Strong and brave – women empowerment

Nadrala villagers Kalesi Vitoto, left, Luisa Bulewa and Vani Ditukana ready to cross the Sigatoka River. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

WOMEN have always been the backbone of any community and this has been proven in many successful family and community encounters.

The struggles they go through daily can be compared with no other just because they want their families and their communities to be happy.

Whether it is in a rural or urban community setting, daily encounters women face have always been the bravest shared via the media and other platforms. Among the list of strongest and bravest women in the country are rural women.

They have encountered rainy and stormy weather and even the scorching heat just to put food on the table, send their children to school and provide the best for their families.

I caught up with three brave mothers on a visit to Kavanagasau, Sigatoka a week ago just as they were about to swim to the other side of the Sigatoka River to dive for fresh water mussels (kai).

Luisa Bulewa, Vani Ditukana and Kalesi Vitoto of Nadrala Village in Nadroga are women vendors at the Sigatoka Municipal Market.

The three women spend at least three hours a day in the Sigatoka River diving for mussels while the rest of the day is spent at the market trying to sell what they’ve collected.

Survival has been a constant struggle for them over the past couple of years and they want a better life for their families and their children.

Such is life for them six days a week except on Sundays when they take complete rest to spend time with their families and attend church.

They all have children attending school so their day usually begins at 4am to prepare children’s lunch and ensure their houses are kept clean, dishes are washed and their husbands’ lunch are cooked before they head to the Sigatoka River at 9am.

Beside the river is a clothes line where their diving suits are neatly hung and they will change into before they cling on to their inflated tyre tubes and swim to the nearest spot where they will dive for fresh water mussels.

And they enjoy what they do daily because it keeps them happy and satisfied having to provide for their family, especially their children.

The only time one of them misses out is when she gets sick and may need complete rest at home.

Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Minister Mereseini Vuniwaqa says while Fiji can boast of women getting equal access to education as their male counterparts, those in rural areas have limited economic opportunities such as access to trainings, financial services and resources.

“The greatest misconception is that formal education is the only way that can enable a woman’s economic participation,” Mrs Vuniwaqa said.

“Women have forever been active in informal sectors, engaging in long hours of unpaid labour and have always been the pillar of support behind the economically active men in her surroundings.

“It’s as simple as saying men have been able to work outside their homes because they have wives to look after the home and raise the children. And because of that and other socioeconomic reasons we left behind half the population’s resourcefulness and contributions in the development of the nation.”

Mrs Vuniwaqa says women’s economic empowerment is the right and smart thing to do.

Women’s rights, she says, are human rights and the human rights case for gender equality is incontrovertible.

She adds the human development, economic and business gains from empowering women are substantial, and greater gender equality means a country is associated with better education and health, higher per capita income, faster and more inclusive economic growth and greater international competitiveness.

What the three ladies from Nadrala in Nadroga go through daily is a brave and challenging one many women can learn from.

It is a story of bravery, strength and dedication that most women in the rural areas go through as they always want the best for their children and families.

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