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Opening of the 3rd Fiji National Women's Expo.

June 14, 2017       Vodafone Arena, Suva.

The Speaker of Parliament, Honourable Dr. Jiko Luveni, ?

Honourable Cabinet Ministers,

The Vice-President of Kiribati and Minister for Women, Youth and Sports Affairs, 

Your Excellency Kourabi Nenem,

The Honourable Leader of The Opposition,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

High Commissioners and Ambassadors,

Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Our Rural Women Artisans from around our beloved Fiji, 

Distinguished Guests, 

Ladies, gentlemen and my fellow Fijians,

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Kona Mauri, Namaste, As-Salaam-Alaikum, Ni Hao, Noa’ia ‘e Mauri and a very Good Morning to you all.  

Empowering Women in Fiji

My wife Sarote and I are delighted, and are deeply honoured, to join you all this morning to be part of the 3rd Fiji National Women’s Expo.

Today marks yet another historical milestone in our nation’s efforts to recognise all our women for their contribution towards Fiji’s holistic development. This is part of our on-going quest to also achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG-5) on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. SDG-5 calls for countries all over the world to address the key challenges affecting women such as poverty, inequality, discrimination and, among other things, violence against women. 

The pre-requisite to overcoming these challenges is the empowerment of women.  

This is also in-line with Fiji’s Constitution of 2013, which provides a solid and firm foundation for the recognition of equal rights irrespective of gender, age, cultural or socio-economic background.  

The Fiji National Women’s Expo seeks to provide a substantial platform to recognize and empower women artisans from around the country. Specifically, the Expo aims to recognise the creativity of rural women and their ability to participate in sustainable economic activities that will benefit individual families, communities, and the national economy.

At this juncture, I wish to acknowledge the presence of the Vice-President and Minister for Women, Youth and Sports Affairs from Kiribati who is here to share information and knowledge on the various empowerment opportunities for women. I trust that you will find the Expo meaningful, Your Excellency.

I also wish to congratulate our 500 women artisans for the tremendous work and tireless efforts invested towards your participation in this year’s Expo.  

Indeed, the Fijian Government through the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, together with development partners, continue to recognise and nurture the talents and potential of our women – especially as the custodians of the beautiful handicrafts and products that are elegantly displayed this morning.

The National Women’s Expo has become the premier and signature event, and one of the leading platforms for women’s economic empowerment in Fiji. It is indisputable that the returns from such an investment is hugely rewarding as it provides numerous incentives and benefits, including connecting women to markets – domestically, regionally and globally.  

Marketing Women’s Artifacts as part of the Fijian-Made Trademark 

Fiji has set its trade icon in various marketing arenas with our global partners, with the main goal of promoting Fijian-Made Products.

It is pleasing to note that this initiative has progressed quite well since the first Expo in 2015. 

Congratulations are also in order to the more than 50 women who will receive your Fijian-Crafted Licenses this year.

On this note, I wish to acknowledge the support of all the stakeholders including the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism and the Fiji Arts Council for setting the benchmark for our women artisans with the vision to empower our rural communities and create sustainable livelihoods for all. 

I am pleased to see the continuous developments and initiatives devoted towards recognising women’s talents, skills and more-so valuing the authentic, indigenous culture through the specific crafts that each of our provinces are well known for.

Today also marks a historical moment for the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation as it launches its first Commemorative Postal Stamp. The Stamp depicts the Fijian-Made and crafted products by our very own women. It aims to celebrate and enhance the National Women’s Expo as a viable tool for the empowerment of Fijian women. This is a great marketing strategy that will go a long way in promoting authentic traditional Fijian arts and crafts through postal cards. 

I am advised that this initiative was made possible through the support of POST Fiji, especially in championing the Fijian-Made trademark.  

Also in line with this initiative, I am aware of the publication of a Catalogue for our women artisans and their products. Like the Commemorative Postal Stamp, the Catalogue will provide significant exposure for our women and for Fijian-made products within our shores and beyond. 

These are exciting endeavours that I am sure many women will benefit from.

Women as Agents of Change

Ladies and gentlemen, this year’s theme of “BE EMPOWERED – BE THE CHANGE” is highly apt, equally timely and commendable.

We anticipate and hope that throughout the three-day event of interaction, information sharing, and networking, there will be a significant transformation of mind-sets. Undoubtedly, this will boost our women’s level of confidence by believing in yourselves and transforming your challenges into opportunities. 

