20 Nov 2013

Fiji women still hope for constitutional support

6:07 pm on 20 November 2013

Advocates for women in Fiji say they are still hoping for special measures mandating women's representation in parliament.

Fiji's new constitution does not contain temporary special measures for women, a mechanism some countries use to speed up progress towards gender equality.

But a spokesperson for the Fiji Women's Forum, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, says there is still time for this to happen as the state has an end of year deadline to make changes to the constitution.

She told Sally Round there's growing political awareness among women as Fiji heads towards the elections next year, but they need more support.

SHARON BHAGWAN ROLLS: Women are already starting to indicate. You can definitely see some of the women who were part of the existing political parties, as well. But a lot still depends on these decrees. I'd like to be able to say that we can certainly organise, but the fact is that we're going into this process in a political space that is managed by the state.

SALLY ROUND: Are people not putting up their hands because they don't know the parameters they'll be working under?

SBR: No, I think people are willing. I know there are actually women from within our rural networks who may not be putting their hands up for the next elections, but they're certainly looking at the one that follows. Because they're also recognising their leadership as rural women is important, but they also want time to be able to grow into some of these processes. And, as I said, it's also about learning, about the practicalities of a new constitution and a new political paradigm, as well, in Fiji.

SR: What are the chances and what role will organisations like yours play in the possibility that you could still get temporary special measures into the constitution?

SBR: I would hope that as the state reviews through its deadline - the end of December 2013, the constitution - it will recognise that it has critical accountability. It is required, as state party to the UN convention CEDAW, to put in place temporary special measures to ensure that women have that kind of political space and support. I would like to remain hopeful in that regard. If not, then we hope, also, that political parties are also recognising the partnership. I think we need political parties to support female candidates. It's very difficult for women to go it alone as independent candidates. And as we've seen in previous elections when women have been supported by political parties, a lot of the time it's not with the kind of critical support. They've kind of put women on lists, but not given them the kind of support, and women are still struggling with resources. That's the other thing. The political parties decree does limit fundraising to support women as candidates. We'd love to be able to do an EMILY's List type programme. But we have to be very careful in Fiji. If we do fundraising for female candidates, we've got to make sure that we're not doing anything wrong under some decree.