Equality Is Key To Freedom
The following was Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s address during the launch of Domestic Violence 24-hour toll freehelp line and the 2017 national women’s expo at the Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva.
Cabinet Ministers, heads of missions, members of the Diplomatic Corp, heads of international and regional agencies, members of Civil Society, distinguished guests, representatives of the media, ladies and gentlemen, bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
I am honoured to be here to celebrate the indispensable role of women in our society and to launch two initiatives for Fijian women.
The global theme for International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change.” And I am proud to say that the initiatives we launch today are designed to encourage Fijian women to be bold—to seize control of their lives, their health and their economic well-being.
International Women’s Day is not intended just to say nice things about women and give them flowers and hugs—and then return to life as we know it the next day.
It is not a time to talk in patronising tones about how we love our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and sweethearts. We have seen too often how people can commit unspeakable acts of violence and repression against the very people they are supposed to love and protect.
No, this is a time to appreciate the contribution of women to society on equal terms. It is a time to cry out for collaboration, support, empowerment, understanding and—most important of all—equality. Equality is the key, because we all know that violence against women stems from two things: a conviction that women are less equal than men and a deep-seated fear that they are not.
So when we create a toll-free Domestic Violence Helpline to support all women who are or have been victims of violence—or who fear they may become victims of violence—we make a statement as a people. We are telling the women of this country, “You must not accept violence, and if you choose to fight back, your country will support you. And if you cannot fight back but need help, your country will embrace you.”
We are also making the statement that we as a people will intervene to protect children who are being vicitimised by the very adults they should trust to protect, support and nurture them.
And by committing ourselves to the 3rd National Women’s Expo, which will be held at the Vodafone Arena from the 14th to 16th of June this year, we are telling women, “The businesses you run, the products you make and grow, and the services you provide are important to our economy and our nation. Your value is not only in the home, but also in the marketplace, and your country is behind you.”
The Domestic Violence Helpline is truly a national effort. It is a partnership of the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation with our three telecommunications companies—Digicel, Telecom Fiji Limited, and Vodafone—and the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre. Together they will enable women and children who have suffered domestic violence or are under threat of domestic violence to get help at no charge, 24-hours a day—with compassion, discretion and professionalism.
I want to commend the staff of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, whose staff have been trained to manage the line and deal appropriately and selflessly with anyone who calls needing help. It is impossible to know how many women will be putting their well-being and even their lives in your hands. It is a great responsibility and a great calling. And your reward will come every time you help someone get herself out of a dangerous situation, every time you help a woman who has been beaten or raped find justice.
And I want to thank and congratulate Telecom Fiji Limited, Vodafone and Digicel for making the Domestic Violence Helpline a reality. You are doing this because it is right, and our nation is grateful.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that domestic violence in Fiji is far too common. We are working hard in Government and civil society to end it, but I say that more can be done. You have heard me say many times—and I will say it again: Domestic violence is a national shame. Rape is a national shame. And together we must do much more to stop them.
Let me repeat what I have told Fijian men over and over: Real men don’t beat women. They respect and protect them. Real men don’t rape women. They respect a woman’s right to say no. And real men certainly don’t abuse children, a heinous crime that warrants the strongest punishment.
I call on men to join me to champion this rallying call against domestic violence and its destructive effect on our Fijian society. I call on men who truly stand for non-violence to use every opportunity they have to speak out against domestic violence. I call on our community organisations and religious groups to rally their members against domestic violence. I call on every Fijian to reject any tolerance for domestic violence or those who are responsible for it. Domestic violence is not a problem for women; it is a problem for us all because it demeans us all if we do nothing to stop it.
I am frankly proud that my Government has stood foursquare behind the protection and empowerment of women—by raising awareness, changing laws to give women better access to justice, and making violence against women a priority for law enforcement. We are also busy empowering women economically, but economic empowerment must go hand in hand with personal security.
We cannot pretend to give women economic power if we cannot lift the burden of fear and physical powerlessness from their shoulders. A woman who must always look over her shoulder for her attacker will be ill-equipped to look ahead to her economic future.
So, like the fight against domestic violence, the National Women’s Expo, which my Government is funding again this year, is a part of an overall, long-term effort to empower women. We empower women by helping them secure the means to be independent and to have a voice. Economic power can be a very loud voice, and we are most happy to hear it in the alto and soprano range. It is only right, then, that this year’s National Women’s Expo will run under the theme “Be Empowered. Be the Change.” It is a recognition of the capacity of women as agents of change in our society.
The economic empowerment of women is part of my government’s greater goal of reducing poverty through increased entrepreneurship and private sector-led growth.
My Government will continue to invest in women’s economic empowerment because economic empowerment is a direct path to gender equality, the eradication of poverty, and economic growth that is broad-based and inclusive.
Today ladies and gentlemen, we can call for unity on the related issues of economic empowerment and the elimination of violence against women. What we do now will benefit future generations.
I am a father, a brother, a grandfather and a husband, and I want the women I care about, to live lives of freedom, of security, of choice and of achievement in a world where they are equal. But I want no less for all women of Fiji. And for that to happen, we need to work together and provide women the support they need.
I want to thank everyone involved in organising this event, and now I have the great pleasure of announcing the Domestic Violence 24-hour Toll-Free Helpline Number, 1560, the publicity campaign towards the 2017 National Women’s Expo.
To all our Fijian Women “Happy International Women’s Day”. May this day be a day of empowerment, hope and security—today and every International Women’s Day to come.
Thank you – Vinaka vakalevu.