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A legacy to remember

Tauga Nacanaitaba
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I BEGIN with two of the tributes sent by Adi Laufitu's friends and relatives.

Adi Ema Tagicakibau wrote:

"Today I reflect on the vibrant life of this marama, Adi Ekari Laufitu Malani. Fitu, as friends and relatives knew her, came from Levuka Public School to Adi Cakobau School as a third former in the 1970s. She was very confident, very sure of herself, and a bright young woman. She became deputy head girl (in 1974).

"Fitu has been there and done that, on women's leadership in Fiji, the Pacific, Asia, and globally, and rose right to the upper echelons of leadership. She was head of UNIFEM Pacific (what is now UN Women), from the mid-1980s, when few indigenous women could only dream of working with the UN.

"Fitu was a generous person, and very passionate about her province and its development."

Asela Naisara wrote:

"RIP Adi Laufitu Salabogi Malani. Death allows a time to share special recollections of people who are close to us, people we love and whose life touched our lives in so many ways. Thank you Lord for Fitu's life. Ni sa moce saka, noqu marama (Good bye, my lady)."

In her life, Adi Laufitu Malani lived the principle that "nobility obligates" — privilege entails responsibility — the moral obligation of people of high birth to act with honour, diligence and generosity.

She headed UNIFEM Pacific, in the United Nations family. She was a member of the Fiji Senate and the Cabinet. She worked selflessly with and for the women in the Pacific, and especially for her province, Ra.

Adi Laufitu was the director of UNIFEM Pacific between 1983 and 1991. She left UNIFEM in 1991 to stand in the Fiji General Elections. She was unsuccessful. She then returned to work with women through the Pacific Foundation for the Advancement of Women (PACFAW).

In 1993, Adi Laufitu was nominated to the Senate by the Great Council of Chiefs, and served until the 2006 coup. She was appointed Minister for Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation in the post-2006 regime. She was stood down from that post, and decided to retire.

But, in 2013, Adi Laufitu was asked by the Gonemarama Na Rokotui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa, to assist SODELPA in preparations for the 2014 General Election. When Ro Teimumu became the Leader of the Opposition, she again asked Adi Laufitu for help.

Later, Adi Laufitu was appointed by the Government as personal assistant to the Leader of the Opposition and she served in that capacity until early 2017 when she became too ill to work.

Adi Laufitu qualified as a medical assistant after leaving ACS, and worked in rural health centres, including Vunidawa and Korolevu. Later, she was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship and obtained an MA in public health.

She worked with the UN and non-government organisations after getting her degree. She then became the director of UNIFEM Pacific, working from an office in Suva, with two staff members Nisha Hussein and May Work.

Other women and men also worked on contract with UNIFEM Pacific under her leadership.

For the first six years of operation, Adi Laufitu was expected to raise funds to support the UNIFEM Pacific programs.

She took her plans to donor agencies — to the Americans, the Australians and New Zealanders. She excelled in fundraising, and ensured that UNIFEM funds were properly acquitted.

The programs were gender awareness for government planners in the Pacific, and political empowerment for women in the Pacific.

During visits to senior government officials in different Pacific countries, she arranged gender awareness workshops for national planners, and she and her staff developed training manuals for use in these workshops.

For the political empowerment for women program, Adi Laufitu worked with the National Councils of Women in PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, Samoa, Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and the Northern Marianas.

East Timor (Timor Leste) was added to UNIFEM Pacific's area of work in 1990, and Adi Laufitu and her staff worked with groups of women in Dili to help them prepare for their first general election.

Adi Laufitu piloted UNIFEM Pacific's Women in Politics program in Fiji in 1986, working with NCW Fiji. The program covered civic education and political empowerment workshops for women interested in standing in the general elections and local government elections.

Many women who contested local government councils' seats, and some successfully, around Fiji during the 1980s-1990s, were helped by UNIFEM Pacific's training programs.

Subsequently, the political empowerment for women Program was introduced and used in the 13 countries already mentioned.

UNIFEM Pacific and Adi Laufitu were there for the eight women who were elected in the 1991 Fiji General Election — a historic first for Fiji — and later appointed ministers and assistant ministers in the new government.

Adi Laufitu provided technical assistance to NGOs at regional and international women leaders' meetings. She assisted in the production of the Fiji NGO paper that was the basis for the Pacific and Asia paper, the regional contribution to the draft Beijing Platform for Action, which was finalised in New York in early 1995.

Later that year, she was at Huairou and Beijing, China, and provided official and personal support to more than 1000 Pacific women who attended the UN meetings.

Yet Adi Laufitu was closely involved with the women of her province. When her aunt Kelesi Malani became president of the Soqosoqo Vakamarama ni Yasana ko Ra in 1988, the members decided they needed a valenikuro, a kitchen, at Dadamu, the provincial compound at Nanukuloa, where provincial meetings are held.

Women from the province gathered there to cater for these meetings. They cooked, in all weather, outside the house of the Roko Tui (provincial office head).

The Ra women agreed to raise money towards the kitchen. They planned for more than a valenikuro so it was to cost them $24,000. Adi Laufitu immediately began her rounds to the funders.

The New Zealand High Commissioner responded positively with half the amount needed.

The women raised $2000. Adi Laufitu mortgaged her house, a premium property at Ratu Sukuna Rd in Suva, to pay the balance and repay the loan herself.

The result is that Ra women now have a guest house with four bedrooms for paying guests plus solar power, a water tank and a kitchen.

Adi Laufitu is remembered by many women and men for her leadership, and for her innovative political empowerment of women program throughout the Pacific.

She is remembered by women leaders in the Pacific, in Australia, New Zealand, and Asia, and by women and men who served in UNIFEM, and UN Women in New York and regional offices.

She was a mentor and champion for women. We will remember Adi Laufitu as that most generous of friends, a beautiful and gracious marama (lady), and a leader of women in Fiji, the Pacific and the world.

* Tauga Vulaono Nacanaitaba is a former gender specialist and women's political empowerment specialist at UNIFEM Pacific (now UN Women). She is the president of the National Council of Women Fiji (NCWF).

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