Fiji women identify key election issues including gay rights
Young women from all around Fiji meet in Suva to decide on the key issues they want raised in the lead-up to the elections promised for September.
About 50 young women leaders in Fiji have identified key election issues they want addressed, including gay rights, reproductive health and government accountability.
The second Young Women's Forum held over the weekend aimed to encourage participants to vote in the elections promised for September and to make sure women's needs are being met.
Mary Baines reports.
The founder of transgender-led group, Haus of Khameleon, Sulique Waka says forum participants came together from a range of areas to encourage eachother to have a voice.
SULIQUE WAKA: The young women that we met were diverse women - young women with disabilities, young women of both religious and non-religious beliefs, young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer women, aspiring women politicians, young women sex workers, rural young women, young women from all our diversities.
Sulique Waka says the young women came away feeling empowered and took a pledge to vote in the upcoming elections.
SULIQUE WAKA: A broad range of issues was discussed - accessibility to voting, peace and security, accountability, active and meaningful civil and political participation, access to sexual reproductive health and rights, also calling the state and political parties to ensure accountability and transparency.
A representative from Oceania Pride, Jasmine Kaur, says the issues participants want the government to discuss at election time have been written into a declaration.
She says one of those issues is the rights of the gay and lesbian community, as advancing those rights does not appear to be on the government's agenda.
JASMINE KAUR: In the past two, three years we have noticed that even though the military regime declared the religion is to be separate from the state, we still experience homophobia from the state. I don't think that currently the government is looking towards even having a discussion about the gay rights.
The Fiji Young Women's Forum coordinator, Mamta Chand, says the women undertook sessions on feminism, women's suffrage, the country's political history, the rule of law and the role of the media.
She says the Forum is also planning a guidebook based on these sessions, called 'My Guide to Voting', which aims to help young women understand the importance of being heard.
MAMTA CHAND: It's about time young women realise the importance of voting, democracy and young women to stand up and take action and ownership of voting, and elections and democracy.
A participant in the forum and law student at the University of the South Pacific, Artika Singh, says they were not told who to vote for but rather how to exercise their right to vote.
She says she joined the conference to try and understand why so few women actively participate in politics in Fiji.
ARTIKA SINGH: Mostly because of the cultural barriers, and things such as financial resources. We were taught that financial resources becomes a barrier that women cannot really participate politically, because you also need to campaign, and you need money for that.
Artika Singh says participants now want to go into their communities and educate others.
ARTIKA SINGH: We all have pledged to vote and we are all discussing about reaching out to the community and informing them about the importance of voting. We all have been really empowered not only to vote ourselves, but to help other people to vote.
Artika Singh says she hopes more women become interested in politics and understand the issues facing Fiji.
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