WOMEN will continue to be an integral part of the society, says Fiji Labour Party.
Party assistant general secretary Kini Marawai says FLP, since its inception almost 29 years ago, always advocated and championed the rights of women.
"The party strongly believes in giving women equal opportunities in leadership including empowerment in the political decision making processes," Mr Marawai said.
"In that stance the FLP not only talks the talk but walks the talk all these years as is manifestly inherent in its philosophies, manifestos and actions."
He confirmed after the first presidency of one of the founders of the party and former prime minister, Dr Timoci Bavadra, the FLP president had always been women.
"The two past presidents after Dr Bavadra were the late Adi Kuini Vuikaba (former deputy PM and Minister for Fijian Affairs 1999-2000) and former senator the late Ms Jokapaci Koroi. Today, our fourth and current FLP president is Lavenia Padarath (former Minister for Women, Culture and Social Welfare 1999-2000)," Mr Marawai said.
He said the party was a trendssetter in ensuring active and equal participation of women in positions of leadership, be it in the political sphere or the private sector.
"As recently as a week ago it is interesting to note in the media the advent of other parties in formally endorsing women as their party heads — Tupou Draunidalo for NFP, Lynda Tabuya for PDP and Dr Jiko Luveni for the proposed Fiji First organisation.
"Now the political landscape has changed to a certain extent in that we have four women altogether heading different political parties in Fiji including Ro Teimumu Kepa of SODELPA."
He said this ascension to political leadership by women in Fiji in general did not come about as a result of smooth joy-ride.
"No, it came about through the struggles of women suffragettes in the early part of the last century in the USA, England and New Zealand.
"Even today, Shamima Ali of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre has said recently a few days ago through the media that women had been facing many challenges in all aspects of development including that of under representation in the political decision making."
Mr Marawai reiterated FLP would support and advocate in words and deed the rights of women and their struggle for gender equality and bridging the gap by addressing discrimination.
"Women in politics in Fiji have come a long way since Adi Losalini Dovi became the first woman in Fiji to be a member of the Legislative Council (1966 - 1970) and the first woman assistant Minister for Urban Development, Housing, Labour and Social Welfare in 1976.
"Some previous prominent women ministers who had indelibly left their marks in Fiji's political scene were Irene Jai Narayan (Minister for Indian Affairs 1987 - 92) and Taufa Vakatale (Minister of Education 1993-95; Deputy PM 1997-99)."
"But for all previous governments that have been mandated by the people through free and fair elections to rule this country, the FLP has been the foremost in extending to women that trust and responsibility of leadership and decision making by giving ministerial positions to the late Adi Kuini Vuikaba (Deputy PM and Minister for Fijian Affairs), Lavenia Padarath (Minister for Welfare, Culture and Social Welfare), Adi Koila Nailatikau (Minister for Tourism and Transport), Marieta Rigamoto (Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forest), and Adi Ema Tagicakibau (Assistant Minister in the PM's Office).
"Not all these ministers were elected as FLP members to parliament but they nevertheless were part of the People's Coalition Government of 1999-2000 headed by FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry as PM."
He said the party would continue with empowering of women should it had the mandate of the people after the election in September.
"Now, as the elections in September draws nearer it is becoming, more or less, a nightmare to many especially the main stakeholders — the voters and political parties including such pressure groups as the women's rights movements," Mr Marawai said.
He said there was excitement in the air when the date of the one day election was announced by government.
Mr Marawai said with a lot of concerns being raised about the fairness of the election, he said the women should be rest assured that their concern and struggle was the party's too.
"Let us go to the polls with the conviction that your rights should not be trampled upon and be viewed as a matter of convenience when it is much more than that as the FLP has always been the proponent of those rights for women all these time since its humble beginnings."