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“The Minister for Women, Gender Data and the truth” (ed. FT 14/12/2019)


The Minister for Women, gender data and the truth (FT 14/12/2019)

A few days ago, I was astonished and disappointed to read that the Fiji Government’s Minister for Women (Mereseini Vuniwaqa) was saying “Fiji still lacks in the collaboration and collection of gender-based data… [which could be presented] on international platforms and would also be accessible to local women” (Fiji Times, Dec. 7, 2019).

Vuniwaqa was supported by Cema Rokodredre (Social Empowerment and Education Program representative) who lamented that development of women was hindered because development partners could not have access to data regarding women (probably correct today).

I was even more disappointed when the Minister was not contradicted or even challenged by any of the major gender stakeholders, that what she was saying could not be further from the truth.

The Minister for Women should know this very well given that she had been personally informed by me that the Bainimarama Government (not herself personally) had refused to publish my Report (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure), funded by Australian Government donor AusAID, even though it was chockful of gender disaggregated data and ready for publication in 2013.

Since I had fully revealed the problem in a Fiji Times article (“Whose data is it anyway?” FT 23 Jan. 2016) all the major gender stakeholders in Fiji should be well aware that neither collaboration or collection of gender data by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics is the major problem but Government itself.

Three years on since I made the public aware through the FT article, and six years since my Report was ready for publication, it has still not been published by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics even though I had personally pleaded with Minister Vuniwaqa to do so, given the usefulness of the gender disaggregated data not just for donors  and “international platforms” but most importantly for local women.

All to no avail. It also begs the question: what other critical data is being withheld by Government and for what reason?

No one doubts that this gender-disaggregated data is enormously useful for developing national strategies on reducing the gender gaps in income and employment, sports and leisure affecting health of women and girls, and even indirectly, domestic violence against women and girls.

My 2013 Report, which was based on the FBS 2010-11 national survey of Employment and Unemployment in Fiji, should have been superseded by analysis of the more recent 2015-16 Employment and Unemployment Survey.  Sadly, the FBS has failed to produce a comparable comprehensive report, and worse still, they have declined to give me access to that data for me to produce the required results.

But the far bigger disappointment to me is that the continued silence of the major gender stakeholders indicates how terribly compromised are the very agencies who should have publicly protested at this Fiji Government censorship of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics and its independent production of gender disaggregated data.

I name the Fiji Bureau of Statistics management itself, knowledgeable Government Ministers, gender-based organizations, university academics, donors, and the apathetic public who apparently could not care less.

FBS compromised

When Minister Vuniwaqa was publicly reported as saying that there was a problem of collaboration and gender data, I can only imagine how horribly disappointed and compromised must be all the Fiji Bureau of Statistics technical staff who have at their finger tips all the gender disaggregated data that would be useful not just for donors but also local women and gender stakeholders, and who want to produce the required statistics.

Let me quote from my FT article of 23 Jan. 2016 (“Whose data is it anyway?”)

“In 2010-11, the FBS conducted an excellent nation-wide survey of employment and unemployment. The households recorded how much time each person in the household worked, paid and unpaid, in what occupations and industries, for how much time, for how much income received; and also how much time each person devoted to playing sports, religious activities, kava drinking, TV/videos, etc. all of interest to Ministries of Health, Women and Social Welfare, Education, Youth and Sports.

The Reports document fascinating results, and differences by urban/rural, males/females, elderly and young, by districts, all of enormous use to government ministries such as Labor, Women and Social Welfare, Youth, Health, as well as civil society organizations like FWRM, FWCC, FCOSS, and organizations concerned about NCDs.

Funded by AusAID, … the Final Report (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leizure) was prepared and ready for publication in late 2013. But the Bainimarama Cabinet has refused to allow its publication, the first time that a Fiji government has ever interfered thus with the work of the FBS. Was it because there were a few negative results about changes in employment and real incomes between 2005 and 2011 which may not have helped the Bainimarama Government in the 2014 Elections?

But it is now two years after the Report was completed and it has still not been published, while the FBS is preparing for the next EUS.”

The Government Statistician then (Epeli Waqavonovono) was powerless to do anything and was soon retired without making public his concerns, although his services were soon snapped up by SPC in Noumea.  Sadly, no one in Fiji questions why the post of Government Statistician is still vacant, a year later.

Ministers, Ministries and academics compromised

When the Fiji Bureau of Statistics had previously implemented the national surveys on employment, household incomes and expenditures and published the reports, a massive policy oriented exercise had subsequently taken place, with national workshops organized between the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, Central Planning Office, Ministries of Health and Rural Development, USP and FNU academics, and NGOs.

