Women waste pickers learn of rights and available assistance

Some of the women had their government financial assistance taken off them as well as food rations meant for the family sold off by their husbands and/or spouses, Waste Recyclers Fiji Director/CEO Amitesh Deo says of the challenges some of the female waste pickers endured during the height of the COVID-19 restrictions last year that prompted the idea for a workshop that began in Suva today.

The workshop titled ‘Informal Waste Pickers training on Gender, Violence, Against Women and Human Rights’ that will run through Friday is aimed at empowering them by way of educating them about their rights and the assistance available to them.

In attendance, are 13 women who are a part of a bigger women waste pickers grouping who engage in informal waste picking in various communities around the central division, in return for some monetary payment that has helped them support their families on a daily basis including putting their children through school.

“During COVID, we thought that we would assist because they couldn’t go out to the communities to collect recyclables, and during that time when we were doing work with them, we realised the high level of domestic violence that existed,” Deo said.

“Through our networking, we realised that the women were reaching out to us to help them out in those situations. And that is why we partnered with FWCC counsellors, and in some cases, police got involved to get the women out of these extreme forms of violence because their lives were at risk.

“These women are playing a very critical role, but they don’t have the sense of empowerment or any of those things. The workshop came through from that, is to bring empowerment to this group and ensuring that they realise their human, gender rights and the economic empowerment that comes with it.”

Through Waste Recyclers Fiji, some of the women have been able to access basic financial services including owning their personal bank accounts.

“They are looked down upon as scavengers. They are far from it. They are doing something of value to the environment whilst being able to support their livelihoods and that of their loved ones.”

Thirty-three-year-old Mereani of Tailevu, one of the women attending the workshop said the money she earned from waste picking has enabled her to support her family of five children, aged between five and 13 years. The workshop continues tomorrow at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel in Suva.

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