As we mark International Rural Women’s Day tomorrow, I pay tribute to the sacrifices, dedication and hard work of rural women in the country.

Rural women have been Fiji’s backbone, ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities and improving rural livelihoods and wellbeing.

In Fiji, the tireless efforts of many rural women go unnoticed.

These women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labour force, including informal work, and perform the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work within families and households in rural areas.

They spend hours under various adverse conditions farming, fishing, harvesting, doing household chores, babysitting, or simply providing for the family.

International Rural Women’s Day is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with all those fearless women standing up for gender equality, equal pay, equal status and most importantly, respect.

Today, structural barriers, patriarchy and discriminatory social norms continue to constrain women’s decision-making powers and political participation in rural households and communities.

Rural women are often treated as uneducated, as back-benchers or those who are supposed to be in the kitchen all the time and the more traditional the community is, the more reinforced the gender roles are.

In Fiji, women and girls in rural areas lack equal access to productive resources and assets, public services, such as education, health care, and infrastructure, water and sanitation, while much of their labour remains unseen and unpaid when compared to men.

Many rural women are daily survivors of domestic violence, gender-based violence, sexual assault, discrimination, rape and gender stereotyping and their cries are often unheard.

Most of them do not get access to legal services and continue to suffer in silence.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought in a new challenge for our rural women.

They are less likely to have access to quality health care services, essential medicines, and vaccines.

Their supply chains to the markets have been cut because of COVID-19 restrictions and economic downturn affecting businesses.

While I acknowledge the various efforts being put in place by stakeholders to improve the livelihoods of our rural women, we need to do more and put in place adequate measures to alleviate their sufferings and advocate for sufficient infrastructure and access to public services and more so, their social protection.

Government should direct more resources towards rural women’s reproductive health and focus on more mobile clinics and regular health check-ups.

Also, rural women should be more involved in initiatives such as Pinktober awareness and cancer screenings to be able to learn more about the disease and present themselves to health facilities early if they notice any symptoms.

Let’s use the International Rural Women’s Day to amplify the voices of our rural women and share their untold stories.

Have a great International Rural Women’s Day.

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