How Low Will They Go?
The Fiji Women's Rights Movement (FWRM) and femLINKpacific are deeply disappointed with the current demeaning statements made by top-ranking members of the Fiji government towards Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
These comments are also in bad timing, given that so much humanitarian assistance is being undertaken by NGOs in the absence of equitable state assistance. Unfortunately, some members of the Fiji First government display a basic misunderstanding of the nuances of democracy, the abuse of parliamentary privilege in defaming organisations and individuals in a legally protected environment, the role of NGOs and CSOs, and a lack of basic manners and etiquette.
It is sad to see the Fiji government resorting to labeling NGOs and CSOs, who represent a large constituency of people’s concerns, as “fools”, and shows a lack of understanding that the gateway to political involvement is only running for elections. The Fiji government seemingly fails to realise that a properly functioning democratic state involves all sectors of society in its politics through the fundamental rights of, amongst others, free speech and free assembly. It involves everyone because it affects everyone. This applies especially to NGOs and CSOs, whose explicit purpose is to improve society not only through direct action but through advocating for policies that are beneficial for all - i.e., politics.
Politics is more than running for election, and democracy is more than voting in these elections. They include the fair and equal participation of each and every free citizen in the running of their government, the right for every voice to be heard, and the moral obligation to treat each member and section of society fairly under the rule of law, not the fear of and acquiescence to authority figures.
The Fiji government has repeatedly attacked NGOs and CSOs stating that our political involvement is "very worrying for the nation." What is more worrying is a government which has repeatedly demonstrated its disregard for human rights, democracy, equality, and even basic professionalism, beginning with its foundation in the ashes of a coup.
And lastly, the Hon. Ms. Adimaitoga's loyal but sycophantic defence of Attorney General Khaiyum is touching but unfortunately misdirected. We object to her petty defamatory statement made in Parliament on 26 July attacking the head of Fiji Women’s Crisis Center (FWCC), Ms. Shamima Ali, suggesting that she should resign because violence against women has increased during the pandemic. The Hon Member of Parliament should know better given her gender. What a disappointment she is to women in Fiji, increasing patriarchy, rather than fighting against it. She has failed to stand up for gender equality. Increased violence against women is a result of the pandemic and isolation, not the FWCC’s work. Ms. Ali has worked tirelessly for decades, with others, on a single, noble task which has been to end violence against all women and girls.
Ending all forms of violence against women and girls is a key priority for national women’s rights organisations, as well as the Fiji government, who themselves recognize the fundamental root causes of violence. This is not the time to be insensitive and reckless in your parliamentary speeches on a prevalent issue that many Fijian women and girls are experiencing, even more so now in this pandemic.
NGOs and civil society organisations, like civil society itself, are here to stay regardless of whatever childish insults are directed towards us by people in high places.