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Femlinkpacific Labasa 1325 Network Special Report

Femlinkpacific Labasa 1325 Network Special Report

The Need to Advance Gender Equality in Planning, Policy and Service Delivery to women in local and rural communities has been one of the reasons for FemLINKPACIFIC’s Rural “1325” Community Media Network and at the first network meeting for the core team of 11 rural women leaders in Labasa who are champions for gender equality within the maze of government networks and systems they have to negotiate through. As they discuss and define their peace and human security priorities each month they are highlighting the gaps in policy planning and service delivery and while some are working to ensure infrastructure development, many are focusing on addressing the economic security priorities of their members.

It is clear from the stories shared today that while this core group of women leaders who live and breathe the gender inequalities in their communities, are empowered to understand and use the developing planning process, there is a critical need for greater capacity amongst government officials.

There is also a need to address the existing information “divide” between the capital city and rural centres must be addressed. Government officials especially those working in rural communities need to be better equipped with the gender analysis skills not because they are the first point of contact for local communities whether it is infrastructure development, land use planning, as well as economic development.

Government officials also need to be able to seek out the rural women leaders who they can work with to ensure more women are informing the decision making process.

Additionally micro-enterprise programmes for women such as the recently introduced “sewing machine hire purchase programme” of the Department of Women, and also financial programmes need to ensure that they are not increasing the burden of loans onto women from the informal financial sector. Programmes need to equip women’s groups with financial literacy and management skills, co-operative management skills and understanding as well as ensuring that women are also aware of their consumer rights and are able to negotiate on repayments etc. Micro-enterprise programme recipients, for example, should not have to bear the burden of repayment faults etc when they have not given seed grants for production and distribution of their products or training to make the most of the equipment they are being encouraged to buy.

Here are the Women for whom Gender Equality matters to their Peace and Human Security:

Vunicuicui Multiracial Women’s Forum:

When she first started participating in FemLINKPACIFIC’s “1325” network meetings in 2009, Nirmala Sharma the Secretary/Treasurer of the Vunicuicui Multiracial Women’s Forum (VMWF) had her heart set on improving the infrastructure in her community including bringing electricity to the Nasoni Community Settlement where she lives.

This is a legacy she has inherited from her mother, she says, a woman who only spoke the itaukei and Hindi languages but as a member of their local district advisory council in Bua, brought water to the community of 20 families.

Since 2010 through programmes she has attended in Labasa and Suva with FemLINKPACIFIC Nirmala has developed the communication skills and the confidence to approach government officials to articulate the priorities of her community, knowing all along that she has the support of the “1325” network members and using the community radio programmes to continue to raise her issues and concerns.

This has resulted in the improvements to the Nasoni community feeder road in 2012 and progress in her own rural electrification campaign for the 16 families in what has been a “black spot” in the Vunicuicui community:

“I have done all the work for the community including negotiating with the FEA for the reduction on the initial quote of the costs from $195000 to $42000. I then approached the Department of Energy and learnt that our community would only have to pay 5% of the cost because it is less than $60,000.”

It turned out that the cost for the 16 households was going to be $3219.25 but this was still a large amount for the mainly farming community. And so following an approach to the Fair Trade Unit, the community’s bill has been paid, the government allocation has been paid and the next step is for the FEA to begin its work.

Electricity is not only important for the families in the community but also for the Vunicuicui Multiracial Women’s Groups co-operative shop which was opened on January 25, 2010. Without electricity the women were unable to expand the range of products such as frozen goods and set up the internet café for students in their area but they have worked hard to pay off the initial $6000 through shop sales as well as a food security programme that has involved the sale of seedlings. Subsequently the women’s group has been involved in the development of 10 new varieties of kumala and they plan to sell the plants as part of their loan repayment scheme. As of January 2013 they have $629.94 to pay off.

The women’s co-operative store has also become a model for other women’s groups. The women of the Nabunikavula Village who have joined the VMWF have also been able to develop a canteen project and are currently awaiting additional assistance from the Department of Women who have committed to providing $5000 work of stock for the canteen once the women have built the canteen.

Bulileka Mothers and Young Girls Club

Ruffina Ratulele is now the President of the Bulileka Mothers and Young Girls Club. She has been attending FemLINKPACIFIC’s rural network meetings and activities since 2009 and says that this has enabled women leaders to learn from each other, including across the racial divide

Previously the club was known as the Bulileka Women’s Club but the name change reflects the commitment of the “1325” network to support the development of young women who are also attending the club meetings and programmes including the community radio broadcasts:

“We have been able to voice our concerns and raise these concerns to the government officials,” says Ruffina.

In 2010 access to safe and clean water was a priority for families of Bangladesh squatter settlement in addition to the lack electricity.

