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The Fijian Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Honorable Rosy Akbar yesterday, officially launched the UNFPA Pacific Women Friendly Space (WFS) in Dreketi, Macuata. The Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Commissioner Northern Office and the Ministry of Health are working collaboratively in hosting the WFS sites at the health facilities.

While speaking at the official launching of the WFS, Minister Akbar said the WFS allows women and girls to have a safe space where they can receive information on Family planning, reproductive health and maternal health issues, GBV issues and are provided with information for referral pathways for any of these areas should further assistance and services are required. "When establishing a safe space this does not necessarily mean building a new structure. It basically means identifying a space that is safe for women and girls to use. This can range from a health center, to school, to community center, to someone’s house, to an open space. Where Women and girls can access services and are able to discuss their personal issues with confidence and in a private environment and where they are supplied with Menstrual Health kits, awareness sessions on these, and women's health in general including how to self screen for breast anomalies and walking them through the referral pathways of government on Gender Based Violence".

With the aim of leaving no one behind, Minister Akbar told the people of Dreketi that this approach has enabled the team to reach to the most rural communities who may be unable to access the services and information available. "The Outreach is always a joint activity with the host health facilities staff to ensure they prioritise their catchment areas so those they have not visited to offer information services, family commodities, counseling, gender based violence and referral pathways. During and after extreme weather events and humanitarian crisis, Women suffer and are disadvantaged. My Ministry guided by international agreements, hard data and evidence are working to address these disadvantages using a number of initiatives including the Fiji Country Gender Assessment, Institutional Capacity Development , Women’s Plan of Action and the implementation of the National Gender Policy. Minister Akbar added that the WFS are managed by four retired mid wives, five community health workers and two adolescent youth workers mentored by the mid wives on the issues mentioned. The midwives are divided into two teams of WFS services and two other teams for community outreach with the health workers to provide information and services where required with the support of the health facilities staff.

UNFPA Pacific Deputy Director, Ms Saira Shameem said this initiative is not new, in fact, Honourable Minister, we are doubly honoured that you also presided over the launch of the Women-Friendly Spaces in response to TC Winston in 2016, as Minister of Women.

She said this present launch of the women-friendly spaces arise from a request by the honourable Prime Minister Bainimarama and Minister Seruiratu, who as Minister for Agriculture, Rural & Maritime Development, and National Disaster Management saw the need for this roll-out based on their assessment in the North in the aftermath of TC Yasa and TC Ana.

"UNFPA is a proud and grateful partner to the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, without whom this partnership would not be grounded in the needs and the lives of the women and young people in Fiji. Every step we take will remain guided by your advice and direction, in order to ensure that this work collectively progresses us towards the vision that you have for the women and people of Fiji"

"We are also grateful for the support and partnership of the Australian Government, in particular the DFAT post in Fiji, who have made this present work possible. Working in close coordination with all government partners, including the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services as well as the National Disaster Management Office, we are humbled by the commitment and dedication of all those who have recognized the needs of women and young people in the difficult period following the dual impact of the two cyclones"

When the second outbreak of COVID-19 affected Fiji earlier this year, the WFS’s which were originally in place between December 2020 and April 2021 following TC Yasa and Ana, had to be put on hold, in compliance with measures implemented by the Ministry of Health to stop the spread of this devastating disease.

"We have learned and continue to learn much from you all. The coordination mechanisms of government enabled us to ensure our contributions were effective and responded to the needs on the ground, we received feedback that was gratefully used to improve our approach, contributing towards strengthening all those involved, and creating a better understanding of UNFPA's support in humanitarian situations. We have also learned how we can better embed the services that we contribute into government structures and mechanisms towards long term sustainability," said Ms Shameem.

Ms Shameem thanked the retired midwives, our continuing heroes, who have ensured that the WFS services and outreach provide continuity of family planning, reproductive health, maternal health, and referrals for gender-based violence services. They have been indomitable and inspiring, and Sister Kara who is leading the team here in Dreketi was recently awarded the President’s medal for her services, which is something we celebrate with great pride and joy, together with all our retired midwives who are continuing to deploy beyond the call of duty.

The presence of the retired midwives is also an opportunity for capacity building of community health workers from these catchment areas, potentially leading to improved skills and better support for their communities. This comes from the new knowledge and hands on experience acquired by the mentoring provided by the retired midwives.

We are also grateful to our CSO partners, the communities in which we work, and the fortitude of women who strive for health and life despite all challenges they may face to access these services. Their lives are our inspiration.

UNFPA aims to leave no one behind, so these partnerships are critical if we are to be accurate, relevant and in support of government leadership and initiatives to respond to the needs of the people of Fiji. We remain committed to working closely with the Government of Fiji, communities and civil society actors, to ensure women and girls continue to access reproductive health and family planning services before, during and after emergencies.

Minister Akbar thanked the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for supporting and funding this great initiative. She also acknowledged the support and services provided by the retired midwives and youth advocates to the communities in Dreketi.