In recognising and reaffirming women’s capacity as “agents of change,” we can be assured that this national platform will be instrumental in generating innovative entrepreneurial ideas and approaches to strengthen your businesses as a sustainable means of livelihood for your respective families.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is encouraging that we have all come together in large numbers today to support our women. 

It is also appropriate that we recognise the struggles and real life challenges that our women have to endure with various global and imminent issues like climate change, and polluted oceans.

For indeed, Tropical Cyclone Winston and the ensuing adverse weather events have affected us individually, as a community and collectively as a Nation. However, this has not dampened our women’s spirit to continue the good work that we can see before us today.

Your participation in this year’s Expo is an indication of courage, resilience and determination to fight against all odds, to rise beyond the horizon, and to pursue every opportunity to recover from the effects of climate change.

Just as the Head of Government is calling out to the leaders of the world to help address climate change, and to help keep our oceans clean, I call on the Nation to stand by you, the women of Fiji and support your progress.

I firmly believe God Almighty has allowed you to rise in such a time as this, to make a difference and to be an agent of change.

Eliminating Discrimination and Violence Against Women and Girls

The Fijian Government is committed towards alleviating poverty in all spheres of our economy through its continuous promotion of economic empowerment programmes.  

To help achieve this ultimate goal, we must also adequately address the other key challenges such as eliminating discrimination and violence against women and girls.

In this day and age of progress and modernisation, we continue to hear of increasing incidents of discrimination and violence against women and girls committed right in our very own homes.

Husbands, fathers, brothers and even grandfathers who should be responsible for the protection and welfare of women and girls have instead, become a threat to our women and children.

As President and Head of State, I urge the Nation to come together and take corrective action. Let us get rid of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. 

Discrimination and violence stem from a corrupt mind-set.  A mind-set that disrespects and demeans a female is a mind-set that discourages and hinders her opportunities for progress. 

In Fiji’s case, it is a mind-set that refuses to acknowledge and appreciate the significant contribution of almost 50% of our population comprising of women.  

This is a mind-set that we must change because it goes against the principles and values of human decency. 

The contribution of women to any household, community and to the nation as a whole cannot and must not be underestimated. Women’s contributions, though critical to the development of a nation, are often undervalued and unrecognised.  

We must aim for inclusive development and fairer recognition of women’s efforts. And so we must work towards changing the current mind-set that fuels discrimination and violence against women and girls.

Incidentally, the Domestic Violence Helpline at the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre received over 1000 calls and reports since its launch in March this year. This is an alarming number of cases in just over three months!

However, it is also a clear indication that women are now more forthcoming and boldly reporting cases of violence through this 24-hour helpline. This is encouraging.

I strongly believe that if men were to help create a safe and conducive environment for our women and girls, we will grow stronger together. 

We will be able to instil in our minds and hearts the love, trust and a genuine sense of care. And we will be able to build a strong Nation founded on the principles of respect, understanding, tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

Let us respect our women and girls by nurturing the values and beliefs that Fiji is known for – where happiness finds you, starting from within our individual homes.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I call on you to support this national effort to eliminate discrimination and violence against women and girls so that together we can build a better Fiji for all.

Eliminating Non-Communicable Diseases

Ladies and gentlemen, I am also here today in my additional capacity as Fiji’s lead advocate and champion in the campaign to eliminate Non-Communicable Diseases.

NCDs are causing about 80-percent of premature deaths in Fiji, as indeed in the Pacific. These are deaths of the most productive age group below 70 years.

I appeal to all the women of Fiji to help eliminate NCDs by choosing a healthy lifestyle for your families. I ask that you use the significant influence you wield at home and prioritise the wellness of the entire family. Ensure that every member of the family eats healthy foods and exercises daily even for up to 30-minutes. This will not only save the lives of your family members, but it will also help avoid the premature deaths of our Nation’s most productive population.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2017 National Women’s Expo is a unique and wonderful opportunity to celebrate the empowerment of women in Fiji. Let us embrace this occasion wholeheartedly.

Sarote and I wish all the women every success.

It now gives us great pleasure to officially open the 3rd Fiji National Women’s Expo and launch the Commemorative Postal Stamp for women.

May God bless you all.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Ko Rabwa, Dhanyavaad, Sukria, Xie xie, Fai’eksia, and Thank You