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Sharon Bhagwan Rolls – WNN Opinion

Fiji women activists

During a January 2007 Peace March in Lautoka, Fiji Isalands, women activists stopped the afternoon traffic with their ‘Make Poverty History Banner’. In doing so they encouraged women to join in the fight to end poverty in Fiji. Image: Jone Nawaikula

(WNN) Opinion Suva, FIJI: “Effective participatory constitution-making has to provide for women’s equal representation in the process and outcome. No process which excludes or marginalizes the majority of the population can be representative. No constitution which has failed to fully ensure the perspectives and concerns of women can be seen as fully legitimate over time”. (Mary Robinson, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.)

The announcement on January 1, 2012 of the state’s intention to lift the Public Emergency Regulation and Media Censorship in Fiji on Saturday 7 January 2011 comes two thousand, two hundred and seventeen days since the announcement of the military takeover in 2006.

This is indeed an important and welcome indication of the sequence of events in the commitment by the state to return Fiji to parliamentary democracy.

The process of Constitution-making, we understand, must be part of a broader political dialogue process so we hope that we can look forward to a follow up announcement to invite political parties and civil society (including human rights and peace activists) to the table for a broader dialogue.

In midst of thinking about the January 1 announcement, there are also a lot of questions that also need answering about the legal processes and what the role of the Fiji Media Authority will be? Maybe this will happen on Saturday (the 7th).

For example, when it comes to the proposed process:
Who is to decide—including who is to be able to have input into the discussion,
even if not to make the final decisions?
• Funding—how much will it cost, where is the money to come from, and who will be
• Timing—is there to be a timetable, and if so is it to be rigid or open to change? Is it to be tight or to allow a lot of time?
• Adoption—how is the new constitution to be passed into law—by the body that discusses and decides, by the President, or by the approval of the people through a referendum? Are there to be any other prerequisites?
• Technical quality—how is the technical quality of the document to be assured?
• Openness—how will the public be involved, what parts of the official proceedings are to be open to the public, and what will be the role of the media – including community media

These questions are not unusual. In fact as we review the range of literature available on Constitution-making processes (such as the September 2011 Interpeace publication “Constitution-making and Reform: Options for the Process” authored by Michele Brandt, Jill Cottrell, Yash Ghai, Anthony Regan) we note that there is no single formula for Constitution making and in fact this list serves as a recommended checklist by the authors in developing a road map in Constitution making, who also add:

It may, for example:
• have only a final date by which the new constitution must be adopted, giving no other
indications of time periods or order of events (this is unusual, because if tasks are specified
some intended sequence will usually be stated or implied, even if in general terms);
• specify tasks in some detail and the order in which they are to be carried out, but without any time periods being fixed at all, or with only an ending date being specified;
• specify tasks in very general terms, without a clear indication of when they are to be done (for example, a requirement might be “to consult the public” without an indication of whether this is to occur before any other work is done, only when a draft is prepared, or both);
• spell out the entire sequence of events with precise time periods attached;
• involve a mixture of these approaches; or
• schedule events by reference not to time but to the occurrence of other events, such as other elements of agreement in a peace process”

So we have been thinking about what this process means for the women and young women and the communities we work with in the greater Suva area, Labasa, Nadi, Ba and Nausori.

Here’s just the beginning of our Women, Peace and Human Security Checklist:

The constitution-making process needs to be participatory, inclusive, and responsive to ALL women’s needs and rights. It is what many women refer to as “safe spaces”. Not just physically safe, but being informed enough about the process to contribute an opinion. To feel safe enough to have an alternative viewpoint.

We hope, for example, that the consultations planned will take into account the rural women and youth who continue to be marginalized from decision making forums (because) to be in line with the International human rights principles and standards, it is essential that the constitution making process reflects Articles in CEDAW as well as commitments in the (1995) Beijing Platform of Action and Program.

This means enabling human rights organisations to undertake preparatory work within our networks without fear of intimidation.

To be inclusive, also means ensuring a participatory process which will be conducive to ensuring greater scope for the expression of public views. To enable all citizens to reclaim their voice through this process. It must represent the transition to engaging in more democratic processes.

After 2,217 days of not having the space to speak out we need an important, clear and empowering preparatory and consultation process to strengthen the efforts to advance gender equality rights and the empowerment of women; and to simply ‘reclaim’ what many of us felt we had lost 2,216 days ago as we understand what the new post January 7, 2012 political reality will be like.


Fijian political activist and global women’s advocate Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is the coordinator of FemLINK PACIFIC, a women’s media organization based in Fiji’s capital of Suva,which she founded in September 2000 in response to the 2000 Fijian coup d’état. In addition to her numerous other functions, Rolls who has served as the Media Focal Point for the Pacific Region of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict was appointed the Gender Liaison of the International Steering Group of GPPAC in October 2009. Since November 2000, femlinkpacific and Bhagwan Rolls have been campaigning for the implementation and integration of UN Security Council resolution 1325, titled Women, Peace and Security, in order to ensure women’s full participation in the peace and security sector toward ensuring sustainable peace and democracy in Fiji. In March 2010, she was appointed by the United Nations to the Civil Society Advisory Group on UNSCR1325/Women, Peace and Security. She presented a Pacific perspective to High level Commitment to Action on SCR 1325 event at the UN on September 25, 2010.


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