Women’s Centres: Great, but are they Really Open to All?

Mrs Nacobi (L) and the Minister at the Raibeca Centre. 
Raibeca Women’s Centre is situated at Tacirua, north of Suva. A recent report by  its president Mrs Filimaina Nacobi  reminded me of the plans for helping poorer women outlined by the Minister of Women, Dr Jiko Luveni, that I published in September last year.  It is well worth a re-read because, in this case,  it allows us to monitor Government intentions on social justice with respect to women and poverty.  

The Raibeca Centre belongs to the umbrella Fiji Women’s Federation that links some NGOs to the Ministry.  As the elected president of the Raibeca Centre Filimaina sits on an ministerial Advisory Committee that  is charged with the implementation of government's Women’s Plan of Action (WPA) 2010 to 2019 (see the September post for details).

The FWF, unlike many umbrella women’s organizations in the past, is open to all races, and many, but not all, of its activities are based around the women’s centres.  Raibecu was the first centre. The Minister had hoped for eight by the end of last year but only managed five. A further nine are expected to be built by 2014. Beside Raibevu, there are now centres at Waikubukubu in Tavua,  Lomaivuna , Kioa, and Doi in Lau. The women's husbands and male relatives build the centres. Government assists with money for materials. 

The centres work closely with the Ministry and with divisional planning officers to identify and meet the needs of women specific to their particular communities. They provide training in capacity-building and organize activities to help generate income, mainly from ‘informal’ economic activities.
In the case of Raibevu, Filimaina says the centre is the heart of the village for women where it is used every day to plan, work and share skills. On Mondays the women   bring their own materials to sew clothes, and share traditional weaving mats, hats, baskets and screen printing and handicraft skills She says the centre provides the women with a sense of ownership and belonging. Orders for sewing and screen printing are given on a weekly basis and the income generating activities are coordinated through the women centre.

The centre is also hired to outside groups for $20 and the women hope to attract bigger functions like weddings and  birthdays. Filimaina says, “We are extending invitations to church denominations to come and use the centre as it is for everyone in the locality.” 

But therein lies a problem.  Is it really for everyone? Tacirua village straddles both sides of Princes Road.  It is not a traditional village. Had its occupants been Indo-Fijian, it would have been classed as a squatter settlement.  But the occupants are itaukei  who have been given vakavanua rights to live there by the local itaukei landowners. It is one step up from a squatter settlement and is classified as an informal Fijian urban village.   Indo-Fijians live on the perimeter, as a separate community.  This is one of the divisional realities inherited from Fiji’s past —and all five centres are located in itaukei villages,  except for Kioa in Vanua Levu where Tuvaluans predominate.  

If the FWF and the centres are to be truly multi-racial, the Ministry needs to be actively involved in attracting women of all races to the centres, making sure they feel comfortable in what at the moment seems to be an essentially itaukei environment. I could be wrong but I doubt many Indo-Fijian women will step forward unless they are assured they are truly welcome in the village. The Ministry could also give consideration to building some centres, or other such facility,  in predominantly Indo-Fijian localities and making the FWF more appealing to a wider cross-section of NGOs


Only Fijians said…
You seem confused. There are no longer indo-Fijians - we are all now Fijians. The non Fijian Fijians will just have to learn how to mix, won't they?

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