By the end of 2012 the community was looking forward to the plans for subdivision of the land which should contribute to infrastructure improvements while for the Boca Road community the “Urata hanging bridge” has been repaired and maintained. However repairs are pending for the Bangladesh/Mani Road still needs improvement including bridge upgrade especially for the primary school students. The Bulileka Bridge which is the main access to the village is also in dire need of repairs:

“The monthly consultation is a source of empowerment for us. We have participated in financial literacy training workshop in Mataniwai and this has enabled women to run small businesses either in subsistence farming to save money for the family or earn a living through the market.”

The club members have also been able to access information and contribute to the constitution making submission process.

Naleba Multiracial Women’s Group

According to Adi Makitalena the group which was formed in 2010 with the intention to link women together within the community bridging the gap between women who belong to the landowning community and the women from the families of cane farm labourers:

“”Now in 2013 all the women in the club can speak more confidently in English. (the consultations) have encouraged and educated us.”

The group leader has been supported to continue to source information and undertake budget planning for their poultry project.

While the group has established a poultry farm in 2011 she has had to negotiate with a range of government departments and officials.

The negotiation for the rural women like Adi Makatalena and Nirmala means travelling long distance and find ways to negotiate around what is sometimes not very responsive to women however there is still the need to see a change in attitude towards women.

However persistence pays off as she reports that the Ministry of Women officials will be visiting the project tomorrow (17/1)

“We want to go forward and earn money for our families future,” said member Harsh Mani

Vatulutu Women’s Club

“I can talk and I can fight for my rights says Lusiana Matai as she shared that her motivation to develop her club is to bring women together from her “mataqali” (family units) to work together to support their children’s education costs including at the tertiary level particularly to access rural girls’ education.

Since 2010 she has been advocating within her village community for the need for families to save money to support education costs especially as with the limited number of village scholarships is only valued at $500 per year.

As a market vendor, she has been able to participate in recent UNDP training for market vendors and this reaffirmed the information she gained through the “1325” network on how to access information and service and improvements to the market especially the improvements to the market shelter:

“We are now ready to form the market vendors union and I have said I am ready to represent the women vendors through our association.”

Labasa – Association of Anglican Women (AAW)

The Vice President of the Labasa AAW Anshoo Kumar is connecting FemLINKPACIFIC’s work with the 35 active members in the AAW in 5 rural centres in Labasa and the AAW Labasa is a broadcast partner for FemLINKPACIFIC’s Community Radio station (FemTALK 89FM) since it was launched in Labasa in November 2011.

As a result of this partnership, the members of the AAW-Labasa have been able to renovate the hall which is their main project and it is enhancing their financial independence and negotiating skills within the church community:

“Before we used to rely a lot on the vestry meeting decisions but now we have financially independent.”

In November 2012 the House of Sarah programme which began as an AAW Suva project and she is now a member of the referral committee to provide support and advice for women who are unable to access information and services, particularly ensuring legal advice and community interventions.

“By coming through the consultations I am more vocal and I am able to share the information to our members as well,” she said as she looked forward to sharing the information through the House of Sarah Project through the community radio broadcasts.

Naqai Women’s Club

Jotivini Vuanilotu leads 35 active members “(but) there are 40 women in our community and we look forward to them getting more involved as we develop our projects …attend the meetings we hold” who established themselves in 2012.

10 members of the club have recognized that they need to work together to paying off their sewing machines they acquired through the Department of Women’s hire purchase programme.

Like the members of the Bulileka Mothers and Young Women’s Club the members of Naqai Women’s Club have raise $280 to pay off their sewing machine bill over the next 12 months for the $3360 hire purchase bill.

“The burden of the loan is now on the women, “said Ruffina, “who is hopeful that the store they have the hire purchase account could extend the repayment option to at least 36 months.”

Especially as Jotivini adds “as most of the women are unemployed and we hoped the sewing machines who helps them with their family’s finance, in addition to what they are saving by planting vegetables and root crops.”

Vunimoli Arya Women’s Club and Vunimoli Multiracial Youth Group

Prem Lata Bhan the Secretary of the Vunimoli Arya Women’s Club shared how since 2010 they have completed a water tank project for their community hall which also serves as an evacuation centre as the community is close to the Nakorotari River.

The multiracial youth group is a response to the settlement by cane farm labourers who have chosen to remain in Vunimoli. The youth group provides recreational activities as well as communication and confidence building programmes. The group is also planning to expand their livestock programme while the women’s group members are planning to develop a virgin coconut oil production project.

Women’s Community Radio “Market” Broadcast schedule for February 23rd

With economic security being a priority for the core group of rural women leaders who attend FemLINKPACIFIC’s monthly “1325” network meeting, plans will be finalised to stage a women’s market during the 2nd weekend broadcast of each month.

It is anticipated that the market will assist the women generate income from their various income generating projects.


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