I’m delighted to take part in this leader’s roundtable on women and girls because my Government has made it a priority to improve their position in Fiji and finally put an end to a long history in which women have been treated very poorly.
Fiji – like many other societies - is patriarchal with a range of institutional and cultural barriers to gender equality. And I am sad to report that we all still have a terrible problem with male attitudes to women.
We have an unacceptable level of rape and child abuse.
Far too many men regard women as subservient and as possessions for their sexual gratification. Far too many men routinely resort to violence in a domestic setting. And we are currently in the throes of a national debate about whether women are in any way to blame for this, by provoking their men into acts of violence or inviting rape by wearing provocative clothing.
I want to make it perfectly clear what my own attitude is and that of the government I lead. There is no justification, no excuse, for any man to inflict violence on a woman or abuse her in any way. Those who do so are cowards and criminals.
I simply do not accept the argument that the onus is on a women not to provoke her partner’s temper. And that if she does so, that somehow justifies or excuses the treatment that is meted out to her.
It is a way of thinking that provides men with an excuse to justify the unjustifiable and women to accept the unacceptable. It is a way of thinking that is totally out of kilter with the norms of any society with pretensions to decency. And it is a way of thinking that perpetuates a cycle of violence and must be eradicated with the full force of the law. Zero tolerance for those who abuse women and girls.
We are committed to gender equality at every level and that is reflected in the commitments we are making at this Summit. We have established unprecedented equality for all Fijians in our Constitution, including “the right to be free from any form of violence”. We have amended the old laws that required corroboration in cases of rape.
We are empowering women by improving their access to education through free schooling, scholarships and tertiary loans. We are empowering women by encouraging them to start their own businesses with our small and micro business grants. And we are saying to the men of Fiji: real men don’t mistreat women. They treat them with the respect they deserve as our wives, partners, mothers, sisters and daughters – the bedrock of our families and of our nation.