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35+ years of activism & feminism in Fiji

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25 June 2020

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Fiji Women's Rights Movement

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Press Release: CSO Alliance raises concerns on the COVID 19 Humanitarian Response 25/06/2020

CSO Alliance raises concerns on the COVID 19 Humanitarian Response

25/06/2020

The Fiji CSO Alliance for COVID-19 Humanitarian Response held a press conference to raise concerns about the escalating COVID-19 crisis in Lautoka today.

The panel included six of the eight Alliance members; Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development Chief Executive Officer Sashi Kiran, Fiji Women's Crisis Centre’s Coordinator Shamima Ali, Social Empowerment and Education Programme Director Chantelle Khan, Citizens' Constitutional Forum - CCF’s Chief Executive Officer Louchrisha Hussain, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement’s Executive Director Nalini and femLINKpacific’s Executive Director Susan Grey.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an escalating humanitarian crisis in Fiji, with the loss of thousands of jobs, lack of food security, access to health, education and other essential services and increase in gender-based violence. At the front lines of the pandemic relief and recovery efforts, civil society organisations, NGOs and humanitarian groups are grappling with aid and assistance requests from impacted communities and families.

The Alliance discussed key issues that have emerged during the pandemic.  

One of the most crucial concerns is food security, as families in Fiji are struggling to feed their children. Through the relief work being carried out in the Western Division, the Alliance has found that there are families who have up to seven people within their household working in the tourism sector that are now without jobs and are slowly running out of savings. With school starting soon, families are wondering how will they be able to send their kids to school.

There have also been emerging reports of crime such as root crops being stolen. The Alliance urged people to avoid turning to criminal behaviour and reach out to the community and religious organisations that may be able to help. The Alliance is working in whatever capacity it can to ensure families are not going hungry but more needs to be done. There are a lot of families that are returning to land and sea resources and the ripple effects on their mental health are beginning to emerge. People are stressed out because they’ve lost their jobs and how this affects their peace and security at home.

Unwanted pregnancies in rural areas are also on the rise. As everyone is being confined at home, teenage pregnancy has increased, only adding to the pressures being faced by communities and families.

The Alliance is also concerned about access to education. Worksheets are being handed out and there is an expectation that the work will be done. There is a gap in who is monitoring this work and that children are receiving an adequate education.

The Alliance also discussed issues of freedom of information and the right to privacy. The Alliance urgently calls for transparency and the right to access information not just as a government but also as organisations and citizens, to deal with COVID-19. For Fiji, with its rich diversity, it's important that the information is readily available, in all vernaculars and communicated in a manner that any citizen can understand and accordingly aligned whether about social gatherings, contact sports or the curfew. Government has an obligation under human rights law to provide reliable information to all for all. 

Fiji’s recent announcement of the CareFiji application brings to light the worrisome increase in the number of surveillance tools used to track COVID-19 work. While it is essential to have active efforts to address the pandemic, it is more crucial for these tools to be limited in use for a certain purpose and period. It must not be used in a manner that limits rights to privacy and freedoms. The government needs to practice transparency to make clear what private information will be used and managed and who has access.

There has been ongoing work to address the rise in violence against women including efforts by the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation (MWCPA) working with partners such as FWCC. Reports of violence have risen by 200 per cent. With violence against women comes poverty and homelessness. 

Civil society is on the ground and seeing the suffering and people are anticipating government plans. The recent announcement of the tourism bubble is one such plan that people are looking forward to and genuinely want to believe in. 

The Alliance reiterated a need for an urgent government response to the emerging issues being faced by citizens. There is a lot of advisory on the restrictions safeguarding health but there is an urgent need for a communicated national response and recovery plan that protects the dignity and livelihood of all Fijians. This has not happened. The government must do better to empathise with the pain of the people of this and take a humanitarian response in dealing with the pandemic. 

END

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The Fiji CSO Alliance for COVID-19 Humanitarian Response is made up of 8 organisations working across different sectors in Fiji including Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development (FRIEND), Fiji Women's Crisis Centre (FWCC), Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality, Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF), Social Empowerment and Education Programme (SEEP), femLINKpacific, Rainbow Pride Foundation (RPF) and the Fiji Women's Rights Movement (FWRM)