The National Council of Women in Fiji is embarking on a project that aims to increase the representation of women in politics in the lead up to the 2014 election.
Its general secretary, Fay Volatabu, says it will work with the United Nations Democracy Fund to raise public awareness and train women as leaders.
Ms Volatabu says the new constitution is silent on the issue of women participating in politics, so it's now up to the political parties to decide who they will nominate, and the public to who they are going to vote for.
FAY VOLATABU: The project is multi-pronged in that it looks at leadership of women at the village, the provincial, the district, the regional and even at the national level and even towards international positions such as high commissions to other countries. We've done it in three levels - public awareness, where we go out and do civic education for the public, and then we've got capacity building, where as a result of the civic education we identify women who we nominate as leaders, whether they hold leadership positions in the local or international arena. And then we train them. And then the third level is media advocacy, where we launch broadcasts on the radio, we do a launch for the school kids, where they write in poetry and essays, and then there's also going to be a brochure to get people aware about the need to have more women leaders in parliament and in other areas.
MARY BAINES: So given that Fiji is run by the military, how easy will it be to get these women that you have trained into political positions?
FV: Well, we're all awaiting the electoral act. And we see the constitution actually has just gone silent on the participation of women. So it's all lip service now. What we're looking at now, it's now up to the masses and it's now up to the political parties. Who are they going to nominate? If the electoral act states that each political party is to have 50% in their roll then that's good for us. But if they don't, that's why we're going out to do civic education, so that the political parties will have it in them to nominate the women and people in leadership can take it upon themselves to nominate the women if they see that there are women of merit out there. And then when it comes to election time, that's also why we're having civic education, so the public at large will then nominate women of merit. Don't get me wrong. We're not just looking at women, we're looking at women of merit. So we don't want special preferences, we don't want just any women. We're selecting women of integrity that we will support going through parliament and other arenas of leadership.
MB: Right. So this project is really in preparation for the elections next year.
FV: Yes, even though, like you mentioned, the military is still in control, most of the decrees have been relaxed and this is basically about the empowerment of the public to make decisions. That's all it is - it's all about freedom, it's about human rights. It's enshrined in the constitution. So as far as we're concerned, the people need to be enlightened, especially us as women. We've always maintained if we had more women in leadership then maybe our political landscape might have been different.