10 March 2012
“In the course of this century, we will also prove that the best strategy of conflict prevention is to expand the role of women as peacemakers. In the UN itself, we must find ways to appoint more women in peacekeeping and peacemaking positions…not only do women belong on this planet, but that the future of this planet depends on women.”
(Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, June 2000)
March 9, 2012 was Day 2286 since Commodore Bainimarama executed the military coup which deposed the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase led government.
It was the day on which Bainimarama defined the roadmap for the constitution consultation process.
Yes, while schools of thoughts vary about whether Fiji needs another constitution making process, the announcement of March 9 marks another chapter in our political history.
Day 2286 also happens to be the day after women in local communities and towns, professional women, students, activists and a new generation of feminists commemorated International Women’s Day across Fiji.
As FemLINKPACIFIC linked women from the local to the national and global community through community radio and interactive media initiatives, we also recalled that this is also the 12th anniversary of the UN Security Council Presidential statement on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2000 which expressed that “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men”, as well as to the Charter of the United Nations which identifies the maintenance of international peace and security as “the primary responsibility of the Security Council”.
Subsequently on 31st October 2000 the United Nations Security Council, under the Namibian Presidency, unanimously passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This is a historic resolution with a number of critical implications including for the inclusion of women’s groups and civil society in peace processes.
The political process ahead is indeed a Peacebuilding process and one which will enable us to reclaim and rebuild democracy as well as reaffirm our collective commitment to non violence and peaceful resolutions of conflicts, through what the state has committed to, “a fully participatory consultative process”.
The challenge, of course, is to ensure that, in reality, it entails inclusive, participatory and gender sensitive processes and outcomes.
The commitment to ensure a participatory constitution-making process is indeed commendable especially when considering how under-represented women are within the existing power structures of Fiji. These structures include traditional and government systems, as well as within faith based institutions. This has been one of the very reasons why Fiji’s women’ movement emerged in pre-independence Fiji.
But it is also imperative that women’s human rights based organizations are partners in the upcoming process.
The state, as signatory to the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as a UN member state committed to the Beijing Platform for Action, need to ensure that the development of information and documents comply with international human rights norms and standards, including a provision guaranteeing the equality of men and women the law, including customary law. Taufa Vakatale as a member of the Constitution Commission will be well aware of these prerequisites. Not only was she the Minister of Women in 1995 when Fiji ratified CEDAW, but having held leadership positions within the Fiji and World YWCA is also familiar with how the women’s movement has enabled inclusive political spaces for women.
One hopes that the planned civic education process will assist the citizens of Fiji understand why and how issues including women’s rights to access land and to equality in family matters must be affirmed and protected in the process ahead.
Finally, this month, the United Nations will be deploying a timely Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) to Fiji, to meet with the state and other stakeholders. The NAM, which will be conducted by the Electoral Assistance Division of the UN Secretariat in New York will consider Fiji’s needs, such as ballot boxes, staffing and logistical preparation, among other considerations in the lead up to the September 2014 election.
It is critical that this process also integrates and assists Fiji as a member state of the United Nations compliance with gender equality and women’s human rights conventions, treaties and resolutions, including UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Women, Peace and Security).
The 2005 publication “Security the Peace: Guiding the International Community towards Women’s Effective Participation throughout Peace Processes (published by UNIFEM), provides an important guide to how women can be supported to bring their own perspectives on political solutions and why it is imperative to that women who have laboured to build and maintain peace at the community level bring this knowledge and experience to the
“Women who appreciate the ways that inequality and injustice hinder human development
can make the negotiation and implementation of peace agreements more constructive. The
prospects for sustainable peace and development are greatly improved by tapping into women’s understanding of the challenges faced by civilian populations and their insights into the most effective ways to address them.”
We need to ensure that the UN assisted process and the report, and its anticipated recommendations also include gender specific references to ensure that women in Fiji not only engage in the process of voting but ways in which women will be given the space and resources to engage freely.
Ultimately the ensuing months and the timeframe announced on March 9 will be a great opportunity for domestication of these international women’s rights instruments.
All efforts must be made to resource and support an enabling environment for women’s participation—including our current civil society structures which can facilitate women’s input and enable strategic support to women.
Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Executive Director: FemLINKPACIFIC