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35+ years of activism & feminism in Fiji

Published

22 September 2021

Author

Fiji Women's Rights Movement

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FWRM Concerned that Changes in the Electoral Laws on Name Change Discriminates Against Married Women, Interferes with Their Democratic Right to Vote

FWRM Concerned that Changes in the Electoral Laws on Name Change Discriminates Against Married Women, Interferes with Their Democratic Right to Vote

22/09/2021

The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) is concerned about the suggested amendments to the Electoral Laws in regards to name change and how it will disproportionately affect a vast majority of married women in Fiji, who take their husbands’ names after marriage. The proposed bill is inherently discriminatory towards women, as well as being unconstitutional viz. the Bill of Rights which states that women may not be discriminated against on the basis of their sex and gender. 

Early last year, the Supervisor of Elections issued a statement that all Fijians must confirm their voter registration names with the names on their birth certificates. And now, we are at the cusp of having changes made to our current Electoral Laws in this same regard. 

This amendment is disproportionately discriminatory towards married women compared to men because the majority of women change their surnames during the process of their legal marriage registration, taking on their spouses' surnames. This process, however, does not automatically change the names on their Birth Certificate or their passports. Women are the only ones given the option to change their names during this process, which is in itself a discriminatory exercise.

At a time when the entire country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, these women have to go through the significant inconvenience of travelling outside their protective bubbles and standing in long lines,  to change their names as per the suggested amendments, risking their own safety. They then have to change their licences, passports, identification documents for work, FNPF, and the list goes on.

“How is this promoting women’s equality?” asks Nalini Singh, the Executive Director of FWRM. “This makes hollow the government’s commitments under UN conventions and policy commitments to improve gender equality. After they change their birth certificates, they literally have to change so many other documents”.

Additionally, this new requirement only increases women’s financial and time burdens during these times of economic hardship, as they have to bear the transport costs, ensure care for their children and families,  line up and pay for the amended certificates, after which they have to confirm their voter identification details.  

FWRM is also concerned about women who are unable to access services to get their names changed. This will directly affect women’s ability to vote compared to men. 

FWRM strongly urges the Parliament not to pass this gender discriminatory and unconstitutional legislation, which will negatively affect thousands of women in Fiji.

Ends

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