Priscilla served as a Councillor with Suva City Council for 9 Years. She is an active women’s rights advocate & also serves on the Board of Habitat for Humanity which looks at affordable and decent housing for the poor. She would like to stand for the general elections given the opportunity.
‘Women have to start believing in themselves as no position of decision making will come their way on a “golden platter”. The onus is on us women to initiate change.’
I am the eldest in my family and grew up in an Anglican home where race and religion were never an issue. The values I grew up with were that everyone is equal, therefore each one of us needs to be treated fairly and be given equal opportunity to decent education, housing, food and water, employment opportunities etc. Everyone is free to express him/herself and should be respected for his her opinion.
I enjoyed attending political meetings with my Dad and listening to speeches and debates. I grew up knowing that one had to be aware of political issues as it determined the quality of people’s lives. My parents also encouraged me to read a lot at an early age and this helped me articulate and expresses my opinions in a meaningful way.
After I got elected, one woman amongst 19 men, I realized that I had an uphill battle in firstly trying to change mindsets about women’s participation in Municipal governance. There were moments when I thought could not continue but prior training from the trade union movement which was also a male dominated arena, sheer determination and support from my own network of women gave me confidence to continue.
The big decision
My political party, the National Federation Party where I served in capacities ranging from women’s officer to organize the women’s wing of the party to Vice president /management board member, gave me a lot of exposure and experience to make the decision to contest municipal elections. One of my mentors, wife of my party leader also helped me arrive at the final decision to contest elections.
There were some support groups in my ward that encouraged and assisted me throughout my campaign and elections. I also approached many other people as I went along and these were women’s groups, religious and sporting groups, social groups, business houses and family members.
I did not receive any support from my council colleagues except for two in my first term, who were able to see the gender perspective. I was constantly strategizing to make a difference and sought advice from professionals outside the organisation so I could serve my electorate effectively.
The major obstacle was after I got elected. My male colleagues did not treat me as an equal and always expected me to follow rather than accepting that I was an elected member of council with a mandate. They also had difficulty accepting the fact that I could research, articulate and contribute to policy making. The challenge was to continue to remain relevant and represent women. I knew that women who knew what I was doing, believed I could make a difference. My objective was to try and overcome the challenges despite all odds.
I have to admit it was very difficult to influence policy decisions and give it gender balance because initially men refused to understand the need for gender equality in policy making. They did not understand the word “gender”. Eventually, I was able to convince the mayor to allow the elected members to attend a gender sensitization programme. Thereafter, each time an important issue was to be discussed, I took the opportunity to speak first rather than wait for the men to make the opening remarks. I found that when I introduced a subject, it made an impression and members were ready to discuss it. I also thoroughly researched and compiled facts and figures regarding the issue so I could debate with opposition more effectively. I also socialized with members after the meeting and drank a few bowls of the traditional drink yaqona, because I found them to be more relaxed and willing to listen in an informal setting.
Becoming a councilor, gave me the opportunity to lead by example. The fact that I contested elections and won gave me my own identity as I “walked the talk”. I also realized that people had confidence in me and this is why I got elected each time I contested, three terms (9 years). During my terms I was the Chairperson of a number of Council committees including staff and industrial relations; parks, gardens and civic amenities; and town planning and subdivision of land. The latter was the most rewarding as it was the first time.
I was also a member of the Mandated Committee for Union negotiations and Human Resource Issues, Street Kids and Welfare Committee, Council for Human Resettlement (squatter resettlement), Library Sub-committee (centennial celebrations), Promotion of Sports and Tourism sub committee.
I am concerned at the growing plight of the majority of women on issues of violence, unemployment and poverty. I wish to influence change in a tangible way, i.e. empower women to recognize they are equal and then be able to change, not accept their subordinate roles.
Words of Advice
Women have to start believing in themselves as no position of decision making will come their way on a “golden platter”. Women have over the decades recognized culture and tradition to be a deterrent to the development and advancement of women. Women also know their capabilities, therefore we need to assert ourselves, mobilise and bring to attention the need for gender equality in decision making. The onus is on us women to initiate change.