Women leading in Fiji in the time of COVID-19
Suva, Fiji – The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the role of women leaders in ensuring markets continue to operate to support women’s livelihoods and food security for communities. Women market vendors, market management, representatives from the Governments of Fiji and Australia, and UN Women came together today to highlight the role of women’s leadership in local government and market spaces in Fiji, while commemorating International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8.
The theme for IWD 2021 is Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Women leaders and women’s organizations have demonstrated their skills, knowledge, and networks to effectively lead in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Today there is more acceptance than ever before that women bring different experiences, perspectives, and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to decisions, policies and laws that work better for all.
The impact of women’s leadership was evident in the marketspaces during the onset of COVID-19. Market Vendor Association (MVA) women leaders worked long hours and beyond their brief, to ensure representation in decision-making processes. The MVAs ensured women’s voices and concerns were heard in national dialogue spaces.
“Today we recognise women leaders at all levels and we have some amazing leaders in the market vendor associations who have stood strong together with the municipal councils in preparing markets to be safe spaces to continue to support local economic development in the face of COVID 19. They continued to advocate and play an important role in planning and decision making for their members,” the Hon. Premila Kumar, the Minister for Local Government said.
“In 2019, my Ministry appointed Teams of Special Administrators that consisted of 12 women out of the 28 Special Administrators appointed. These are successful businesswomen and with vast experience in various areas such as high-level governance, project management, finance management, corporate services, SME mentoring, human resource development and legal expertise,” added Hon. Kumar. “In addition, I would also like to highlight that there is an increase in the number of women appointed as Chief Executive Officers for the Municipal Councils. The appointments saw an increase in the number of women in leadership in Local Government compared to the past years.”
In Suva, a panel discussion that brought together various experiences of women leaders in the marketplace was hosted by the Australian High Commissioner, His Excellency John Feakes earlier today. Moderated by Janice Nand, the Special Administrator Suva/Lami town councils, panelists comprised Bindula Devi, the Director Local Government, Anurashika Bari, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nausori/Nasinu town councils, and Mariana Divikoca, the President of the Namaka Market Vendors Association. The women shared their individual experiences as leaders in their respective spaces in the COVID-19 pandemic environment.
In his opening remarks, John Feakes reflected that the COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters has presented challenges no one could ever imagine, but women market vendors and women in local government demonstrated strong leadership resilience by working to ensure women were able to continue selling produce in safe and secure market spaces.
Filo Ditukana, the president of the Lautoka Market Vendors Association attributed the effective response and participation of association leaders and its members to lessons from training on leadership, governance, and disaster preparedness. “We worked as a team. We communicated among ourselves and with our partners. Despite the lockdown, a lot of members were in the market to support the COVID-19 response so that we could continue doing business,” she said
Sandra Bernklau, the Representative of the UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office said in her closing remarks: “IWD 2021 is about women taking leadership in COVID times – and in Fiji we have seen women in local government, market management and in the market vendor associations leading the way forward in responding to COVID 19 by ensuring marketplaces remained opened and safe. They have also been key in ensuring women are being heard and represented at local government level, which has led to improvements for everyone”.
The M4C project brings together governments, market vendors and market vendor associations, civil society organizations and UN agencies to promote gender equality through the economic empowerment of women market vendors in Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. M4C is implemented by UN Women in partnership with UNDP and the Governments of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
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