News

A friendly space for women

21 April 2016

Sisilia Rakula of Driti Village in Dawasamu cannot wait for the women-friendly space (WFS) in her area to open its doors; the 52-year-old is one of the 12 community facilitators who completed a three-day orientation this week in Korovou, the provincial town that will host the WFS.

During Cyclone Winston, Mrs Rakula had gravitated towards children and the elderly, assisting families particularly nursing mothers in managing the evacuation center that the village had all fled to.

"There has been so much learning during this training on human rights, on gender equality and the detailed considerations we must have in mind when we are facilitating requests of the women who will come to the WFS," Mrs Rakula said.

"My interest was already there in terms of working with my community. We covered topics like "what is rape" - the topics covered were meaningful. We must for example stop thinking that rape happens or will happen only to young girls, sexual violence can happen to anyone."

Liga Saro who was selected by the group to be their deputy team leader expressed appreciation for the specificity of post-disaster response in addressing issues specific to women and girls.

"I see how women are trying to make ends meet, there is a sense of desperation indicative in the sharp increase of vegetables at the market," Ms Saro said.

"You can see the sense of loss in the faces of women who come to the market to sell whatever they can, with their actual farms and plans that were attached to those farms gone up in the wind in a few hours.

"This WFS will meet a real need among the communities. There are those who may have suffered some form of sexual violence at evacuation centers but they most likely have not talked about it - this approach specific for women is therefore very good."

Communities in the areas worst hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston, particularly women and girls, will now benefit from services to be provided from women friendly spaces established in eight locations that indicate maximum reach.

Considerate of local dynamics, one of the main humanitarian responses provided by the UNFPA globally is the establishment of women friendly spaces, WFS, working with local partners.

In Fiji, the exercise is led by the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation as chair of the Gender-Based Violence Sub-Cluster group activated for post-Cyclone Winston response in partnership with sub-cluster members.

Speaking from the heart when launching the WFS in Rakiraki on April 16, Minister of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Rosy Akbar told the gathering that during the post-Cyclone Winston immediate response, she observed women as first responders.

Ms Akbar said women had the power to weave communities back to full recovery adding women "see the finer details"; in acknowledging the important role they play however, women, she said, must not forget their needs, particularly in terms of psychological support.

"I have seen how hard women work and while men tried their best rebuilding physical structures, it is the women who see the finer details, making sure the food is ready on the table and looking after the health and hygiene of their families," Ms Akbar said.

"This is why we are putting you in the center of things by having these women-friendly spaces ... we want to create support mechanisms for women to become key actors in the response. We know women are in for the long haul to rebuild communities so this is our contribution to supporting your long-term activism to do this important work.

"We will rebuild our lives. It may take a long time but if we work in unity, in solidarity, if we keep up the resilient spirit for which we are known for, I am sure we will be able to rebuild our families and communities."

Ms Akbar encouraged women to take advantage of the various services that will be offered at WFS.

Women and girls are intended primary beneficiaries. Women-friendly spaces are designed to provide an environment where women and girls can feel comfortable and enjoy the freedom to express themselves without fear or judgement or harm.

The women-friendly spaces will also ensure access to awareness raising and sensitization sessions in affected communities, psychosocial support, multi-sectoral referrals and related services for survivors of GBV.

Non-government organizations, Fiji Women's Crisis Center (FWCC) and Empower Pacific (EP) will lead the management and immediate supervision of the facilities on a weekly basis. This activity is also supported by the Government of Australia.

Locally-based women identified to be community WFS facilitators undergo a three-day orientation on relevant topics related to gender-based violence and gender equality, in addition to a briefing on referral mechanisms and their roles and functions. They will be actively engaged in the rehabilitation efforts of their communities, developing capacity and building resilience in the vent of the next emergency.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, the UNFPA also engaged eight midwives to guide the WFS facilitators; this is apart from the 33 retired midwives and nurses engaged for deployment for three months to relieve health workers in the most-affected areas.

For the WFS, UNFPA's support include the provision of eight (8) tents and equipment including generators, stand fans, white boards, tables, chairs and stationary supplies; the WFS will be located in Ra (2), Ba (3), Tailevu (1), Cakaudrove (1) and Lomaiviti (1).

"WFS is a long-term investment for us and our partners: this is the first time we are rolling out this concept in Fiji. Women and girls may be the primary targets for the services but the whole community will benefit," Dr Laurent Zessler, UNFPA Pacific Director and Representative said.

"UNFPA will be leaving the tents which houses these women-friendly services and all the equipment within it with the Government, which can then activate WFS response if and when the need arises."

Underlying the critical importance of working in unity, Ms Akbar asked all women: "...to exercise patience, be calm and see how best we can be a beacon of hope for others around us. If we let our spirits down as women I strongly believe that we will let down others around us so keep smiling, be strong, look after yourselves. Take time-out for yourselves whether for counselling - and this spaces will give you that avenue to share your problems and ideas."