Fiji Women Builders
Fiji Women Builders
DIVA for Equality work on gender, construction and housing started with DIVA and Habitat FIJI agreeing to support each other in order to assist more Fiji people including women, transgender and gender non-conforming people in urban poor, rural and remote areas to access safe and affordable housing, water and sanitation, to be trained to build homes and share learnt skills, and to advocate for gender justice and human rights in the Fiji construction industry. We have continued the programme, with some periods of inactivity during COVID19 lockdowns and public health emergency periods in 2020-2021.
Since 2019 the work included:
First, an 18 week course including 12 lesbian, bisexual, transmasculine, transmen and gender non-binary builders as well as wider crew of single-mothers and young unemployed women etc. Participants graduated with a Certificate 2 in Construction course by Habitat Fiji, APTC and ADB. DIVA for Equality assisted with application and interview support, top-up unconditional cash payments to cover childcare and unpaid care commitments if needed, and provided tea supplies and psycho-social and peer-support groups during the 18 week course.
Second, of the 20 houses to be built in Central division by the Habitat Fiji/ADB funded programme, 4 of the recipients were explicitly identified through DIVA for Equality networks. Two houses were for LGBTQI households, and 2 were households we know well with very high levels of poverty in informal settlements, so we were also very pleased at this outcome. DIVA successfully and at short notice (within a week) also assisted to negotiate some conflicts and land arrangements between Habitat Fiji, the families and the local landlords, through our networks.
Third, interested graduates formed the Fiji Women Builders Peer Support Group to strengthen personal, political, practical, community networks and develop a long-term vision and activities to help communities and earn a proper living wage, and advocate on gender and construction in Fiji.
Fourth, the team started urgent action work in communities. This included construction of houses, toilets and bathrooms, and access for women with long term health needs and disabilities. DIVA provided funds for materials, labour and assisted in CV production, etc.
Fifth, some of the women builders continued to pursue their career further with studies toward a Certificate 3 in Construction by APTC, co-organized with Habitat for Humanity Fiji, and funded by ADB. Again, DIVA for Equality assisted with application and interview support, top-up unconditional cash payments to cover childcare and unpaid care commitments if needed, and provided tea supplies and psycho-social and peer-support groups. We also provided a Freeskool to support non-performing students halfway through the course, at the request of the lecturers. All students passed the course.
Sixth, there has been with this programme, as with most activities in the country, a period of inactivity in overall construction due to the COVID19 pandemic in 2020-21. In 2022, the peer support group is again slowly re-activating. DIVA for Equality is again in 2022 supporting Fiji Women Builders through funded monthly meetings to finalise a cyclone proof core house plan for future community building.
Seventh, freeskool sessions on feminist praxis, tips on autonomous organising and exposing members to DIVA led and other wider advocacy spaces.
Since 2019 women builders have been repairing bathrooms for poor, single-headed households, creating safe and healthy homes by transforming and renovating homes for people with disabilities and elderly women in the village and informal settlement, and they hope to continue, pending funding.
As part of DIVA programming on Gender, Climate Justice and Loss and damage the women builders PSG assisted an LBT woman and her elderly mother by moving them out of their dangerous home to a more secure and higher ground position away from flood-prone area in an informal settlement. DIVA provided the funds for materials, transport and labour.
In addition, in 2021 DIVA has provided gender and infrastructure support to a village in a maritime island village by working with villagers to build a walking bridge that connects the 2 sides of the village mainly used by women and school children. The bridge was washed away in 2016 during cyclone Winston, and had not been rebuilt. The villagers has been using two coconut trunks and there had already been 2 incidents where children had been endangered by the use of the trunks, especially in any wet area, etc. The trunk bridge was the primary way to access the school, some distance away, by a large part of the village. This project was designed and carried out with full permission and with the support of village elders and the District office over 3 months. The building period was 2 weeks, and DIVA fundraised, arranged and paid for the material for the bridge, the labour and accommodation and other costs for 2 members of the FWB PSG to be in the village for over 2 weeks, and worked with the village and district office on necessary arrangements. In the end a large group of women, men and young people (including young women) were actively involved in the construction activities, and we were able to negotiate some shifts to the social norms on who is able to do such work in a rural/maritime village. The village also used the left-over materials donated, and their own labour, to construct 2 further bridges.
This is the first of such infrastructure construction requests and they are not easy to arrange especially during a public emergency. In 2022 DIVA are fundraising and planning for further such support to rural and maritime areas and to households in urban high-poverty settlements as possible, in coming years. We note that the Fiji government has been involved in multiple community bridge reconstructions over late 2021 to 2022 in Kadavu, and elsewhere around the country.
Overall – We view this national work as a priority not just for effective and just development, but as part of climate change response to loss and damage, and as gender-just adaptation measures for difficult, dangerous decades to come for Pacific people and climate small-island and coastal frontline communities, in this climate emergency.