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Minister in trouble over remarks on Indo-Fijian women

Fiji’s Minister for Women Lynda Tabuya (RNZ Photo)

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Suva, February 19, 2023

A Fiji government Minister is facing criticism for asking an opposition MP for “evidence” of the reported rape of Indo-Fijian women and children during the political turmoil of the 1987 coup led by Sitiveni Rabuka (now Prime Minister).

Women’s Minister Lynda Tabuya has come under fire from opposition MPs in Parliament and human rights activists on social media who accuse her of being insensitive to the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated during the country’s first coup.

She made the comments in response to the opening statement of FijiFirst MP Premila Kumar, who expressed reservations about the date set for Girmit Day a newly approved public holiday marking the arrival of Indian indentured labourers to Fiji.

May 14 inappropriate

Ms Kumar said that May 14 – the day the 1987 coup was carried out – was not “appropriate.”

“It will not be solely dedicated to Girmityas, but they will see 14 May as the day many descendants of Girmityas were raped, tortured, made homeless and relegated to second-class citizens,” Kumar said, suggesting that many atrocities took place against Indo-Fijians, including the rape and sexual assault of women.

“Any other day before that could be a good option,” she added.

But Ms Tabuya, also the Leader of the Government in Parliament, said that the opposition was making “baseless accusations” against Rabuka and the coalition.

FijiFirst MP Premila Kumar (RNZ Photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She refuted Kumar’s comments, specifically about the ‘rape’ of Indo-Fijian women in 1987.

“Give us the facts. Where are the Police complaints? Your entire campaign, FijiFirst, ran on sowing seeds of hatred and fear against our leader,” she said.

Tabuya assured all Indo-Fijians, whom she claimed. “voted believing the lies and racism spread by FijiFirst candidates”, that the “(coalition) is the government for you.”

“Rabuka is the Prime Minister for you,” she said.

Accusations traded

But other opposition MPs added their concerns about Ms Tubuya’s comments, including former Tourism Minister Faiyaz Koya and former Commander of the Military, Viliame Naupoto.

“Ms Tabuya’s words hurt most of the women in Fiji. It is quite astounding that she did not and she would not acknowledge the atrocities that were committed against some of our women,” Mr Koya said in Parliament.

But Ms Tabuya said that Mr Koya was “misrepresenting” what she had stated.

She defended her claims that Ms Kumar’s comments about what happened in 1987 were incorrect and that there were reports from 2000 but not 1987.

“He (Koya) is impugning that I was mentioning for all the situations that happened,” she said.

Following a fiery back-and-forth between the two, Ms Tabuya maintained that her words were being twisted. Mr Koya, however, said, “The refusal by the minister of women to acknowledge even that fact is a shame.”

Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Co-ordinator, Shamima Ali urged politicians to “learn about the dynamics and culture of rape.”

“We urge politicians to stop getting political mileage out of women’s bodies and opening old wounds, and re-traumatising the survivors. Stop reinforcing the rape myths. This is a new era after 16 years of oppression and hence, please let us heal rather than open old wounds,” she said.

Ms Ali said that MPs from both sides of the Parliament to be trained to help them “understand the dynamics around heinous crimes like rape and sexual assaults.”

“As the experts in the nation and the region, FWCC stands ready to help in any way we can to alleviate women and girls suffering. We must create a society that understands and provides appropriate and effective responses to crimes against women, girls and children and with better-informed leaders, we can achieve this,” she said.

People can call on Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre on 1560 for assistance.

The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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