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35+ years of activism & feminism in Fiji

Family Law

Herstory

In 1991, the long push by the Fiji Women's Rights Movement for the reform of the family law began. It was a campaign that would last 12 years before the Family Law Act was enacted in 2003. In 1992, with the government elected under the 1990 Constitution in place, FWRM presented its rape law reform package to the government. At its first presentation to the government, the FWRM was told to obtain the support of the majority of the population, in effect to obtain a referendum for its law reforms. The FWRM refused to comply, justifiably pointing out that no other law reforms require a referendum. Despite this the Movement did garner the support of women’s organisations and other human rights groups in Fiji for such reforms.

In January 1994, a three-month Family Law Project funded by UNESCAP and The Asia was launched. A series of 12 articles was published on family law in the three main languages and widely published in the print media and on radio. A series of pamphlets on how to use the legal system was also printed in three languages and a radio play on some aspects of family law was produced by Larry Thomas.

Much of the research that emerged in Law for Pacific Women (a legal rights Handbook (1998) by Imrana Jalal) was put to use in the lengthy and momentous project to pass the Family Law Act, which radically reformed the laws relating to women and family relationships.

From 1995, FWRM had stepped up its efforts and began approaching the SVT government urging that they make family law reform a formal part of the legislative agenda. Florence Fenton, who was then the Director of the Fiji Law Reform Commission (FLRC) was receptive to the need for urgent change and jointly the FWRM and the FLRC lobbied the government. The Attorney-General Ratu Etuate Tavai eventually agreed to take it on.

In 1996, Imrana Jalal was appointed Family Law Commissioner on the FLRC and work began in earnest to examine the existing laws and consult the community and stakeholders on the changes required. From 1996 to 1998 the reform process involved the drafting and circulation of discussion papers, reporting back on the discussion papers and working on a final report. Some 161 organisations were consulted and the resulting report "Making a difference to families in Fiji 1998" formed the basis for the drafting of the Family Law Bill.

In 1999, while staging a silent demonstration in support of the people of Tibet in front of the Chinese embassy at Nasese in Suva, 17 activists from the FWRM, FWCC with other human rights defenders were detained by police and taken for questioning. All were released later that evening without charge. Justice Allan Bartlett, a former Chief Judge of the Family Court of Australia, led the drafting of the Bill and by 2000 it was ready to be introduced to Parliament. But this was not to be with the George Speight takeover in May that year.

Finally, three years after it was ready to be introduced, the Family Law Act was passed by Parliament on 24 October 2003, and assented to by the President on 6 November 2003. The Act established the Family Law Court and counselling facilities to accommodate the shift from litigation centred disputes to that of settlement and mediation. The Act came into force on 1 November 2005. The Family Law Act’s passing was a momentous occasion for the FWRM; all the sweat and tears, and the sheer tenacity of Jalal and the Movement as a whole had finally paid off.

The Family Law Campaign was active during three different governments from 1993 to 2003. It focused on the discriminating aspects of legislation, common law and legal practices when it came to women. The proposed law suffered many setbacks either by the interruption to the rule of law or ideological opposition. The Family Law Act was finally enacted in October 2003 and came into force in late 2005.

In 2007, FWRM and the Family Court of Fiji first launched the first set of Family Law Act (FLA) Brochures.

The brochures, published in English, iTaukei, and Fiji Hindi, explain various aspects of the Family Law Act in a simple, easy-to-understand format. There are eight brochures, each describing a different aspect of the Act and related Family Court services.

The brochures ensured that women, particularly marginalised women and their families received and understood crucial information needed to access legal services.

The brochures have been updated over the years, redesigned, and available in all three major Fijian languages.