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Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

I’m delighted to be here this evening to celebrate the 69th Anniversary of one of Fiji’s most historic institutions, the Adi Cakobau School.

Just yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing many of your students perform at the closing ceremony for our first-ever National Climate Change Week, so I’d like to begin by saying thank you to your students for their wonderful performance, and thank you to the Adi Cakobau School for making such a meaningful contribution to our mission for climate action. The performance of your students highlighted the very best of Fiji – our creative and artistic spirit and the deep affinity and love that we all share for our natural environment.
For those you did not have the chance to join us at the celebrations yesterday, I gave an update on my work abroad to rally the global community behind Fiji’s upcoming Presidency of COP23. I spoke on the vast importance of Fiji’s mission this November in Bonn, Germany as COP23 President, as we call for decisive cuts in harmful carbon emissions around the world and seek full implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. And I asked for support – for your support and the support of every Fijian as we take on this enormous responsibility and carry our message for climate action to the world.
It was a wonderful celebration, and a historic moment for Fiji as we all came together, united in our common work to save this planet from the ravages of climate change. And it comes as no surprise that the women of ACS were so willing to stand with Fiji and do their part in this critical national effort.

From October 17 to 18, we will be hosting our pre-COP in Nadi in the lead-up the COP itself in Bonn. As part of that, we will be holding a Women and Climate Change Breakfast on the morning of the 18th, which will be led by Ms. Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, to discuss the leading role women are playing in meeting the challenge of climate change. And I very much look forward to seeing a number of Fijian women contribute their own experiences and lessons in leadership during that event.

Ladies and gentlemen,
For 69 years, the Adi Cakobau School’s commitment to the women and girls of Fiji has been steadfast and unwavering.
Over the course of your history you’ve produced leaders in business, government, medicine, education, athletics and the arts. Your notable list of alumni includes our current Honourable Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Jiko Luveni, a true champion of equal rights and opportunity in Fiji. I share Dr. Luveni’s long-standing commitment to spreading access to opportunity to every level of Fijian society, and I know that commitment is also shared by the leadership of the Adi Cakobau School.

We all know that we cannot succeed as a nation without the full participation of women in every aspect of our development and every facet of our national life. We need our women – all of our women. Regardless of the background they come from, regardless of their religion, their ethnicity or where they call home in Fiji. We need every woman’s ability, we need their talent and we need their dreams for what is possible for this country. There is no other way forward for Fiji. And my personal commitment on the issue of women’s empowerment is engrained into everything my Government carries out for Fiji – every decision, every policy and every programme.
The new Fiji we are all working to build can only come about when every woman and every young girl in Fiji knows that their destiny will only be determined by their own discipline and ability. For far too long, that hasn’t been the case. For far too long, our women have held back by the barriers of backwards cultural attitudes, old boys’ networks and by fear of violence at home and in their communities. That is not acceptable. That is not a pathway to progress. And that is not a Fiji we can be proud to pass on to our children, and to their children after them.

My Government has fought back against those forces of repression by seeking to empower our women from all over our country and from all walks of life in Fiji. We’ve taken a long, hard look at the issues facing women in Fijian society, and we’ve invested more government dollars than ever before in initiatives specifically designed to uplift Fijian women and level the playing the field across the Fijian economy.

Last year, we increased the budget for the Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation, with increases to programmes that focus solely on supporting the women of Fiji, such as the Women’s Plan of Action and the setting up of a 24 hour help line for women and children in partnership with Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre. Again this year, we supported the National Women’s Expo to arm Fijian women with the skills and experiences they need to fan the flame of their entrepreneurial spirit.

As the Fijian economy has soared to new heights, we’ve translated that growth directly into policies that uplift every Fijian – particularly our women and young girls. Thanks to our free education, free bus fares and free textbook initiatives, more girls are enrolled in school in Fiji today than ever before. When education was not free, and parents had to make a choice which child they could afford to educate, it was our girls who far too often had to stay home. Parents are now assisted by government and no longer have to bear the financial burden of sending their children to school, so now, every child in Fiji can carry themselves as far as their interests and their abilities can take them within our education system. And when they take the next step into higher education, we’ve vastly expanded our scholarship programmes to help fund their ambition.
But we aren’t just working to expand access to education. We’re expanding networks of roads and water and electricity infrastructure throughout all of Fiji. So that every Fijian – including Fijian women – can go about their lives without having to worry about providing themselves and their families with essential services. And in our larger economy, we’ve introduced financial and commercial incentives for investment that are making Fiji a very attractive place to do business, bringing more development and more jobs for Fijian men and women.

That consistent vision and that agenda for progress have given us eight straight years of economic growth, and the tide of prosperity that has lifted every Fijian has had an especially profound impact for women in our society.

That is because my Government’s ultimate aim has always been to build a Fijian society that stands on a foundation of merit and achievement, and nothing else. A society where the success of every Fijian is defined by their own abilities, not by who they may know, by who their parents may be, or by any ethnic, religious or provincial group to which they belong. And certainly, not by their gender.
Over the last decade, we’ve made progress. Fiji currently leads the Pacific in female representation in Parliament. Dr. Luveni is the first woman to ever serve as Speaker of our Parliament, and alongside our Secretary General to the Parliament and the Secretary of Cabinet, it is the first time in Fijian history that all three of those positions are simultaneously held by women.

In my Government, four women oversee significant ministerial portfolios, and we are proud of that representation. But we also acknowledge that it is far from good enough and that we need to do much better.

Our work is ongoing, and I look forward to working alongside the women in this room to drive the real societal change we need. So that, one day, every young girl in Fiji feels valued, cherished and capable of greatness.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Your institution’s dedication to the education and empowerment of women has helped pave the way for the success that Fiji and the Fijian economy enjoy today. And in the years to come, I have every confidence that the bright young students enrolled at ACS today will continue the fight for progress and equality in our society.
Congratulations on your 69th anniversary, as ACS enters its 70th year, I wish you every success. Be blessed and continue to make Fiji proud.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

© 2018 Ministry of Communications