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• The Honourable Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation
• Honourable Cabinet Ministers and Assistant Ministers
• Honourable Members of Parliament
• Your Excellencies the Ambassadors and High Commissioners and Members of the Diplomatic Corp
• Permanent Secretaries and Divisional Commissioners
• Representatives from the Development Agencies
• Friends from Corporate Organizations
• Representatives of Women Non-Governmental Organisations
• Members of the Media
• Distinguished Guests
• Ladies and Gentleman

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Asalaam Alaykum, Ni Hao, Noa’ia ‘e Mauri, and a very good evening to you all.

Please allow me at the outset to acknowledge and thank the Honourable Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation for inviting my wife Sarote and I to be part of this year’s International Women’s Day Celebration.

We are both humbled and honoured to be here not only to officiate at this very important event, but also to launch two vital initiatives that the Ministry has developed in consultation with key stakeholders in Fiji.

These initiatives include the National Service Delivery Protocol and the 4th National Women’s Expo. Essentially, they are both aimed at continuing to position Fiji to ultimately achieve gender-equality. This is consistent with Fiji’s 2013 Constitution which provides an unprecedented and broad range of rights for all Fijians, including women, girls and children. Both initiatives will bring positive changes in society so that Fijian women can enjoy a life free of violence and abuse.

Additionally, through the National Women’s Expo, Fijian Women Artisans can benefit from a connecting platform to domestic and international markets that could provide the means towards a sustainable livelihood for themselves, their families and the national economy.

The development of these initiatives is a testament that the multi-sectorial involvement of key stakeholders is highly efficient, empowering, and a collaborative approach to tackle violence against women and children.

I understand that the key stakeholders involved in the development of these initiatives include the Suva-based Office of the United Nations Women (UN Women), the United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and a host of Non-Governmental Organisations. To each one of these organisations, I commend and thank you for joining forces with the Fijian Government. I have every confidence that the initiatives will have a profound impact on the lives of the women in Fiji.

Ladies and gentlemen, Sarote and I are very honoured to be part of the International Women’s Day where we can encourage the nation to recommit ourselves to upholding women’s rights to safety, justice, and equal access to economic opportunities, among others. This is an opportune time to reflect on the progress we have made as a nation to improve the lives of our women and girls. It is also a time to rally for more recognition of the role of women in society, and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their communities and in our nation as a whole.

I understand that the International Women’s Day is celebrated widely across the world. The event originated from a labor movement to become an UN-recognized annual event. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City to demand for shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. With the struggles and sacrifices and lobbying of women’s rights activists around the world, the International Women’s Day was adopted as an important feature in the United Nations’ calendar.

The UN Theme for International Women’s day 2018 is “Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives.” The theme provides an opportunity to encourage greater action to empower women in all settings, and to recognise the activists who are working relentlessly to claim women’s rights and realize their full potential.

Echoing the priority theme of the upcoming 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, International Women’s Day 2018 will also draw attention to the rights and activism of rural women, approximately 189,000 of whom make up the rural population of Fiji, according to the 2017 Census.

The campaign that we have adopted locally for the International Women’s Day is “Press for Progress.” This is aimed at acknowledging both the progress we have made as a nation thus far and the opportunity to do even more for our women and girls.

Fijian women and girls make up 50% of our population. They obviously contribute significantly to our progress at the home front, within the communities and at both the national and international levels. They certainly deserve our nation’s collective support.

International Women’s Day is also an opportunity to consider how to accelerate the 2030 United Nation’s Agenda, building impetus for the effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially goals 4 and 5, which are to ‘Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning,’ and to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’.

More recently, the Global Gender Index Report ranked Fiji as 125 out of the 144 countries in the 2017 World Economic Forum. This ranking considers women’s participation in four key areas including economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.
From a score of 0-1, Fiji scored 0.979 for health and survival, 0.991 for educational attainment, 0.479 for economic participation and opportunity and 0.104 for political empowerment. These ratings indicate that we can do more especially in the areas of women’s economic empowerment and women’s participation in decision-making.

Having said that, I wish to emphasize some key targets of the 2030 Agenda, which are:
• to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education;
• to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education;
• to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere;
• to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; and
• to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

At this juncture, I wish to commend the Fijian Government for bringing to the fore the role of women in development. This is captured in Fiji’s 20-Year and 5-Year National Development Plan, which maps out the way forward for Fiji and all Fijians to realize our full potential as a nation.

