Reaching Out to Women with Disabilities in the Outer Islands

Date: Monday, June 18, 2012

“Access to adequate medical care and police services for protection continues to be serious concerns for people living with disabilities in the outer isolated islands of Lau.”

These were the sentiments of Sainimili Tawake, Project Coordinator of Fiji National Council of Disabled Persons (FNCDP) after returning from their Care Giving Project outreach to islands in the Lau group, conducted earlier on in April of this year.

The Care Giving Project began in 2010 and has reached many parts of Fiji.

A key objective of the project is to provide immediate assistance or referrals (e.g. accessing counseling services) to women and girls with disabilities who are survivors/victims of abuse or those who live in abusive or violent situations.

The project is funded through a grant from UN Women’s Pacific Regional EVAW Facility Fund, implemented with funding support by AusAID.

The Lau province comprises many islands scattered across the Eastern part of Fiji and is commonly known as the Lau Group. It takes almost a two day voyage by boat to get there.

Over a period of 11 days, the FNCDP and a support team from the Ministry of Health’s Community Rehabilitation Assistance, the Fiji Society for the Blind and a field community worker from Project Heaven were able to visit 10 islands in the Lau Group.

The visiting team coordinated its effort with the community nurses and village headmen of the various island communities.

The team conducted awareness and provided assistance to women with disabilities who have experienced violence and ill-treatment in these remote islands. Seven discussion forums were conducted with women (including women with disabilities) highlighting issues of violence against women, women’s and children’s rights and the rights of people with disabilities.

Awareness sessions were also conducted in schools during the day and in village halls at night with the distribution of pamphlets and posters on disabilities and women’s and children’s rights.

Ms Tawake said, “People with disabilities face on-going struggles, such as difficulties in accessing the village churches, schools and health facilities. They face constant ridicule by their peers and community and sometimes are even subjected to violence.

“It was quite a challenge talking to the island communities about women’s human rights, violence against women and the rights of people with disabilities.

While there were reservations from the audience in some cases, we used the opportunity during the forums to make a statement that violence against women and people with disabilities is unacceptable.

It is important to talk about the issue not only with women but also with men and boys, so we also had night sessions with the whole community to shed light on the issue of violence against women and girls and linking that to disabilities.

Whilst visiting the homes of women and girls with disabilities, it was evident that some of them were subject to abuse and violence from the people who were entrusted with looking after them.

I spoke on how women and girls with disabilities were more vulnerable to violence and ill treatment and how those giving care, and how the community as a whole could help ensure that this abuses were prevented and if the abuses were happening, how they could best support and respond to those with disabilities who have been affected without further victimizing them.

Thediscussions were also on health issues and relating that to disability prevention, the importance of access to facilities in the village, such as the church, the schools and the health centres and the importance of involving women and people with disabilities in decision making” she added.

The team worked together with the health centre representatives on the 10 islands to properly profile people with disabilities and collect other related data.

Within the 11 days the team reached over 100 women, 120 children from two primary schools and over 60 men and provided assistance to 50 persons living with disabilities by providing assistive technology and medical supplies. Ms.Tawake added, “We will be following up on some of the cases at the end of the project to see if there has been any progress”.

“At the end of the tour, while sitting on the ship’s deck looking at the bright orange and yellow tainted skies, the beautiful islands stretched across the tranquil ocean, my heart cried for the women and children with disabilities on these islands, some who have been subjected to violence and who cannot fully experience and enjoy the wonderful environment around them.

As I watched the sunset, I remembered in gratitude those who made this outreach possible and I was hopeful that the little help we were able to provide during this trip would make a difference in their communal lives. 

I hope to return again and to continue the work of educating the public by advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in these far and isolated islands”

The Fiji National Council of Disabled Persons Care Giving Project is supported by the UN Women’s Pacific Regional EVAW Facility Fund which is a regional ‘basket fund’ that provide sgrants and capacity development support for civil society organisations and governments in the Pacific to respond to ending violence against women and girls (VAWG).

For any further information on the UN Women Sub Regional Office, Pacific Regional EVAW Facility Fund please contact Tupou Vere; tupou.vere@unwomen.org or Tevita Seruilumi; tevita.seruilumi@unwomen.org.

The UN Women Pacific Sub regional office in FIJI, , works alongside the other 15 UN agencies, and is also present in Samoa, Vanuatu, PNG and Kiribatis. It however from this country offices, looks after the interest of the rest of the countries that make up the 15 Pacific island countries of the region, and its mandate is to effectively and efficiently work towards the goal of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women.