His Excellency Andrew Jacobs, the Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific, launched the EU funded project entitled “The empowerment of rural women and girls in reproductive health”. The project was conceived by the Medical Director of Viseisei Sai Health Centre in Lautoka, Associate Professor Swaran Naidu.
She said that the wellness of many women is affected by their poor reproductive health. The EU funding will enable the team from Viseisei Sai Health Centre to reach out to rural women from Ba to Nadi. Many women in this area are disempowered because of poverty, isolation, not being able to make decisions about their own health and social taboos regarding sexually related topics. The disempowerment is aggravated by difficulties in accessing quality reproductive health information and care.
Professor Naidu is a gynaecologist with over 30 years experience in women’s health internationally and in Fiji. She leads a team of trained staff comprising of nurses and health educators. They will be reaching out to tertiary institutions, high schools and women’s groups to educate the educators about reproductive health matters. They will be talking to women and girls about their health needs. In addition with the assistance of the Fiji Cancer Society Western Branch they will be providing outreach clinical services for cervical and breast cancer screening and assist women with their family planning needs.
Professor Naidu said that the assistance of the EU has been integral to the project. “Without the EU’s commitment and generosity, this project would not have been possible.” She also thanked the Fiji Cancer Society, the Ministry of Health and the Fiji National University for their collaboration, assistance and encouragement. The Viseisei Sai health Centre will be working closely with the Divisional Medical and Education Officers, Western on this project.
In his speech, Ambassador Jacobs underlined the significance of gender issues. “The EU places a tremendous importance on gender issues, both at home and in the global context as it is a crucial cross-cutting item in all of EU projects and programmes in the region – whether in fisheries, in climate change, in access to energy. Looking at the Pacific region, the EU remains very concerned about the situation across the region, in particular with the high prevalence of violence against women, and the low participation of women in public life.” Ambassador Jacobs also pointed out that “to address the gender situation most effectively, we need a strong commitment by our partners, we need engagement at the highest level as witnessed today by the presence of the Tui Vuda and his wife. We need initiatives that are Pacific-centered, and we need a strong involvement of non-state actors.”
Professor Naidu said it was fitting that the project was being launched on International Women’s Day. “Women are often trapped in their bodies because of unplanned pregnancies and that they are targets for sexual and gender violence because of cultural entrenchments.” She said it was timely that women felt empowered to protect their bodies and psyche. An empowered woman can contribute even more to society if she can achieve wellness by maintaining good physical, mental, spiritual and social health.
Background: The Ministry of Health has noted that many women do not use family planning methods, that adolescent pregnancy rates are high and sexually transmitted infections are prevalent in the community. They have also stated that Fiji has one of the highest cervical cancer rates.
In Fiji, the EU is currently supporting a number of initiatives that contribute to improving the situation of women. EU supports “Live and Learn” to help mobilise women in governance matters, in human right and democratisation processes. Additionally, “FemLink” is helped as to ensure the mass media reflects women human security issues and to increase that more political space is available for women to engage actively in the development of the country. The EU also assists “Women’s Actions for Change” to help marginalized women and young people to integrate better into the society. In the regional level, the EU has several small projects running, addressing directly gender issues. In total, projects in Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, and Vanuatu, account to the amount of €2.3 million, plus several EIDHR projects impacting on gender issues.