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Empowering women

Shayal Devi
Monday, March 20, 2017

WITH more than 600 women's groups from around the West registered with the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, the need for proper training and skills development is prudent now more than ever.

Over the past few years, the ministry, together with different stakeholders, have helped implement a number of projects in communities across the Western Division, including 54 income-generating projects (IGPs) ranging from beekeeping, nursery, piggery and bread making projects.

Out of these prospective IGPs, one which has garnered the most interest from women in rural and urban centres is handicraft-making.

Since 2014, the Ministry of Women has begun the National Women's Expo in Suva where hundreds of women from across Fiji get the opportunity to showcase their products to a wider audience.

The establishment of a national expo has helped the ministry launch provincial craft shows across Fiji too.

Earlier this month the Ba Provincial Craft Show was organised for women from Tavua, Ba, Lautoka and Nadi.

About 235 women came together to showcase products such as handmade mats, baskets, bags, clothing, jewellery and food.

Speaking at the event last week, Minister for Women Mereseini Vuniwaqa highlighted the important part played by the provincial craft show to recognise and empower women artisans.

"For the past two years, the ministry has been celebrating the National Women's Expo and the Divisional Women's Craft Show in order to develop the women of Fiji economically through this opportunity in obtaining the Fijian-made emblem for products qualified under the Fijian made category," she says.

She says the contribution made by women in the field of applied arts is impressive, especially in areas such as textiles and handicraft work.

For Tokasa Low, 60, being in the handicraft business for several years has taught her the importance of the trade.

"I feel it is a way to empower women in the community to use their free time for something productive," the Natokowaqa, Lautoka resident says.

While acknowledging the strides made to empower female artisans, Mrs Low says more can be done for women in terms of training.

She says resource centres need to be set up in various locales around the country to help budding artisans find their footing and sharpen skills.

"We want to make a difference and that is why we started our women's group called the Unity Club and we have 10 members.

"There is a need for it (resource centres) because this is a good way unemployed women can earn money."

In terms of boosting IGPs, it isn't just the ministry focusing on training women. Non-government organisations (NGOs) have also come forward to do their bit.

Here in the West, one such group is the Ba Women's Forum.

Organisation president Dr Maria Doton says it is extremely important for women to "recognise their worth".

"A lot of women have skills but they don't recognise it and they don't really want to bring it out," she said.

"They think it's nothing but in instances and events like this (craft shows) they are inspired and motivated and if they develop those skills, then definitely they will have a good source of income."

The forum, which looks after the interest of about 64 women's groups in Ba, has organised a series of handicraft and jewellery making projects over the past few years.

Dr Doton says she is hopeful the opening of a new development centre in Ba Town will encourage women to come forward and seek training in various areas including sewing, food preparation and handicraft making.

"For us in Ba, we are blessed to have the training centre where all the women are welcome to come. It's up to them now to come forward, try to develop a skill and make some products because that is the biggest problem.

"The mind-set of our women is not yet that self-propagating— they are still in that patriarchal way of thinking as they don't want to come forward and develop their skills.

"So we're hoping that with this training centre everyone will be inspired to come."

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