DEVELOPING women as agents of change, by providing them with opportunities to prosper in the economic, social and political sectors is the heart of governments empowerment programs and plans administered by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation.
There are programs specifically designed to harness the economic and leadership capabilities of women, as enshrined in the Womens Plan of Action 2010 to 2019 (WPA).
The WPA was endorsed by Cabinet in 2010 and it is a 10-year framework for government to advance gender equality and women empowerment.
As this article explains, the Womens Plan of Action is being engineered through five major thematic pillars, also referred to as areas of concern to create socio-economic opportunities for women in Fiji.
The first thematic pillar, Formal Sector Employment and Livelihoods focuses on reducing poverty through increased economic participation of women at all levels.
Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation Dr Jiko Luveni said this year her ministry would develop virgin coconut oil and 10 poultry projects under the formal sector livelihood.
Women are given financial assistance and advice in setting up manageable income generating projects namely poultry, vegetable farming, handicrafts, sewing, fish ponds, canteens and bee keeping. Given the One Centre, One Resource Material Concept, new economic ventures like seaweed processing and making flour from local products are also being looked at, Dr Luveni said.
She said in partnership with non-government organisations (NGOs) and relevant stakeholders, the ministry would also be organising leadership trainings for rural women.
Apart from income generating projects, the ministry is also working with town councils and local government to provide market booths and facilities for market vendors. We are also organising a womens expo later this year, where potential women entrepreneurs can showcase their products and talents to both local and international investors, Dr Luveni said.
Emphasising on womens rights to have equal access to socio-economic opportunities, a series of gender mainstreaming trainings is being provided to all the government ministries.
Its to ensure that gender mainstreaming is incorporated into all ministries Annual Corporate Plan (ACPs) and training programs along with budgets, she said.
The second thematic area of WPA is, Equal Participation in Decision Making that aims to make women visible in decision making in Fiji.
And to drive this goal, the Ministry of Women will be partnering with UN Women to conduct a Bridge program to educate women on electoral process.
Women must be able to take part in formulation of government policies. As captured in the Roadmap for Democracy Sustainable Socio-Economic Development, target is 30 per cent increase gender balance membership in boards, councils, tribunals and committees.
The recent achievement being all property titles provided by government, currently approved to couples from squatter settlements are under the names of both husband and wife.
The Public Service Commission Guide 2011, reveals that government boards and committees have a total of 22 per cent female representation compared to 78 per cent male representation. We are also working together with Fiji Bureau of Statistics and Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) to firm up on the availability of sex-disaggregated data, she said.
The third and most significant area of concern is Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children (EVAW) that nurtures governments partnership with non-government organisations (NGO) and communities to implement the Zero Tolerance Violence Free Community Program (ZTVFC).
In line with the existing Domestic Violence Decree, and our national commitment to violence free communities, 15 communities last year have declared zero tolerance in their communities, and the aim for this year is to increase this number by 15 more communities. It will take one year behavior change preparation to declare absolute zero tolerance, she said.
According to Dr Luveni, ZTVFC trainings from 2008 so far have witnessed reductions in the mistreatment of women especially within the family and the program will be reviewed this year to address any gaps.
Last month, the ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with the Fiji Police Force to strengthen partnership and identify common grounds to tackle issues like street beggars, child neglect and abuse, human trafficking and also support the Womens Plan of Action (WPA).
Similar links have also been made with the Fiji Netball Association to use sports to advocate the message, Say No to Violence Against Women and Children. The ministry will be capitalising on 16 days of Activism from November 25 to December 10 to reinforce on EVAW Program.
The forth thematic pillar called Access to Basic Services primarily looks at developing an integrated development structure to provide an enabling health, education, transport services to women. It relates to the Rural Womens Day observed annually on October 14 to make provisions for skills development and business opportunities for rural women.
One of the major projects initiated under this pillar is training of 10 grandmothers as solar engineers at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India. Its a joint project between Indian High Commission, Ministry of Women and UN Women.
This is one of the most amazing projects in the history of Fiji and will see solar electrification of 10 villages in Fiji. It implies that gender, age, race and language is not a barrier to achieving success. More women trainees will be identified for this program, Dr Luveni said.
The final thematic component of WPA endorses on womens access to justice, legal services along with protection of their rights, referred to as Women and the Law.
* Anshoo Chandra is the MLO for the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation.