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Women are Changing the Service Landscape in Fisheries and Forestry

As Fiji joins the global community in celebrating International Women’s Day, the Ministries of Fisheries and Forestry are taking stock of the progress they each are making in turning into reality Government’s explicitly stated goal of providing equal employment opportunities. Both Ministries have traditionally been staffed almost exclusively by males given that the nature of work mostly involved field operations that are physically demanding.

However, over the years, with Government leading the charge to provide equal employment opportunities and the fact that more females are now venturing out into more physically demanding fields of endeavour, the Ministries are seeing some positive changes in terms of the overall number of female staff and number of leadership positions that women now hold. 

As of February 2022, the Ministry of Fisheries had filled 270 positions out of which female staff hold 90 or 33 percent of the total workforce. In the same period, the Ministry of Forestry had filled 235 positions with females holding 73 or representing 31 percent of the workforce.

The number of female staff in the Ministry of Fisheries holding middle-level to senior positions, from Bands G and above equate to 34 percent. Similarly for Forestry, females holding Band G positions and above equate to 33 percent. Female representation in senior positions in both ministries are therefore slightly higher compared to the percentage of females in each ministry. 

Permanent Secretary for both ministries, Pene Baleinabuli, said the increasing number of females at all levels and especially in leadership positions is a positive sign that the ministries are taking serious steps to translate Government’s vision of equal employment opportunities into reality.

He said the most senior scientific and technical positions in both ministries – the Director of Fisheries and the Conservator of Forests - were occupied by males ever since Fiji became a colony of the British Government and even after Fiji gained independence in 1970. But these have changed in the recent five years.

Ms. Sanjana Lal was confirmed as the first female Conservator of Forests in 2017. Prior to this, Ms. Susana Waqainabete-Tuisese acted as the Conservator and has since moved on to become the regional director for Conservation International.

Ms. Neomai Ravitu was promoted to the position of Director of Fisheries in 2021. Ms. Mere Lakeba was the first female Director of Fisheries from 2019, and has since moved on to become Fiji’s national director for Conservation International. Ms. Atelaite Rokosuka has been the Deputy Secretary for Fisheries since 2019 while Ms. Deborah Sue assumed Forestry’s senior role of Executive Director Research and Development in 2021.

Other women hold important decision-making positions within the two ministries. “It must be noted that the more critical consideration of this changing scenario is that all the female officers appointed into both ministries at every level including at senior leadership roles were appointed on merit. They had superior qualifications, work experience and work performance rating. This reflects that Government’s appointment of women are not out of tokenism, but on merit.” Mr. Baleinabuli said. 

“So on International Women’s Day 2022, we would like to congratulate all the women officers in the two ministries. We acknowledge their personal efforts to upgrade their qualifications, build their work experience and continuously improve on their overall work performance,” he said.

According to UN Women, there is a vital link between gender, social equity and climate change, and that without gender equality today, a sustainable future, an equal future, remains out of reach. Women and girls experience the greatest impacts of the climate crisis as it amplifies existing gender inequalities and puts women’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

Across the world, women depend more on, yet have less access to, natural resources, and often bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel. Mr. Baleinabuli said that women have and continue to play an instrumental role in developing the fisheries and forestry sectors either with food security and income generating projects or in conservation efforts.

The Ministry of Forestry notes that women are increasingly having more success in raising seedlings and tendering to nurseries. “They provide a lot more concentrated attention to potting and planting seeds and properly maintaining the nurseries to ensure the seedlings are healthy and strong before they are transplanted in the forests.” He also acknowledged that women continue to face challenges. “In fisheries, for instance, women could spend their entire day or night out at sea catching fish to feed their respective families, yet they are hardly recognized as fishers who should have access to development opportunities such as loans for boat and engine or other fishing equipment.”

“This is certainly one area that we must work towards improving. Even the terminology must change from referring to women as fishers, and not the generalised fishermen,” Mr. Baleinabuli said. He said there is still a lot more that can and must be done to improve the status of women in any field of endeavour.

“While we celebrate women’s personal, social and economic contributions, their leadership, ideas, innovations and strength to change our world for the better, we must continue to create more opportunities for our women and girls to thrive in society.” 

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