The Fijian Government’s work towards ending gender inequality and discrimination against women, and consistently aiming to find innovative and practical ways to do this, must be acknowledged and wholeheartedly supported.

Violence against women hurts everyone. It does not hurt only the victim. When women experience violence, families, communities and the entire country is affected through emotional, psychological and economic impacts.

This year, International Women’s Day comes on the heels of unprecedented global movement for women’s rights, equality and justice. Cases of sexual harassment, violence and discrimination against women have captured headlines and public discourse, propelled by a rising determination for change, with evidences like statistics from the Fiji Police Force for the year 2017 revealing that there were 886 reported cases of domestic violence against women and children.

What better way to celebrate this day than to launch a tool meant to set a guideline for responding to cases of gender-based violence that has no place in Fiji, yet is continually consuming our society like a terrible disease?

Ladies and gentlemen, the National Service Delivery Protocol is a commendable undertaking made possible through the extensive consultations across Government and the existing service providers. It provides for a multi-sectorial response to ensure that appropriate, timely and quality services are provided to the survivors of gender-based violence. It also ensures that perpetrators of violence are dealt with adequately and justice is given to the victims. The agreement binds the service providers, including the Fiji Police Force, Ministry of Health, Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, Judicial Department, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Medical Services Pacific, The Salvation Army and Homes of Hope. It commits their services to a set of principles to ensure survivors of gender-based violence receive the best care and treatment they need by promoting safety, upholding confidentiality, ensuring non-discrimination, respect, strong accountability and zero tolerance for violence.

I offer my deepest congratulations to the Taskforce on the National Elimination of Violence against Women for the production of the National Service Delivery Protocol. It is now the standardized instrument to combat the issue of violence against women in Fiji. Without the technical support of the UN Women and their leadership role in coordination during consultations, the Service Delivery Protocol would have been difficult to achieve.

The intersection of violence against women with gender disparity and unequal power relations creates systems of patriarchy where women’s rights are oppressed and they become vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination. Deeply rooted in gender inequality, this system allows men to assert control over women further creating opportunity for violence to take place, whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological or economical.

It is my firm belief that empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and to make sure they can realize their full potential and we need to work together as a nation to do away with this system where the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed.

Entrepreneurship and decent work are the bedrocks of economic empowerment. They support the economic empowerment of women and men, families, communities, and countries. A number of constraints on women’s entrepreneurship lead to unequal economic opportunities and outcomes compared to men. They are rooted in structural barriers and discriminatory laws and social and cultural norms and stereotypes that limit the realization of women’s rights and treat women as inferior and subordinate to men including in the productive economy.

The National Women’s Expo, now being the signature event and one of the prestigious platforms for women’s economic empowerment in Fiji, is indisputable in that the return of such an investment is always rewarding, provides incentives and importantly, connects women to markets – domestically, regionally and globally.

The 4th Fiji National Women’s Expo is expected to scale new heights with the exhibition of quality, marketable products produced by Fijian Women and through strengthening networks and partnerships with the Ministry’s key stakeholders.

The Fijian Government through the Ministry has made a commitment to capitalize on this platform to boost women’s economic empowerment and distinguishing their full potential towards nation building.

Fiji, on its journey to become the best of itself, just cannot afford to leave our women behind in any aspect. The ambition of achieving the sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without putting women in the center of our efforts. Their talent, vision, leadership and entrepreneurial spirit unleashed are quintessential to reaching a sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future for all of humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I once again thank and congratulate the Ministry for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation and all the stakeholders involved in developing the National Service Delivery Protocol and I look forward to your commitment to the change that is sought for the nurturing of Fiji as a society free from discrimination and violence against women. I also congratulate the Ministry on its build up towards the 4th National Women’s Expo.

On that note, it is my honour to officially launch Fiji’s first ever National Service Delivery Protocol and the 4th National Women’s Expo. This makes the 2018 International Women’s Day so extraordinary and our collective efforts to empower our women will yield happier celebrations for our happier Fijian Women.

May Almighty God continue to bless you all and bless our beloved nation – Fiji.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Bahoot Dhanyavaad, Sukria, Xie Xie, Faiek’sia, and Thank you all.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications