March 21, 2014
Prof Wadan Narsey - Election Issues Bulletin 6: Gender, Sports, Indigenous Fijians in Business, Music, National Identity
It is an international cliche that women are not just a half of the population but a half of all voters, and potentially the most powerful voting block in any election.
Unfortunately for themselves, women rarely, if ever, vote as a block.
But what do the political parties have to offer women in real practical terms, that will make a difference to their lives, and decide which party they vote for?
We can start with these elections and formation of Cabinet, but there are far more important issues relating to jobs, incomes, household work and leisure.
Women’s Representation in Parliament and Cabinet
One of the interesting aspect of the Bainimarama Government is that despite being totally in control of all appointments and not answerable to voters, Bainimarama had only 1 woman in his Cabinet (perhaps there were no Cabinet positions left for women, after 2 individuals decided to hog 10 cabinet positions between them).
While other elected governments may have been a bit better, none gave a fair go at having a good balance of women in their election line-ups or in their cabinets.
What will be the gender balance of all the political parties in the forthcoming elections?
Much will depend on whether the electoral system has a “Closed List” (in which case women can be properly represented at the top for each party) or an “Open List” in which case women will struggle as they always have.
Issue 1: Voters can ask Commodore Bainamarama (and his Party when it eventually appears next month) why they rejected the Closed List system (if they do) that would have been extremely useful for women to be properly represented in Parliament
Issue 2: Representation in Parliament and Cabinet: Voters must ask all political parties how they will ensure a fair balance of women (say more than 40%)
(a) in their elections line-ups
(b) in their Cabinet, should they form or be part of Government.
Women in Employment and Incomes
There are many studies of Fiji’s labour market that indicate that women are under-represented in both the private and public sectors at the higher levels, and, despite their equal qualifications and experience, are on lower salaries than men.
For example, this study of mine not only has data on incomes and employment but also unpaid household work.
There is also another Report which has been long been finalized but yet to be approved by Planning Office for publication by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure, Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 2014).
This report will not only have the latest data on employment (paid and unpaid) and incomes, but also interesting data on leisure activities such as sports, kava drinking, watching television and attending religious gatherings.
These studies show that some improvement for women are taking place in employment and incomes, especially for younger more educated women, but the changes are happening extremely slowly.
Issue 3: Gender equality in senior positions and incomes: Voters must ask the political parties what concrete measures they will take if they are part of the next government,
(a) on gender equality in employment and incomes at the higher levels in the public service particularly, and board membership of government public enterprises.
(b) on gender equality in training for professional and technical programs where females are grossly under-represented
The killer household work
Few understand that the total amount of unpaid household work (in hours), is roughly equal to the total amount (in hours) of paid work in Fiji (as it is internationally).
The two national studies (I have referred to above) have confirmed that there is gross gender imbalance in the unpaid household work (cooking, child care, clothes, cleaning, garden) done by working men and working women, and boys and girls.
In Fiji, working women do some 15 hours per week more than working men, while girls do some 4 hours per week more than boys.
There is very little improvement taking place in either gap.
This imbalance in household work reduces the time available to women and girls for professional development and leisure activities, such as sports.
Issue 4: Gender equality in unpaid household work
Voters must ask the political parties what policies they will put in place to encourage greater gender equality between men and women, and boys and girls, in the unpaid household work that is done throughout Fiji.
The most recent data coming out from FBS surveys will indicate that women have available some 5 to 7 hours less per week in leisure activities than men, and girls have some 4 hours per week less than boys.
Males and females spend about the same time on religious gatherings and watching television.
But men spend far too much time (between 5 to 7 hours more on average) on kava gatherings and drinking, which time is not available for doing their proper share of household work.
Issue 5: To encourage a better sharing of household work, voters can ask political parties what will be their policies on encouraging men to reduce the time they spend at kava gatherings.
It has often been the case in Fiji’s history that women’s organizations have not only fought for specifically women’s issues and interests but also national issues and interests, which have required them, of necessity, to be critical of the government of the day.
Often, the government of the day (several governments) have ostracized those critical women’s organizations and disregarded their inputs into national and international policy making, while recognizing and supporting only those women’s organizations that pander to them.
In a truly democratic and free society, a responsible government would be inclusive of all organizations, and be principled and strong enough to accommodate robust debate and criticisms of governments and their policies.
Issue 6: Voters can ask all political parties whether
(a) they will follow principles of inclusivity towards women’s organizations (such as Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Fiji Women’s Crisis Center, Femlink, Soqosoqo Vakmarama, etc) which may take principled stances which occasionally may disagree with government positions.
(b) they will give priority to women’s issues as articulated by their organizations, such as the prevention of violence against women.
The data from the latest Fiji Bureau of Statistics surveys will show that women and girls devote much less time (3 to 5 hours less per week) to sports than do men and boys.
This gap persists into middle ages and later, leading to poor health outcomes in females, and obesity in many.
Much of the problems begin at the secondary school ages, where the sports facilities and school for female sports, is nowhere as strong as are available for males sports such as rugby and soccer.
These disparities continue into the national competitions and higher levels, where sports sponsorship (from both government and the private sector) for male-associated sports is far in excess for female associated sports such as netball.
Female sports often have to struggle to obtain funds to participate in international events, or even get local television coverage. Readers might look at this 2005 article.
Fiji’s exclusion from Super 15 rugby is also a sad opportunity gone missing not just for our rugby but also tourism. See here.
