Fiji is an independent sovereign state in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 322 islands and 522 smaller islets. The two main islands are Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, which hosts the capital city of Suva. Following independence from the United Kingdom in 1970, Fiji has experienced four coup d’états and is not considered a democratic state. Fiji’s current president is appointed by military council, and the prime minister is the commodore of the Fiji military forces. Fiji’s next election is scheduled for September 2014.
Women and the Law
The Bill of Rights set out in the 1997 Constitution is one of a small handful of constitutions globally that provides explicit protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and disability. Fiji’s constitution is also the only one in the Pacific region that expressly prohibits indirect discrimination, including on the basis of gender
Under the Crimes Decree 2009, either party can be held accountable for incest relationships. Fijian law allows for evidence of a victim’s prior sexual history to be brought into rape trials, a rule which substantially decreases the likelihood of successful conviction. There is no minimum age of sexual consent in Fiji, therefore the crime of statutory rape does not exist. The corroboration rule (a common law rule that classes sexual assault complainants as unreliable witnesses and allows judges to warn juries against convicting on the basis of their evidence unless it has been independently corroborated) has been declared unconstitutional, with explicit reference made to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the court’s decision
Fiji is the only Pacific Island country to satisfy the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) recommended benchmarks for maternity leave, offering three months’ leave (84 days of this period is paid, at the nominal rate of $1.50 per day).
Fiji’s family law allows for non-fault based divorce as long as a couple has been separated for 12 months, reasonably equitable mechanisms for the calculation of child maintenance (including assessment of both financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage) and the ability to access restraining orders for domestic violence victims (although this is not available to those in de facto relationship).
In non-compliance with CEDAW, Fiji’s minimum marriageable age is 18 for men and 16 for women.
Violence Against Women
Violence against women is widespread in Fiji: 66% of women have experienced physical abuse; 26% have been beaten while pregnant; 48% of married women have been forced into sex by their husbands; and 13% of women have been otherwise raped. Around 30% of female rape victims were between the ages of 11 and 15, with children who had been sent from outer islands to stay with extended families in urban areas identified as particularly vulnerable.
In the period of 2003 to 2007, domestic violence made up approximately 13% of all crimes against the person. Violence against women also appears to have been on the rise in this period: reports of sexual violence increased by 155%, along with a corresponding increase in the number of violent deaths of women. About 74% of domestic violence victims do not go to the police, with some preferring to defer to community or religious leaders while others are reluctant to report abuse at all.
Fiji’s coups have been identified as an exacerbating factor for violence against women, with VAW reports escalating during and immediately after military coups.
Women and the Economy
About 39% of women in Fiji aged 15 years and over are categorised as economically active. One third of those involved in informal sector economic activities are women, and women form 30% of the non-agricultural workforce.
Around 78% of all informal sector activity in Fiji involves agriculture, forestry and fishing, and one third of those involved in such activities are women. Women actively participate in almost all aspects of agricultural production in Fiji, including farming, marketing, food processing and distribution, and export processing. Rural women typically farm land that belongs to their male relatives as father-to-son inheritance practices tend to make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to own land.
iTaukei (traditional Fijian) women are frequently excluded from formal inheritance rights to customary land, tend to have no rights to land other than those permitted by their fathers or husbands, and do not customarily receive land rents .
Sexual harassment in the workplace has historically been prevalent: a 2002 study found that one in three women had been sexually harassed in the workplace.
Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are cited as causing 82% of overall deaths in Fiji, one of the highest rates in the Pacific region. Almost 62% of all female deaths under the age of 70 are attributable to NCDs. Preventive medical care is generally lacking, with, for example, only 10% of women currently screened for cervical cancer.
Fiji is on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 (improvement of maternal health). Deaths in childbirth are down from 60 per 100,000 live births in 1995 to 28 per 100,000 live births. Additionally, 99% of all births are attended by skilled birth staff. Unmet need for contraceptives has declined to 30% (from 46%) and the adolescent birth rate has almost halved since 1990. Fiji’s maternal mortality rate has decreased from 60.4 in 1995 to 22.6 in 2010.
Women and the Environment
Annual maximum and minimum temperatures have increased in both Suva and Nadi since 1950. In Suva, maximum temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.15°C per decade. At Nadi Airport the rate of increase has been 0.18°C per decade. Satellite data indicate sea levels in Fiji have risen by about 6mm a year since 1993. The global average is 2.8-3.6mm per year for the same period. This rise is partly linked to a pattern related to climate variability from year to year and decade to decade.
Women and girls experience natural disasters and the impacts of climate change in ways that are distinct from men and boys. Rising sea levels and changes in air and water temperature have distinct impacts on women’s traditional economic, agricultural and fishing duties, as do the impacts of over-fishing.
Women face an increased vulnerability to violence and deprivation after natural disasters. It is vital that all humanitarian interventions consider the unique needs of women and girls, whether in shelter, housing, nutrition, healthcare, water and sanitation or protection in general. Similarly, it is vital that communities respect and utilise women’s unique skills, and give women a voice in how communities rebuild after disasters.
Temporary and/or permanent displacement as a result of climate change and natural disaster place women in vulnerable economic and social positions, as communities struggle to adapt to the changes in their natural environments.
UN Women in Fiji
Advancing Gender Justice in the Pacific (AGJP) Programme: UN Women continues to support government and civil society partners when it comes to Convention on Ending all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) implementation and reporting, particularly in adopting a harmonised human rights treaty reporting approach.
Ending Violence against Women (EVAW) Programme: This programme continues to focus on the prevention of and response to violence, exploitation and abuse of women and girls in Fiji through its Pacific EVAW Facility Fund. The fund provides financial and technical support to organisations addressing EVAW throughout the country and supports capacity development amongst government and civil society partners in order to provide multi-sectoral and survivor-focused VAW services. The grants facility component enables direct outreach to marginalised groups and VAW survivors with better access and availability of VAW services, information, knowledge on human rights and equality.
Un Women provides stakeholders with access to virtual knowledge platforms, tools and evidence-based resources in order to better equip them with the knowledge and evidence to advocate for strengthened EVAW legislation, improved policies and services for violence against women survivors. The EVAW Programme, in collaboration with partner organisations, aims to inform women and girls about the availability of VAW services and to support social transformation through campaigns such as the United Nations Secretary General’s UNiTE to EVAW and Say NO-UNiTE.
Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Programme: As part of this programme, UN Women is working to ensure that decision-makers in Fiji have access to nationally-generated and disaggregated data and statistics on women’s economic opportunities through supporting the production of knowledge management products that provide improved and comparable evidence on the economic situation for women.
UN Women is also implementing the Markets for Change (M4C) Project, which aims to ensure marketplaces in rural and urban areas in Fiji are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory environments, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the informal economy.
Increasing Community Resilience through Empowerment of Women to Address Climate Change and Natural Hazards (IREACH) Programme: UN Women is supporting the adoption and implementation of gender equality commitments in strategic documents for climate change and disaster risk management through capacity strengthening with stakeholders and the provision of knowledge products and tools on the gendered implications of climate change and disasters.
 Land Rights of Pacific Women, Cema Bolabola, Kenneth, Silas and Moengangongo (1986)