The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement has condemned the latest smear campaign against the outgoing Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Mereseini Vuniwaqa, in Saturday’s Fiji Sun.
FWRM Board Chair, Makereta Waqavonovono says this type of gutter level reporting should be strongly condemned by all, as indeed has been done by many on social media platforms.
She says it is unacceptable and detrimental to the great progress made by our women parliamentarians in the last decade.
Waqavonovono says it is unfortunate that our journalists are not abiding by their code of ethics when reporting news stories.
She says the Fiji Sun report, with carefully chosen photos against Vuniwaqa, is mischievous and makes suggestions about her personal life that are unsubstantiated and clearly breach the Media Code of Ethics and Practice not to mention her right to privacy.
The FWRM Chair says Mereseini Vuniwaqa’s personal life is only a matter of public or national interest if there are some breaches of law or misinformation on her part, which the report does not show.
She says none of what the Fiji Sun has reported is in the public interest or suggests that Vuniwaqa has acted unlawfully in her role as a Member of Parliament.
The FWRM says it appears from recent events that the outgoing Minister has been targeted by her political foes because of her lack of support of the recent amendment to the Itaukei Land Trust Act No 17 of 2021 popularly known as Bill 17.
Waqavonovono says women parliamentarians have to overcome more challenging obstacles than their male counterparts to enter and stay in parliament.
She says unfair public scrutiny, irrelevant comments about their dress, personal criticisms and sexual innuendos of the type seen in the report, not only damage personal and family lives but also discourage other women from standing as candidates in a male dominated institution.
Waqavonovono also says women in Fiji have made significant inroads in public and political life and have been prevented from having more elite portfolios due to sexual stereotypes that women can only “handle soft portfolios”.
She says what is most concerning is that her case will discourage women from putting themselves forward for public and/or political positions because of the fear of being unfairly scrutinised in the media and other public platforms.
Waqavonovono says they demand that the newspaper publicly apologise to Vuniwaqa.
FWRM also urges the Media Industry Development Authority as the independent media regulatory body to take action in regular monitoring of its guidelines and ethical standards of the print and broadcast media in accordance with the Media Code of Ethics and Practice.
Fiji Sun Publisher and CEO, Peter Lomas is yet to respond to the FWRM’s call.
femLINKpacific, a feminist media organisation that promotes and supports Women In Leadership is outraged with the complete disregard for sound journalism ethics, and the use of mainstream media to vilify, and character assassinate, Mereseini Vuniwaqa who has shattered glass ceilings and is on the verge of possibly doing another one for the Pacific.
This follows a Fiji Sun article with a photo of Vuniwaqa hugging a security company head, SODELPA member and former George Speight coup supporter, Varinava Tiko, and some speculative questions and serious allegations.
femLINKpacific Executive Director, Susan Naisara Grey outlined that the Saturday Page 1 headline of the Fiji Sun against the recently resigned Minister for Women Vuniwaqa barely a week after the announcement of her resignation from the governing party, is a blatant, misogynistic attack on Vuniwaqa, and is a sad indication of the state of affairs governing the purported journalistic conduct of certain segments of the media, and the overall state of governance in the country.
Grey says they deplore and condemn this blatant, irresponsible and misogynistic attack on Vuniwaqa with the article reportedly penned and edited by two female journalists.
She says that headline and the content with all its assumptions, perpetuate the violence that Women in Leadership, and women venturing into national politics, have had to face in the region, including Fiji.
Grey says unfortunately, this is in keeping with the findings of the National Democratic Institute report that femLINKpacific helped support, where politically active women in Fiji including MPs spoke in-confidence of them being victims of character assassination and libellous accusations which have tended to be intensely personal and sexual in nature.
She says these have contributed to the psychological violence that they faced and the feelings of being on their own with no-one except their close-knit family to rely upon.
Grey says sometimes these consequences have spread and gone beyond political participation impacting the women and their families.
She says Fiji already experiences shocking levels of violence in the home and in public with barriers to women’s political participation and the extent to which they participate in political sphere and we must do everything possible to make things better.
