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“Women as Agents for Economic Change”

Fijian National Statement for the UNCTAD 14, the Honourable Minister Faiyaz Koya, Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, delivered on 19 July 2016 at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, Kenya.

Moderator,

I’m delighted to take part in this leader’s roundtable on women as agents for Economic Change.

Women are the significant agents of change in our families, communities and economies as a whole. It is their hard work and commitment that builds the strong foundation for the future of their family and that of the nation.

Women in the running affairs of the nations as well as in business are a growing force in most countries if not all countries of the World. Over the years, the rate of female entrepreneurship has been growing steadily.

In this regard, Fiji is currently leading in the Pacific in the representation of women in our Parliamentary system. For the first time, Fiji has a female Speaker of Parliament. The Secretary General to Parliament and Secretary to Cabinet are also women and this is for the first time in Fiji’s history all these three position are simultaneously held by women. In the Fijian Government, four women possess significant ministerial portfolios.

We have women holding very senior positions, such as Ambassadors, Judges, Magistrates and Legislators. Furthermore, we have women CEOs, Chair and Board Directors in Government Statutory Organisations. And 20 percent of Permanent Secretaries are women.

Fiji has actually mainstreamed Gender issues in our Trade Policy Framework. It is Fiji’s considered view that women in business and in the work force are a powerful source of economic growth for the country.

Despite the powerful role women entrepreneurs play in any economy, we recognise that they still face considerable hurdles in terms of taking advantage of the business opportunities including opportunities trade liberalization offers.

In Fiji, to counter this, we have provided women entrepreneurs from rural communities and outer islands an opportunity to link to markets, to retail their products under one roof through a National Women’s Expo. Through this initiative we are empowering and giving recognition to the women and their specialised skills.

In Fiji, we have put in place policies such as the Micro Small Business Grant that also helps women play an active role in the economy. Our analysis shows that increasing the ability for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses will lead to greater economic growth, especially when it comes to women entrepreneurs.

Women make up approximately 40 percent of the Grant distribution and 70 percent of the total recipients are in rural area. These are women who are leading from the front – women who are taking the risk of doing business to support themselves and their families.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to state that the very important that legislation plays an important role in ensuring that women are given an equal field. Our Constitution guarantees equal rights. It is also gender-responsive, socially inclusive Constitution, by which unfair discrimination on the basis of race, culture, ethnic or social origin, colour, place of origin, sex gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, birth, primary language, economic or social or health status, disability, age, religion, conscience, marital status or pregnancy, or opinions or beliefs, except to the extent that those opinions or beliefs involve harm to others, is unconstitutional.

Fijians are entitled to rights to education, health services, reasonable access to transport, sanitation and housing, reasonable access to transport, sanitation and housing, adequate food and water, information and to work and a just minimum wage. We have a national minimum wage in place to protect workers in the informal sector, which is more than often dominated by women.

In our Civil Service, all appointments are on transparent and merit based system, which has resulted in the recruitment of more women. As I said earlier, we have 4 out of 20 Permanent Secretaries who are women.

Over the last 7 years the Fijian Government has increased funding for the National Women’s Machinery by some 230 percent. The National Women’s Machinery will continue to be supported with adequate funding and human resources to strengthen their capacity to have a strong gender databased that can better influence policy.

We have also protected women, we have amended our criminal laws to make it modern and gender inclusive by removing the archaic rules. Our family laws have also been amended to recognise the rights of women in de-facto relationships and to provide legal protection in terms of spousal maintenance and property rights.

The Government has also introduced the first Domestic Violence law, which amongst other things, allows any person to apply for a domestic violence restraining order and all of this leads to one thing that is to empower women, to be at the forefront of Fiji. Laws that offered women no protection are a thing of the past.

As I said earlier, our Constitution has been our start point, and I quite proudly say this, that we have done quite well in Fiji in respect of women as agents for economic change. In the workplace, I can only use my Ministry as an example, as in the Civil Service all appointments are on merit and my Ministry has more women than men and I have been labelled to having the most efficient Ministry.

In conclusion Moderator,

Supporting women entrepreneurs with targeted strategies can help them increase their production output and diversify their exports and continue contributing to the socio-economic development of our countries as agents of economic change.

I thank you.