WOMEN with disabilities are often unrecognised and isolated in their societies. Girls and women with any form of disability are among the more vulnerable and marginalised in societies. They are often invisible among those promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. "Making women with disabilities visible" remains a challenge.
To address this challenge in Fiji, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation and the Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons (FNCDP) have joined hands to provide opportunities for skills development and employment for women with disabilities. Fiji's participation at the recent High-level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Final Review of the Implementation of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons 2003-2012 affirmed the Fiji government's commitment to improve the lives of persons with disability in Fiji.
The meeting was convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) from October 29 to November 2, 2012 in Incheon, Korea. Fiji was represented by Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation Dr Jiko Luveni and FNCDP executive director Dr Sitiveni Yanuyanutawa. Dr Luveni was also elected as the vice chair at Senior Official Segment of this one-week meeting.
While presenting Fiji's report, Dr Luveni informed the forum on Fiji's commitment to the international conventions and support mechanisms that have been put in place to recognise the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry and FNCDP, she said worked in partnership to implement Fiji's 10-year policy (2008-2018) called Fiji National Policy on Persons living with disabilities, as being instrumental in creating inclusive and making the "rights real" for persons with disabilities in Fiji.
One of the major programs which is instrumental in economically empowering the disabled women is the development of a sewing centre in Suva. As they say innovation is born out partnership, the sewing centre project resulted as a partnership between the ministry, FNCDP, the Chinese government, Ranjit Garments and Courts Fiji limited.
The impact of this initiative is reflected through the experiences of disabled women who have now found a new hope for improved livelihood.
In March this year, the opening of Fiji's first sewing centre saw, 10 single mothers and five women with disabilities graduate with Certificates of Attainment in garment construction.
Following this, all the trainees have been successfully channeled into income-generating programs, now living independently. The second graduation ceremony witnessed last week enabled eight single mothers and five disabled women walk away with basic tailoring skills.
Each of these graduates were given sewing machines to start their own tailoring business and seven of them rewarded with appointment letters to start work at the Intimate Apparels. Following is a testimony of two graduates, women with disabilities showing courage and perseverance to break free from the dependency syndrome.
Present among the 13 graduates, 36-year-old Anavalu Varani from Cakaudrove received her certificate with tears of joy and ray of hope. Ana has survived traumatic family violence which led to amputation of her hand. This experience has not stopped Ana from looking after her two children.
"Having my own sewing business is something I dreamt of. Coming to the sewing centre has changed my life, it is the first time I ever graduated. Last three months have been fulfilling experience, I can now sew school uniforms, dresses and trousers.
"It's a new source of income for me and my children. The pay rise of garment workers in welcoming news and I am thankful for this wonderful opportunity to walk out of poverty," Ms Varani said.
Similarly, 28-year-old single mother, Savina Bano who has cleft lip (lip or mouth unable to form properly) but it has not stopped Bano from achieving her dreams. She is a single mother who is confident of living a fulfilling life.
"I am proud of myself for this achievement. Sewing has always been my passion and with the sewing skills and sewing machine I can operate a tailoring business from home. I will also work in a garment factory now.
"I am thankful to the sponsors of this program for giving me the opportunity to feel confident about myself. Living with disability is a big challenge. I have lived as a prisoner for four years in my own home. The sewing centre has motivated me to develop my skills, be employed and have the freedom to make choices for myself," Ms Bano said.
The comments from these graduates portrays that disability is not a barrier to reaching one's dreams.
There is hidden talent and enthusiasm to prosper in all the individuals who are born with some form of disability.
Fiji's win in its first Paralympic gold medal at the 2012 London Paralympics is evidence of this.
The sewing centre is yet another example of a platform where lives are transformed, persons living with disabilities are guided to their dreams by unfold their remarkable talents to achieve a better livelihood.
Similar opportunities can be created through partnership between government, NGOs, private companies to open up new training and employment opportunities for the disadvantaged.
Making, "rights real" for persons with disabilities is a global vision, we can contribute towards this vision by respecting and assisting the persons with disabilities in our own societies.
p Anshoo M Chandra is the media liaison officer of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation.