Interview: Fiji Women’s Rights Movement Reflects on Women Workers, ILO C190, and Global 16 Days Campaign

 As part of our ongoing series of profiles on Global 16 Days Campaign allies and feminist leaders, we interviewed the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM), a feminist human rights organization that has worked extensively on promoting women’s human rights through policy change, ending sexual harassment, and gender sensitization training. In June 2020, Fiji became the second country to ratify the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment (No. 190). We reached out to FWRM to hear their insights on women workers’ experiences in Fiji, reflections on ILO C190, and strategic use of the Global 16 Days Campaign for regional and national advocacy.

            “The women’s and feminist movements are key drivers of change and in solidarity with the Trade Union in Fiji, campaigned for the C190 ratification.” – FWRM

What is the situation of women workers in your country and what are your leading concerns as a feminist organization? 

Workers’ rights and decent pay has been a priority area for FWRM for decades. In Fiji, women still lack access to decent work and there are vast gender inequalities that exist across every realm of economic participation in Fiji. Women do more unpaid care work than men because of gender role expectations. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a concern and FWRM has produced research, advocated and lobbied for stronger protection for women in the workplace.

According to FWRM’s 2016 research, 1 in 5 Fijian women were found to have been sexually harassed in the workplace. This was follow-up research from a 2002 study, of which FWRM used the findings to lobby for strengthened protection for women in the Employment Relations Act (ERA). The 2016 research findings were also used as part of FWRM’s NOT OK! Stop Sexual Harassment Campaign that was later adapted into a regional campaign and to lobby for the C190 ratification. According to a recent rapid assessment of the gendered impacts of COVID-19, labor force participation are 76.4% for men and 37.4% for women, while unemployment rates stand at 2.9% for men and 7.8% for women. The number of people employed in Fiji disaggregated by gender is 234,059 for men and 106,680 for women. Young women’s participation is half that of young men, with women (15-34 years) having a labor participation rate of 33% compared with their male counterparts at 67%.7 62% of Lesbian Bisexual and Trans (LBT) women and gender-nonconforming people are unemployed and in precarious work.

What are your expectations now that Fiji has ratified ILO C190? How do you envision it being implemented in Fiji? 

We commend the ratification of C190 and look forward to continuing this momentum for improved protection of women and marginalized workers in the workplace. This is also an opportunity to strengthen national awareness and the implementation of some of the progressive laws like the Employment Relations Act. Particularly ensuring the mandatory SH policies in the workplace is being enforced. Policies to improve women’s participation in the formal labor force should be a priority.

What kind of role can feminist and women’s rights organizations play to advance ILO C190 and other relevant ILO conventions? Are there any lessons to be learned from Fiji?

The feminist and women’s rights organizations have continued the momentum on women’s rights and gender equality within the context they are working in and are key to informing national, regional and global efforts for progress on these issues. Particularly with C190, FWRM has worked on issues of GBV and decent work for over 34 years and are continuously carrying out awareness campaigns and lobbying for policy reform and attitudinal change. As part of this work, FWRM carries out Sexual Harassment Prevention training workshops and has an innovative and interactive toolkit designed. to bring about institutional change with the private sector, civil society and government. The training raises awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and provides capacity building to develop organizational sexual harassment prevention policies.

The women’s and feminist movements are key drivers of change and in solidarity with the Trade Union in Fiji, campaigned for the C190 ratification. Through FWRM’s advocacy from grassroots to the national level, it has been integral to ensu

re women’s voices are meaningfully included and heard. FWRM hopes to share its learnings with other women’s movement in the Pacific as well. National, regional and global solidarity is needed to continue to demand governments and inter-government processes to be inclusive of diverse women and CSO/NGO voices. Women’s rights and gender equality are far from being realized and particularly within the COVID-19 period, this has become clear. A strong collective voice from feminist and women’s movements is integral to demand space and promote positive change.

Has FWRM used the 16 Days Campaign in their advocacy in the past, and if so, do you have anything to share about that?

The 16 Days of Activism is a significant event every year for the women’s and human rights movement in Fiji. FWRM carries out targeted advocacy during the 16 Days and collaborates with partners for the annual Human Rights Day march on 10 December and other solidarity actions that are organized during this period. It’s an important time for activism and solidarity with partners and allies in the movement. FWRM have utilized the campaign to bring awareness to issues such as gender-based violence and domestic violence. This includes the regional campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace which was adapted from FWRM’s Not OK! Stop Sexual Harassment national media campaign.

With regional and local partners, the campaign to raise awareness on sexual harassment was launched during the 16 days of activism in 2018. In the lead up to the Women’s Global Strike in 2020, FWRM carried out a campaign to promote workers rights and decent work during the 16 Days of Activism in 2019. This included raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment against women in the workplace and solidarity messages with the Trade Union for Fiji to ratify C190.

To what extent is the human rights framework, including conventions like CEDAW as well as ILO conventions, used by FWRM in your advocacy?

The human rights framework is core to FWRM’s work in legislative reform and advocacy. FWRM is the Chair and Secretariat of the CEDAW NGO/CSO Working group. FWRM is also the Chair and Secretariat of the NGO Coalition for Human Rights. This is a key area for FWRM to use the human rights framework and hold the State accountable to its obligations through different democratic processes such as parliamentary submissions, through shadow reporting for CEDAW and the Universal Periodic Review, media statements and campaigns.  Through FWRM’s work engaging with communities, research and advocacy, FWRM is able to put forward recommendations and questions for the state when review happens.

FWRM continue to access strategic spaces such as UN spaces and side-events to lobby using the human rights framework with other stakeholders for changes within Fiji’s context. FWRM’s strengthened relationship with stakeholders and evidence-based advocacy with the policy makers are key to create meaningful change aligned with the human rights mechanisms.

What would you like to highlight as lessons for other feminist organizations who want to ratify in their own country?

It was important to have persistent evidence generation for advocacy and lobbying linked to movement building for the policy and legislative reform we’ve had in Fiji.

Evidence-based advocacy has always been the key strategy for FWRM to lobby for reform and ratification of treaties. This built on decades of persistent work raising awareness on human rights issues, mobilizing and building movements. FWRM was able to use findings from the 2016 follow up study on sexual harassment in the workplace to develop a nation-wide media campaign and this has been adapted several times in the past few years as a regional campaign and later was also linked to the Women’s Global Strike advocacy. A catalyst for change is in the strength of a collective voice, fostering and sustaining partnerships and solidarity with allies. FWRM’s strengthened partnership with other civil society, women’s groups and the Trade Union was integral to widen awareness and visibility around issues such as decent work and important ILO Conventions like the C190. In addition to this, despite progressive legislation and policy change, the monitoring must continue to see if its effectively implemented and whether or not the situation improves.