Mahendra Sukhdeo –
Indo-Fijian women appear to have attained a new sense of independence and entrepreneurship. In commercial activities, they are known for their partnership with their family members. There is also a resurgence of involvement in cultural activities.
A defining ethnocentric political event for Fiji, the coups of 1987 led the disenchanted Indo-Fijians to leave the shores in droves.
A substantial number of them have settled in the littoral countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
In the beginning, a number of them suffered from social dislocation, mental nostalgia and communal isolation.
There were apparent problems of adaptation and resettlement. Gradually, they have picked up their mantle and are now productive members of their community.
Since Fiji’s independence in 1970 and with the opening of tertiary education and availability of scholarships to Australian, New Zealand and Indian universities, there was a deluge of trained women graduates manning different portfolios in commercial, community and governmental arena.
While some of them partnered with their kinship companies such as Sangeeta Niranjan and Nur Bano Ali, others found their niche on their merits.
One such accomplished person was Nazhat Shameen, who became the Director of Public Prosecutions followed by being appointed as a Judge and is now Fiji’s Ambassador to European Union. The others who were equally successful female role models were Shamina Ali, a women’s rights campaigner and Imrana Jalal, a human rights specialist.
However, Indo-Fijians in general and Indo-Fijian women in particular have not made their mark in political governance and in higher echelons of management. This is not endemic to this community. There are several challenges facing women based on the inherent nature of the Caucasian/Christian-Jewish led societies.
One of the principal impediments is the assumption that the woman’s sphere of activity is confined to the ‘private’ (family and home) as against the ‘public’ space (political authority and contest) reserved for the males.
This thesis has implicitly given rise to male violence.
In Australia, questions are being raised on the genesis of family violence.
Is it rooted in convictism? Is it due to Australian addiction for ‘footy’ where non-ball aggressive contacts and assaults are universally accepted?
Aggressive or combative male behaviour on field is becoming a feature of Australian sporting pursuit. This mind-set, when translated into political governance, gives credence to Kronos’ (a multinational think tank) research pointing towards Australian fixation for ‘young, male and unattached’ entity.
A raft of examples of gender inequality can be cited.
Women in cabinet are given ‘soft’ ministries such as health, education or welfare.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet, which he calls, ‘A Team,’ is representative of neither gender nor ethnicity. It is a symptom of a patriarchal society.
The other impediment is the vicarious pleasure that the male dominant society has in the private lives of the female politicians rather than their political acumen.
In addition, the media feeds on this kind of fixation by giving disproportionate exposure.
It is aimed at entertaining rather than informing.
For instance, in regard to the former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, no part of her private life or even any part of her body was left untouched by the Australian media.
It is a shameful indictment of this kind of mental attribute that discourages the emergence of gender equality, let alone diversity in governance.
In spite of these challenges, several Indo-Fijian women have climbed the bureaucratic ladder and are in positions of power.
Australia’s only Parliamentarian of Indian ethnicity is Senator Lisa Singh, a former Fiji resident.
The Kiwi Scene
In New Zealand, in recent times, more women have entered the male dominated domain of governance. One has to persevere to break the barriers that have been in existence for years.
Mahendra Sukhdeo is the author of ‘Aryan Avatars.’ He lives in Melbourne, Australia. The above is the first part of his detailed analysis of the challenges faced by Indo-Fijian women in their political and corporate advancement. The second and final part will appear in our next issue.