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First Lady Addresses Fiji Women Lawyers Association Networking Breakfast

October 9, 2020       Holiday Inn, Suva.

Ms Mele Rakai (FWLA President);

Ms Namrata Singh (Vice President);

Ms Laisani Macedru (Secretary);

Ms Koila Kabu (Treasurer);

Ms Marica Hussein (Assistant Secretary);

Ms Radhika Naidu (Western Rep);

Ms Angeline Sumer (Northern Rep);

Ms Roslin Sharma Secretary; and

Ms Mandvi Singh (Treasurer).

At the outset I’d like to thank the FIJI WOMEN LAWYERS ASSOCIATION for the kind gesture of inviting me here this morning to speak with you. I am extremely grateful to be here today, to share some of my experiences over the years, not in the context of my position alone, but as a wife, mother, grandmother and more importantly, a woman.

I look around this room and I see individuals, who are collectively blessed and achievers in their own right. I am sure that you must have families who share your joy in all that you have become today and for some of you, an aspiration to be all you can be in the near future.

Looking into the history of FWLA, it is encouraging to know that this organization was formed to address concerns of female legal practitioners. While it may seem clear that the fundamental concerns were to address issues related to women and children, the question that remains to be asked is, “what prompted this initiative”?

From my perspective, while I fully agree with the vision and initiative of the FWLA, I sincerely think that it takes a woman sometimes to recognize some of these issues in its entirety, which is why I believe was one of the reasons this movement was implemented. Compassion and empathy are some of the attributes that drive us women to be the healers of society and in your case, adjudicators for justice and equality when required.

A report compiled by the UNDP titled the “JUSTICE NEEDS & SATISFACTION IN FIJI” addressed interesting statistics and conclusions regarding the legal representation or the lack of it for women in our nation. I will not delve into the details of all that was highlighted, but I noticed that there was an increase in offenses against women and children during the pandemic lockdown. While this is terribly unfortunate, we believe organizations like FWLA and its affiliates are able to address these ongoing concerns by acting upon the recommendations highlighted. I would also like to acknowledge the progress and mileage covered by FWLA in all facets of society that need assistance. It is encouraging to know that a real impact is planned to address domestic violence with the assistance of FWRM, FWCC, THE FIJI POLICE FORCE and SPC’s Human Rights Division.

Let’s move beyond the shop talk and let me share with you some of the experiences I can recall, that have not only allowed me to grow as an individual, but made me stronger and resilient. While these experiences may pale in comparison to some of the life changing stories you have, please bear with me while I indulge you in some of the moments I think have been significant in defining who I have become as a person.

Firstly, my Faith has been the foundation of what and who I have become today. I am humbled to know that despite my shortcomings, I have been given hope through Christ to allow me to soldier on. Having a faith base, allows you to alleviate the pressures of life and cling to an ever present hope that everything will be alright. July 2020 was a milestone for me. In it, I turned 70 and in my address to the staff of the office of the president, I mentioned that life has a way of showing us that despite its many challenges, we need to allow ourselves to see the glimmers of joy that surround us everyday.

I was born on the island of Rotuma in 1950. Growing up in Rotuma in the 50’s and early 60’s, a woman’s life was pretty much set on home keeping and performing domestic chores. While this may seem insignificant to some, these early years taught me important life skills such as the benefits of hard work, becoming an active listener, attaining better situational awareness to others needs and of course understanding the crucial role a woman played within the family. I moved to Fiji in 1966. This was the year I enrolled into Derrick Technical Institute (now FNU in Samabula), doing shorthand and typing. I graduated from that course at the end of 1967 and started work in 1968 doing secretarial duties. I left this job after two years to become a flight attendant with Fiji Airways. The dynamics of moving from a rural to urban lifestyle taught me two lessons. Firstly, that I had to be a quick learner, and secondly, I had to learn from the best. These two lessons are ones I am sure we can all relate to. When you come from humble beginnings, you always use the difficult times as motivation to succeed in all you do.

In the few years after I had arrived here, Fiji had now become independent. This in itself was a great milestone for our nation. While the years have seen challenges, we are able to see the potential Fiji can become. With the wheels spinning in the right direction, I have no doubt, that with the correct vision, we can become great as a nation. I left Fiji Airways after serving three years. I found myself back again with my typing and shorthand job and also my book keeping skills with the ANZ Bank. I spent eight years with ANZ before I became a full time housewife in 1981.

So you see, from a career point, it may look like things happened backwards for me. I started out in a career, only to end up where I began, in the home. If you think a housewife was difficult, try a military house wife. With your spouse being away for active duty for most of your early married years, you become father and mother to your children. I am sure the women who have experienced this will agree, not a day goes past where you don’t ask yourself a few hard questions about the purpose of life. The years spent raising our family were challenging at times, yet they were some of the most fulfilling ones. The modern woman I feel sometimes loses a great opportunity when they shelve the notion of having a family and yet later finally realize how short life truly really is.

When my husband retired from the military into the public service, our boys had left home on their career paths and I found myself adjusting to having him and not our sons at home. The following years were spent serving Fiji in different capacities. All this while we grew and adapted to new challenges that presented themselves in the different roles we experienced, through my husbands career. As a woman in the background, I am a firm believer that coming alongside your spouse to ensure the correct steps are taken is essential. Whenever a new opportunity arrived, we prayed and discussed these TOGETHER. Being in that position allows you to look at the scenario from the outside in. As the saying goes,

“ A woman is the full circle, within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.” While these opportunities were discussed, we always respected the choices that were made by my husband. Being in a situation like that teaches us that when a decision is made, if it has been a well informed and prayed out one, we commit ourselves fully into achieving the desired outcome. That way, there are no regrets and more importantly, the right attitude is applied.

Being a mother is a whole different ball game. When they say that patience is a virtue, you don’t really understand that phrase until you have children. Nurturing and loving your children is one of the greatest responsibilities a woman is bestowed with. In an ever changing world, this task is no easy feat. We must always try to remember that children need to be raised and cared for the right way. Our two boys over the years growing up in Suva were taught to value the small things in life and appreciate the great ones. Of course this comes with many repetitions on following instructions and lengthy pep talks. Being a mother carries with it not just a huge responsibility, but a reason to care. Many children suffer today because this has been neglected. While not all situations are the same, there have been mitigating strategies put in place by government and NGOs to assist families and children. If we are to move forward as a nation, we need to put more emphasis into the building blocks of society, the family.

I was invited here to share with you all some of the experiences that can inspire and empower you on the values and aspirations as a woman through the years of my life. I sincerely hope that what was shared will be relevant and applicable to some if not all of you here. Thank you for being an inspiration to me. All of you here and for those who couldn’t make it should be proud of the achievements you have accomplished. The initiatives you strive for in this organization and your affiliates really can make a difference. As mentioned earlier, sometimes, it takes a woman to fully comprehend issues that concern the well being of women and children.

As we gather here, I understand that there are so many families who are struggling to make ends meet. We are mindful too that there are those around the world that face similar circumstances. Although this pandemic has ground the wheels of progress to an almost standstill, I believe we are a resilient people. If we can understand that this will be a temporary trial we face, understanding that how we handle it lasts forever should motivate us all to move forward together, building a better Fiji and a better world for our future generations to come.

May God bless you all, thank you again for allowing me to be part of this special event.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Thank you.