does it, but the people of Fiji do it, because we're becoming so desensitised to many human rights.

COONEY: We've got a new Constitution that came into power last year. The coup leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has stood down and has resigned his commission, so that he can run in the upcoming elections and, of course, you've got those elections promised in September. Since the new Constitution was in place, has it become easier and I suppose do you think even though a return to democracy will the issues that you've raised. Do you think that they will end?

DEO: No, it won't end, because having a Constitution firstly the people are not aware of what's in it and how to use it. Secondly with the culture that's currently very prevalent with the use of fear and intimidation which is still used, which is still used in Fiji till this very day. It's not going to be easy under the new Constitution. It's how it's applied and interpreted is what is the biggest challenge that we have, because it's been subjectively interpreted and applied. And the Constitution is also gender blind. It doesn't take into consideration things like women's human rights defenders it doesn't take into consideration women's political participation or the fact that women are one of the marginalised groups in our country.

COONEY: You've got this award. It gives you a certain profile around the world, and certainly in the United States. How would you like to use the award that you've been given by the US State Department?

DEO: Like the most important thing for me is to say to all the other young people, especially to the women and the young women that you don't have to belong to a certain peak of women human rights defender to actually get recognition and award, you don't have to be a certain age. The other thing is that I think I want to continue the work that we are doing in terms of increasing the political participation in redefining how politics is in Fiji and making young people and women more active and even participating. The other thing I must add that has happened, a lot of people don't know about Fiji, they know about the Pacific region, but the only thing Australian and New Zealand so I think that like having Fiji on the map, so you know especially with the social media being so important now, like now people are talking about Fiji, now they know that and plus I've been also sharing some of the things that's been happening in other Pacific Island countries, like PNG, with the asylum detainees, with the women being burned and tortured for being witches, like those kind of things. So now people are being aware of what's happening in the Pacific and that we exist and we have severe issues that we need to address, not only at a local and a regional level, but at an international and global level.


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