Issue 7: Voters can ask all political parties what will be their policies on
(a) Ensuring that there is equality of sports equipment, facilities and grounds, for girls as for boys throughout all the primary and secondary schools in Fiji.
(b) Ensuring that financial resources (from both government and the private sector) and made available for sports sponsorship for female sports, matches that available for male-associated sports
(c) Ensuring that all major sports (rugby, soccer, netball, athletics) receive adequate annual funding from government which forms an adequate base for them to build on.
(d) Female sports receive as much coverage in the media as male sports.
(e) Fighting through PACER Plus negotiations to get a Pacific rugby team (including Fiji, Samoa and Tonga) as part of the Super 15 competition.
In a previous Bulletin (Bulletin 3), I have pointed out that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples fully justifies the special treatment of indigenous peoples where they lag behind other ethnic groups, for systematic reasons.
In Bulletin 2, I gave the example of scholarships for education, where they needed special allocations to ensure that they were not marginalized from training necessary to reach proper balance in the economy.
This balance for indigenous people is absolutely necessary in the business sector, where indigenous Fijians have a tiny share of corporate ownership.
It has been totally remiss of several largely Indo-Fijian dominated political parties to use Fijian Holdings Limited as a political football, in trying to tarnish the SVT or the SDL by alleging that they were only making elite or rich Fijians richer.
I argued here in this Statement for Mr Qarase in his recent trial that the only serious gap between indigenous Fijians and the other ethnic groups is at the top in the corporate sector, and it was necessary for Fiji’s economic development, that well-off or rich Fijians must be made richer.
Except in education, there is no need for affirmative action for the bottom 90% of the populations where Fijians and Indo-Fijians are pretty similar in terms of household income and expenditure.
But there must be Affirmative Action to foster indigenous Fijians in Business, just as other ethnic groups have received in Fiji’s history (read the article above).
Issue 8: Voters can ask political parties what will be their policies towards Affirmative Action to assist indigenous Fijians in business
Fiji multiracial communities are all characterized by their love of music and performing arts, which can be seen in the tremendous upsurge in singing competitions in the media.
Yet there is little financial support given by government or the private sector towards genuine growth in these musical and art activities, certainly nowhere near that given to sports.
The Fiji Performing Right Association Ltd, which is a strong force for trying to protect the royalty incomes of their members, needs far great support from government resources.
They also need new initiatives to strengthen the capacity of their members to grow their industry, and strengthen indigenous music and arts in Fiji, and music in all the vernaculars.
Issue 9: Voters can ask all political parties what will be their policies to
(a) strengthen the local music industry, arts and cultures
(b) providing adequate resources to the Fiji Performing Right Association Ltd to better assist their members through their special projects aimed at schools and the general public.
Since the 1987 coup, one of the most contentious issues which have impacted on public perceptions and attitudes towards the government of the day, those in authority, and political parties, is whether they foster a sense of “inclusivity” amongst all ethnic groups.
Sadly, indigenous Fijian ethno-nationalists have tended to stigmatize Indo-Fijians (people of Indian origin), and to a lesser extent kaivalagi (of “European origin”) and kailoma (mixed European and local origins) as “vulagi” (“visitors”).
At the extremes, one politician (Butadroka) thrived by calling on Indo-Fijians to be repatriated to India.
One Cabinet Minister from the SDL Party not too long ago called Indo-Fijians “weeds” with no censure or apologies from the party leadership.
Such open racism has inevitably created a deep sense of “not belonging” and vulnerability amongst these Fiji citizens, and they flock to any Fijian leader who is inclusive towards them.
Indo-Fijians loved Dr Bavadra in the brief period he was allowed to lead Fiji.
Many will also remember that during the 1999 Elections, one Dr Baba (then part of the FLP) received adulatory rakhis during raksha bandhan, from Indo-Fijian ladies (the rakhi is a colorful thread tied on the wrist to express the love of sisters for their protective brothers).
Historically, no Fijian leader has emphasized the principles of equality and inclusivity of all ethnic groups in Fiji, as much as Commodore Bainimarama.
In large measure, the support that Bainimarama gets from many Indo-Fijians (and also from many kailoma and kaivalagi) is due to this message of equality of all races, which he backs with the appointment of prominent Indo-Fijians, kavalagi and kailoma, to high places, to the removal or ethnic criteria in education, and to his unfortunate dictatorial declaration that all Fiji citizens are to be called “Fijians” (which will no doubt be challenged in the next parliament).
But it is a wonder that other Fijian politicians do not emulate Bainimarama’s rhetoric and messages in this regard, given its importance in nation-building.
On the contrary, one politician who tried to become the leader of SODELPA made the totally false and ridiculous allegation in an email that Mr Jai Ram Reddy (former leader of NFP) was collaborating with the FLP leader (Mr Chaudhry) to unite the “Indians”, and he asked his own party “what are we Fijians doing”! One would have thought that political leaders would by now have stopped using divisive racial politics.
Note that treating all citizens as equals does not preclude Affirmative Action policies for indigenous Fijians where they systematically lag behind such as in education or business (while not discriminating against others’ legitimate rights as citizens).
But note that non-indigenous Fijian votes, although only 35% of all votes, may well be critical in deciding which parties form government in the next parliament.
Issue 10: Voters can ask all political parties to specify what will be their policies towards non-indigenous ethnic communities in Fiji as full citizens to be accorded full respect and inclusivity in national life.