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Introduction to International Womens Day at the Forum Secretariat from Sakiasi Ditoka

The Secretary-General, and the Executive, our Friends from SCCR and fellow colleagues of the Secretariat.

My name is Sakiasi Ditoka and I am going to be your Master of Ceremony today. I am the Deputy Team Leader for Property Services here at the Secretariat. In my former life I was an army officer in the RFMF and later a Civil Servant in the Fiji Government. Whilst being an army officer I had undergone advocacy training with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre. Some of you Fiji citizens might remember a Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre TV ad many moons ago with a Fiji Army officer doing the Fijian segment of the ad. I was that Fijian Army officer….without the stomach mind you.

The advocacy training I had undergone then in the army had shocked all of us soldiers to the very core of our beings when we learnt how the real world operates on many different levels in society. Even lovely Fiji. I mean, we were not naïve. We knew that some bad things happened in some families but (in our minds we thought) surely it wasn’t all that bad.

Men hardened in the brutal physical experience of army life, where communication with subordinates consisted of commands laced with very colourful language, men who spent year long tours of duty in the battlefields of the Middle East, men whom I could trust with my life in a firefight, were struck silent when Shamima Ali of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre started reading through the long list of bone chilling acts of violence against women, that some men in Fiji think is their entitlement. Our souls were rent asunder. We did not believe that our men, we, could be so cruel. There is a dark, shady reality that exists here in Fiji…as it does across Oceania, and the world that nobody seems to want to own up to. Political turmoil only seems to add fuel to the fire of what is already a hellish reality for many of our mothers, sisters and daughters. And Fiji’s reality is that we’ve had more than our fair share of those.

Seema had approached me the other day to be the MC for this occasion and I had very foolishly agreed without batting an eyelid. As the Fijian psyche dictates, a man does not show an inkling of fear no matter how scared he is. However, after seeing the flurry of emails being exchanged about speeches and it included having the SG in the audience, I seriously thought of pulling a sickie.  I know so many staff members who could a much better job than I who could step into this role in a moment’s notice with problem at all. And even in this little revelation of mine, about how Fijian men, are conditioned by culture and tradition to act as they do, is an indicator of the deep-set attitudes that we are up against. Not supposed to show weakness….not supposed to cry…and as a result bottling things up until it all comes bursting out, as it often does, when we can no longer contain the pressure. I am very sure that these cultural expectations are not peculiar to Fiji. My brothers of the Pasifika are fierce warriors in their own right and I am sure that they will tell me that they too are taught not to cry.

Maybe these are opportunities for us to explore the heights and depths of the profound message that the Apostle Paul conveys in 2 Corinthians 12:10 when he said:

“That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

There is a quiet strength to weakness…a steely resolve in meekness and humility. Maybe we should learn more of that type of strength and preaching more of it from our pulpits.

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate our women, our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters and to appreciate them for who they are in our lives. As a truly appreciative man with a lovely wife who runs a tight ship at home, a son and five daughters although I continue to loudly pronounce that I am the Boss, and not convincing even my youngest daughter who is in Class 5, , my question is, “where does one start with these things?” For if we think about it, women literally run the world from birth to death. In whatever context you care to think about, it remains true.

We have so many reasons to celebrate our women. However the spectre of our society’s injustice continue to hang over their heads. Violence against women is only but one of the issues; inequalities in the work place, Access to Education, Employment Opportunities, Reproductive Health & Rights and Water & Sanitation are others.

Our Guest Speaker this morning is Mere Rodan, Fiji Sportswoman of the Year 2016. I’m sure that we are all very eager to hear her views on the what the International Women’s Day means to her.

Before I invite Mere to speak however I’d like to introduce our First Speaker who also represented her country in athletics, winning a silver in the Pentathlon and a bronze in the 4 x 100 metres relay in the South Pacific Games. She graduated with a Bachelors of Law at Melbourne and a Masters of Law from Harvard. As a Diplomat she has walked in the halls of power of the world. In her country’s public service she has held and continues to hold the trust of her people.

I now invite a beloved daughter of Papua New Guinea and the Pasifika to share with us her thoughts on today’s celebration of International  Women’s Day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor.

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