Making waves in Fiji in times of COVID-19

July 22, 2020

BY Viva Tataqawa

Image Credit.

DIVA for Equality, Fiji has been working along different fronts as a community network on COVID19, adjusting strategies as the situation changes for activists, and their communities. From July-December 2020, Noelene Nabulivou will be stepping into a leadership role again for DIVA, due to the ongoing fundraising struggles and additional COVID19-related work.

DIVA making waves

Wave 1: Immediate high need LBT close constituency from internal staff funds while also fundraising.

Overall there were 12 families from the central and western division that were supported during this first wave of assistance. During the national lockdown in Fiji, TC Harold made landfall as a category 4 cyclone on the night of the 7th-8th April. The cyclone caused significant power outages around Fiji, road blockage, and widespread flooding. Three of the families from DIVA for Equality central hub homes were severely affected. They had to resort to the evacuation center for safety. The DIVA for Equality team visited the families in the day and handed them the assistance. 

 Wave 2 and 3; Kadavu (Including Muani, Namalata, Namuana, Dravuwalu, Vukavu, Mokoisa, Tavuki, Jioma, Soso, Nacomoto) and Vanuakula Women’s Group member households in Tavua, including COVID19 and Cyclone Harold Response.

Kadavu was severely slammed by the category 4 cyclone TC Harold. 900 houses were destroyed, while more than 2000 homes were partially damaged. The hurricane has had an impact on the lives of women and children in Kadavu. The central role of women in facing the aftermath of the cyclone was totally neglected. TC Harold claimed the losses of the economic crisis in Kadavu and the assistance provided to the women during that difficult time. DIVA for Equality worked with women-led groups in almost all 9 Tikina of Kadavu. This mutual aid project has been done in three of those Tikina, Naceva, Tavuki, and Ravitaki through focal points in 11 villages. There has been emergency assistance provided to over 100 households and 500 people in this challenging time of pandemic and cyclone impact, and in the middle of a national shutdown in Fiji. 

Wave 4: Large-scale coverage of LBT Hubs and safehouses, LGBTQI and safe houses, sex workers, women in informal settlements, high poverty single-women headed households, transgender people, people with disabilities, and more.

Wave four’s main focus was on DIVA for Equality 9 grassroots Hubs around the Central, Western, and the Northern Division. The members of the hub are the Lesbians, Transmasculine, bisexual, and the gender-non confirming individuals. Even before the COVID19 pandemic and TC Harold hit Fiji, most of them were deprived of fundamental labor rights such as underpayment of salary and receiving low minimum wages. The category 4 cyclone occurred during the pandemic crisis when the nation was in lockdown. The disaster endangered the lives and the dignity of women that made them particularly vulnerable in experiencing high levels of stigma, marginalization, and violence on both the interpersonal and institutional levels.

55 families were assisted. Most of them were living in high poverty situations because they have been laid off from work. Working hours are lessened, or TC Harold has destroyed their plantation, which is their main livelihood. Some of the members of the hub worked as car wash attendees. In the homes where they live, they accommodate other partners who are unemployed and even supporting a young teenage woman who is pregnant. The roof of their house is also leaking, and the rain falls directly into the rooms when it’s bad weather. The attendees go home every week with an $80 salary. 

Wave 5: Households with women with disabilities, children with disabilities, elders, women in high poverty settings, in the insecure shelter, temporary homes, women with significant illnesses, etc. Many household gardens also started.

The assistance was provided to women living with disabilities and a 75-year-old woman who sells Ivi (a seasonal fruit) on Suva’s street for survival. For the two women living with disabilities, one of them is a sole breadwinner to her two children and a sickly husband. The second one lives alone with her younger sister, who is also a woman living with disabilities. During the visitation, they requested if DIVA for Equality could assist 5 members with adult diapers and even a 3-year-old child who is still bedridden and trapped in a 1-year-old baby’s body. A donor volunteered to cater to the child’s needs. The rest of the items were provided by DIVA for Equality. 

Some small house repairs and additions for women in high poverty settings were instituted by MC and Women builders during this wave, in various settlements, hence the GoFundMe Facebook page.

Wave 6: Rural women from majorly cyclone-affected villages with crop damage so food shortage, kai fisherwomen, and sellers affected by cyclone related landslides.

In Fiji, most of the families rely on agricultural produce to support their families. The cyclone disrupted food availability, and women’s access to food was reduced drastically. Freshwater mussels or Kai are the primary sources of protein and livelihood in most of the communities in Fiji. Kai harvesting dominates the inland fishery and is operated mostly by women. The continuous reduction of Kai due to the pollution of rivers and the weather pattern’s change is one of the significant constraints. The relief assistance that DIVA for Equality provided alleviated poverty and suffering to these women who have been braving the rain and sitting under the hot sun to cater to their families’ needs.  

The relief also reached 14 households in Wailotua who requested for assistance. During Tropical Cyclone Harold, plantations at Wailotua were severely affected. Most of the family has been eating only one of two courses of meal per day. Besides, many were left without employment due to the COVID19 pandemic. The majority of the recipients were single mum, widows, and women living with disabilities. 

Wave 7: More maritime women affected by the cyclone that we were not able to reach due to remoteness and limited communications in earlier rounds, Kuta craftswomen in Northern marine communities, and also supporting sex workers and LGBTQI organizer/activists, and others.

Kuta weaving is a source of livelihood for many women in Koronivuli and Nabukadogo village in Macuata. Kuta weaving encourages women to utilize their natural resources to support them in financial development and raise their standards of living. Harvesting Kuta is not an easy task, women have to walk long distances and back to their homes with the load. Getting a fine Kuta product is not easy either. After harvesting the Kuta reeds, they were tied in bundles and carried vertically. Kuta grows in lakes and swampy places, but after gathering, water cannot touch them. Hence the reason DIVA for Equality is assisting the women with 2 wheelbarrows and 24 pairs of gumboots to keep them warm and safe. 24 pairs of gloves, 12 Hot water bags and 4 hot water thermos, and 24 pairs of socks were also distributed.

DIVA for Equality also focused on the second round of assistance to sex workers and LGBTQI organizers/ activists during this Wave 7 for self-sustained help. Sex workers are facing hardships during this covid19 pandemic in continuing their work and loss of income. Sex workers are also struggling with mental health. For their safety, most sex workers are avoiding working on the streets, which leads to no income source to support their basic needs. 

Please support the ongoing work of DIVA for Equality, Fiji here.