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Plea for participation

Fay Volatabu
Monday, January 28, 2013

LAST week I was so saddened to hear of my cousin's loss. While we were all busy preparing our children and while I was busy at a meeting discussing our constitution I did not know that at the same time a close member of my family was going through a trauma of her own. I was informed that her husband had left in the morning and while at work he had an asthma attack and despite his pain, he remained at work until his replacement came to relieve him.

He then got himself into a taxi and just managed to get himself to the health centre close to his workplace. Upon arrival there were no resources to help the poor man. Well, my cousin had to be disturbed at her workplace and on arrival at the health centre was informed that not only had she lost her husband but had to find transport to take him to the mortuary in Suva. She had no car, was besides herself with grief and now was told that she had to take her now deceased husband to the Suva mortuary. How insensitive was that??

My cousin being the strong woman she was then called her husband's workplace and she managed to request the use of their company vehicle to transport her deceased husband to the Suva hospital.

As my cousin retold her heartbreaking tale, I thought to myself how brave she was and how she managed to do all that despite the trauma she faced.

I thought why were there no resources at the hospital to help an asthmatic patient considering it is very hot right now? I thought why was there no help given to people who suffered trauma? I thought why was it not hospital policy to transfer patients who died in their facility especially when he had come to ask for help there? I thought what if she had not been able to get the help of her husband's employers? I thought what if she was a timid woman who could not speak for herself?

I realised that while we often think that the constitution is a document that people in parliament debate about I also realised that it is time we realise that having a constitution with good provisions of a Bill of Rights ensuring our rights are protected should not be left in the domains of the Constituent Assembly or parliament but that all Fiji citizens need to know about it.

My cousin has no civil society background and even if she was related to me I was not on hand to help her but what she had was knowledge that there is help given by employers in times of tragedy and that there must be some form of help given by civil servants in times of trouble.

Shouldn't it extend to being helpful and to the public especially when they are going through trauma or in this case the loss of a loved one? Granted there is a need for better services, resources but I am sure that courtesy and grace are not commodities but something that are greatly needed in our public sphere.

Women need to equip themselves and know about relevant policies, legislation and now that the constitution is being drafted for consideration by the Constituent Assembly it is imperative that every Fiji citizen knows what is in the constitution about him/her.

As a woman how is my right affected? As an iTaukei how is my right affected? A a person married, single or in a relationship, how is my right affected? How is my right to an adequate standard of living affected? How is my right to economic participation affected? How is my right to information affected? How are my political rights affected? How is my right to assemble and demonstrate affected? How is my right to move and reside anywhere I please affected?

Someone mentioned to me a constitution should include clauses about health and let's imagine for a while that everyone has the right to health and the conditions and facilities necessary to good health and to health care services, including reproductive health enshrined in the constitution.

Wouldn't it be right then that we demand or require government to ensure that this service is fully guaranteed to members of the public?

I lament over the loss of my cousin-in-law but what I need to be able to see is that there is a provision in the constitution which guarantees that I can have adequate health service provided to me or that I can have good housing or efficient water supply in my area.

The problem with most of us is that we think it is only the politicians or those in certain positions of leadership or authority who should engage in the constitutional debate or know the constitution.

Newsflash Fiji, we all need to read the constitution when it is finally revealed to us. We need to know its provisions and we need to know that if we are wrongly treated by any service provider that there are laws, regulations, policies and yes even the constitution has a clause which requires all service providers to treat us with respect, dignity and civility.

There are many out there who are wrongly treated everyday and the reasons range from lack of resource to miscommunication. According to the UDHR, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services….. and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness …and circumstances beyond his control" .

If this was the case, my question is why was this not accorded to my cousin when she needed someone to help her in her darkest hour.

Granted there is need for better services but while we pass the buck who is going to help the casualties. Something has to be done to right the wrong she has suffered. But how?

It is important therefore for us to equip ourselves with what the law says.

I urge all of us out there to know our rights, read the constitution and be part of nation building and more so information gathering so that when we encounter challenges we will know what form of recourse we can take.

When we realise that the constitution is something that can help us, then we will realise that it needs our attention, our input and we must all use it to better our lives. It is not for the lawyers, the judges, the politicians, the CSO advocates but it is for you and I.

Please be part of nation building and read the constitution, tell your family to read the constitution and let us own our constitution by commenting, petitioning and supporting the deliberations on our draft constitution.

* Fay Volatabu is the general secretary for the National Council of Women Fiji. The views expressed are hers and not of this newspaper. Email: or

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