Grey says the article on Vuniwaqa perpetuates this violence and should never be seen as the cost of politics as we all try and encourage as many women as possible, including young women to be actively included in politics leading up to next year’s General Election.
She calls on the media and journalists to understand as well as report on incidents or threats of violence against women in politics, abstain from stereotypes and misogynistic language and refuse to be a platform and outlet to perpetrators of gender stereo-types that target women in leadership.
Thr Executive Director also calls on the State and all its agents including those in the media to stick true to their word in committing themselves to the purpose for a Fiji National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against All Women and Girls, of which the Prime Minister launched together Mereseini Vuniwaqa.
Grey says the work of the recently resigned Minister for Women with the Fiji and Pacific women’s movement and feminist organisations like femLINKpacific which supports a diverse network of rural women, has always been at the epitome of their expectations.
She says her role as a Cabinet Minister and the work of the Fijian National Gender Machinery have been seen as a model for any other state agency on engagement and collaboration with women’s organisations, and of which they proudly claim and hoped that all other state agencies would follow as in a genuine, authentic and consistent act of engagement and collaboration.
Grey further says the USAID-National Democratic Institute VAW-WIP research was launched to commemorate International Women’s Day in March this year also showed that the perpetrators of Violence Against Women in Politics (VAW-P) have included women as well as men and outlined recommendations for various sectors including the media, political parties, civil society and electoral bodies.
Following the speculative article with allegations, Mereseini Vuniwaqa has not made any comments.
However Varinava Tiko has posted on his official facebook page that Mereseini Vuniwaqa was quarantined at the Hilton Hotel.
He says on the evening of Friday 6th August, Vuniwaqa reached out to him asking for uplift from the hotel.
Tiko says he is the Managing Director of Access United (Fiji) Ltd, a private security company based in Fiji that provides bodyguards to its clients in U.S. Government contracts in the Middle East.
He says a team of 4 bodyguards was quickly scrambled in a 3 vehicle operation, extracted Mereseini Vuniwaqa secretly from the Hilton Hotel at 4.30am on 7th August.
Tiko says in accordance with her request, Vuniwaqa was kept at a safehouse to await a pass to cross the border at Wainadoi.
He says she received her pass on the evening of Monday 9th August before escorted to the Central Division for another pickup to drop her safely at her residence in Suva on the morning of Tuesday 10th August.
Tiko questions on his facebook page why did Government not provide an official vehicle and pass on the exact date and time of Vuniwaqa's discharge from quarantine.
We have sent questions to the Prime Minister.
He has not made any comments at this stage.
The Fiji Women Lawyers Association says it is concerned with the type of reporting in the Fiji Sun front page yesterday about the former Minister for Women, senior legal practitioner and colleague Mereseini Vuniwaqa while FijiSun Publisher and CEO Peter Lomas says the Association is entitled to their view.
In a statement, the Association says today it maybe Vuniwaqa and tomorrow it could be you, your sister, colleague or friend.
The Fiji Women Lawyers Association says while they try and understand the rationale behind the reporting, the only thing that comes to mind is an attack against the integrity of a professional woman.
It says Vuniwaqa is a wife, a mother, someone’s daughter, cousin, aunt, relative, colleague, mentor and a role model to many women, girls, boys and men in Fiji and abroad.
The Fiji Women Lawyers Association says they plead with Fiji Sun and other newspaper providers, both paper and digital, to think about the consequences before they print.
The Association says it is no point celebrating International Women’s Day every year and talking about gender equality if they will attack women without a proper basis.
It says for every paper printed yesterday, the Fiji Sun has attacked the integrity of all women and girls in Fiji.
Fiji Sun Publisher and CEO Peter Lomas says the Fiji Women Lawyers Association and femLINKpacific are entitled to their view.
He says like most of those on social media making an issue of this report, they do not appear to have actually read the story they ran.
Lomas says their report, incidentally, was written and edited by highly qualified women journalists and a woman is in overall charge of the newsroom.
Stay tuned for the latest news on our radio stations