Na Vanua o Siko na Tabutale na Gone Turaga Na Taukei Ni Waluvu;
Vakaturaga i Navaulele Na Turaga na iTaukei ni Waluvu;
Na iLesilesi ni Bose ko Viti i Delaimakotu Na Gone Turaga na Ramasi;
The Assistant Minister of iTaukei Affairs;
The Acting Permanent Secretary, iTaukei Affairs;
The iTaukei Trust Fund Board and Management;
The People of Tikina Matailobau;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ni Sa Bula Vinaka!

I am delighted and honoured to celebrate with you at this first Graduation Ceremony for Rural Entrepreneurship Women’s Training.

It has been a priority for my Government to elevate the status of women in Fiji. We wanted to make women equal before the law. We wanted to provide legal protection to women from sexual assault and other forms of violence. And we wanted to provide opportunities for education and economic advancement for women. If Fiji is to reach its true potential, we need the talents of all the Fijian people, not just the 50% who happen to be male.

Women have been making their mark in Fiji for a long time, but that is accelerating now under my Government’s objectives. More women are graduating from universities and entering professions, more women are starting businesses, and more women are taking responsible positions in Government and the private sector and more women are given protection under the new laws from sexual assault and violence.

This Rural Women Entrepreneurship Training programme is an important part of that empowerment, particularly because Government also is committed to reducing the inequalities between rural residents and urban residents.

That means not only providing better infrastructure in rural areas, but also creating more opportunities for rural residents to develop businesses and marketable skills. Our mission is to create the kind of environment and support that will allow you to prosper and then get out of your way and let you earn money. When women are fully engaged in productive economic activities, families, communities and our entire society benefits.  And when women have the skills to control their own economic destiny, then they are truly equal.

It is a strong testament to the importance of rural women’s entrepreneurship that such programmes have been integrated into the curriculums of our Fiji National University.

The FNU is showing real dynamism and foresight by building both its academic and vocational programmes. It demonstrates the kind of thinking and actions that brand the FNU as an institution that truly serves society. I urge the FNU to continue as it is doing and to bring in the most talented academics and trainers from Fiji and abroad, wherever they are — to make FNU an internationally recognized tertiary institution.

So congratulations and thanks to FNU, and thanks also to the iTaukei Trust Fund Board, who provided the funding for this programme.

I know that you are in discussions about engaging these participants in the University’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training programme, what we know as TVET.

For your information, in 2016, FNU had received a recognition plaque sent from the UNESCO Headquarters in Bonn, declaring the TVET Division as an official UNESCO-UNEVOC Centre here in the South Pacific. I’m confident that the Fijians who enroll in these programmes with FNU will benefit tenfold from this achievement.

For next year 2022, the Fijian Government has put aside 5,000 scholarships for TVET programmes.

But I mainly want to congratulate all the women who are graduating today. We have two generations of Fijian women in this class, ranging in age from 18 to—well, a bit older than 18—from the six villages of Tikina Matailobau. You are from Navuniyasi, Taulevu, Delaitoga, Nabena, Matailobau and Nairukuruku.

When you return to your villages, you will be able to transform what you have learned here into businesses that generate real income—in dress-making and tailoring, jewelry making, hairdressing, and screen printing.

There is something else that I want to congratulate you for—and this is very close to my heart because of the ordeal we have all suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The pandemic caused a great deal of disruption and dismay. I know because I had to speak to you often about it, often to talk about necessary restrictions. But the pandemic and the limitations it placed on us did not dampen your spirit or your drive to learn. If anything, it only made you more determined to complete your training.

You adapted, and you turned those limitations into opportunities. I am told that you attended online classes and training sessions, and used mobile phone applications and other e-learning platforms provided by FNU during the restrictions of the second wave of the pandemic. You didn’t give up. You refused to let COVID destroy your ambitions and deny you this important opportunity to learn. And I also have been told that some of you have already started earning an income from your training during the lockdowns, which is really impressive.

It proves how important Government’s Digital Transformation Programme is to rural communities. But it also proves how resilient, determined and adaptable the Fijian people can be when they have the right opportunities.

As Government, we also ensured that adequate support is provided to the thousands of Fijian families affected by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. We responded in an effective manner but also ensured that our response was sustainable as the fight was a long one. We initially started with the financial support provided to those in the formal sector and expanded it over the last six months to the informal sector with the recent 2 rounds of $360 unemployment payout.

So far, the Fijian Government has paid out close to $500 Million Dollars to affected Fijians in the form of unemployment income support and other financial relief measures. This wasn’t a giveaway but money well spent to ensure that we supported Fijian families in their time of need and to bring back life to normalcy. I know some of you have benefitted from the 360 and have put it to good use.

To the graduates here today: This training is for you to use as you see fit. It can be a first step on your own entrepreneurial path, the start of a business that will grow over time.

It can give you the means to supplement your family income. It can be a source of great personal enrichment. But it is yours, because you have earned it.

This has been a pilot project, and like all pilot projects, we have learned a great deal from it. We would like to replicate these training modules in the other Provinces in Fiji, and what we have learned here will help make future trainings even better. So this experience can become institutionalized in Fiji.

Government investment in the talents and initiative of our people is always money well spent.

I am encouraged and even inspired by the entrepreneurial drive already shown by you, and I wish you all the greatest success.

Sa ma nakwa saka vakalevu, Vinaka Vakalevu and Thank You.

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