Women NGOs call out Fiji PM for “misogynistic” remarks

Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama is being criticised for what two women Non-Governmental Organisations’ call “misogynistic” comments that only serve to fuel further discrimination against women.

According to local media, Bainimarama reportedly questioned Dr Rajni Chand’s appointment as University of the South Pacific Centre for Flexible Learning director, alleging that she was not selected on merit, but based on her husband Dr Biman Prasad’s relationship with USP Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) and Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) released separate statements this week condemning the remarks, saying that it was a far cry from pronouncements Bainimarama made about championing women’s rights and gender equality.

“Mr Bainimarama has brought shame and total disrespect to the Office of the Prime Minister with his unfounded allegations,’ FWCC coordinator Shamima Ali said.

Ali pointed out Dr Rajni’s achievements, including being the recipient of the Vice Chancellor’s prize for Excellence in Teaching, which was awarded by former VCP Professor Rajesh Chandra in September 2011. Dr Rajni, she said also received a Fiji 50th commemorative medal in 2020.

She said comments by Bainimarama against Dr Rajni were uncalled for and sends the wrong messages to young women and students of Fiji and the region.

“Is the PM targeting Dr Chand just because she happens to be the wife of the leader of an opposition political party? Didn’t he think of her reputation and that of other women who have toiled honestly and tirelessly to be where they currently are in position of authority?”

FWRM expressed similar sentiments and raised concerns about the implications of Bainimarama’s comments regarding women in academia.

“Women in the workforce across all sectors, especially in academic, already face different levels of discrimination based on their gender. The change must begin with our leaders if we truly wish to dismantle sexist culture and structures that violate women’s and girls’ rights in Fiji,” the statement read.

FWRM also quoted a statement it said Bainimarama had made during the Fiji National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls consultation launch, in which he called for a change of mindset, “to eradicate the notion that women are in any way weaker or somehow lesser than. Girls, boys, and indeed every Fijian, must-see women as leaders, as decision-makers, as movers and shakers in society.”

The FWRM stated that the prime minister and government must remember these commitments and avoid weaponising gender discrimination for politics.

“The PM’s comments ignore Dr Chand’s merit as an academic and relegates her to being a politician’s wife; despite her qualifications. This is not acceptable, considering Fiji’s government stance on gender equality and continuous efforts towards improving women’s human rights.”

FWRM also urged cabinet ministers and members of parliament “to hold themselves to better conduct and refrain from comments that reinforce discrimination and misogynistic behavior.”

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