Current NFP Leader Professor Biman Prasad (then the Dean of FBE) will remember the many national workshops we conducted as collaboration between USP academics, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics and other Government departments.

Then when USP management decided to not support this wonderful initiative (for petty personal reasons) Fiji National University stepped in.

Even current Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy (then Dean at Fiji National University) will remember the organization of these national and regional workshops in Suva, Labasa and Nadi, with full participation by civil servants, university academics and NGO stakeholders.

These workshops were usually opened by representatives of the Australian Government and AusAID, who had funded not just the data analysis and report writing, but also the workshops.

To understand the great significance to donors, readers may watch these Youtube videos of the opening of the comparable poverty workshops in Suva by Australian High Commissioner Glen Miles and Dr Mahendra Reddy (currently a Minister in the Bainimarama Government), in Labasa by AusAID’s Margaret Longavatu, and in Nadi by AusAID’s Sarah Goulding and Inia Seruiratu (currently a Minister in the Bainimarama Government).

Such workshops were also planned for disseminating the gender-disaggregated policy-oriented results in my 2013 Report (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure) but never came about, because the Report was never published.

For obvious reasons, I do not expect foreign donors like AusAID to raise any of the issues above, even though they financed the studies which have remained unpublished.

But have taxpayer funded Government Ministers Dr. Mahendra Reddy and Inia Seruiratu (who can both be seen in the three videos above), ever questioned their ministerial colleague Vuniwaqa, why the FBS never published the Report which is full of gender disaggregated data that she is seeking?

Have these two ministers ever asked why the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, Central Planning Office and university academics no longer collaborate (as Minister Vuniwaqa says she would like to see) to produce the reports or organize the national workshops of the kind that they used to in previous years, especially given that the gender disaggregated data is so readily available with the FBS which has already done the required national surveys at great cost?

Or have any such questions ever been raised by the Minister for Employment (my former economics student Jone Usamate) who should be interested in all the statistics on employment, unemployment, underemployment and incomes, or the Minister for Health (Dr. Waqainabete) who should be interested in the gender disparities in sports and kava drinking, both with significant impacts on national health (NCDs) and obesity of women?

Have any of the gender statistics stakeholders (and there are many) ever taken up the issues I publicly raised in 2016 and several times since?

Indeed, have any members of the Fiji public, who write reams and encyclopedias on rugby sevens, ever publicly lent their voices to the concerns I have raised?

The continuing cancerous silences

Any decent sociologist or academic (if there are any left in Fiji) must be flummoxed when a Government Minister laments about the lack of gender disaggregated data which her own government suppresses, especially given the abundance of contradictory gender images presented daily in the media.

The critical sociologist will see, on the one hand, any number of images of Government Ministers, senior civil servants and international bureaucrats delivering uplifting speeches on gender disparities in Fiji, with grand meetings at the five star resorts, all suitably garlanded with salusalus, happily dining and dancing.

Simultaneously, often tucked away in corners of the same newspaper pages, will be paragraphs and paragraphs on horrific cases of rapes of children, domestic violence and women’s under-representation in positions of power and authority, all social issues with strong gender associations.

Post-script 1

Despite my personal disappointment at the non-publication of my AusAID funded report, I will endeavor to produce whatever gender disaggregated analyses and data that I still have, in my next book and Volume 2 (A Fair Go For All Fiji) which has a whole section of my previous writings on gender equality.

That book should be out in the next few months and should also be available at Hot Bread Kitchen outlets, throughout Fiji, as is my first Volume (The Challenges of Growing the Fiji Economy).

It is ironic and fitting perhaps, that my academic books on Fiji are prominently sold not in university bookshops, but alongside loaves of bread and that only because Dr Mere Samisoni is one of the few Fijian social leaders who understands that man does not live by bread alone- truth also matters.

Post-script 2

I asked in my article above what other statistics are being held back for political reasons?

One obvious one is to do with all data that can be disaggregated by ethnicity is being suppressed, including all the poverty statistics, so that the Bainimarama Government can continue its pathetic mirage that that everyone is equal in Fiji and that there is no need for special attention for the economic and social needs of indigenous Fijians who are lagging in the economy, or even Indo-Fijians whose health statistics are a scandal that is being also hidden.

Post-script 3

I asked why no one is asking why the post of Government Statistician is still vacant.

The obvious answer is that The Most Powerful One is still searching for someone who will continue this Government’s censorship of official statistics.  If a local lackey cannot be found, no doubt a docile expatriate will be appointed, as have many Permanent Secretaries.

The wonder is that no  one, not even management academics at USP date question why all these expatriates are being happily and supinely endorsed by the Bainimarama Government lackeys at the Public Service Commission, giving ample evidence that after thirteen years in government, there is no program for localization.

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