April, 03, 2008 09:13 Age: 10 yrs
Category: SSS News
Dr Lynda Newland launched her report Social Justice in Fiji: Christian Perspectives at the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy (ECREA) in Flagstaff on Wednesday, 11th October 2006. The report aims to provide a comparison of different interpretations of social justice, especially among Christian churches; and an exploration of social issues in communities across Fiji.
Dr Lynda Newland launched her report Social Justice in Fiji: Christian Perspectives at the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy (ECREA) in Flagstaff on Wednesday, 11th October.
The report aims to provide a comparison of different interpretations of social justice, especially among Christian churches; and an exploration of social issues in communities across Fiji.
People from varying social and religious backgrounds were asked to join focus groups in Labasa, Lautoka, and Suva, to offer different perspectives on social issues. People who became involved included squatters, very poor communities in HART homes and homes built by Rotary, Fijian landowners, Indo-Fijian farmers, youth, some of the gay leaders, women, older people and church goers of varying ages and religious backgrounds.
A number of major issues quickly surfaced in the focus groups. In Labasa, the central issue revolved around the impact of vast numbers of leases expiring and not being renewed. This was creating extensive social change in the sense that a vast number of Indo-Fijian families were leaving the land or struggling to stay in a house on the land and working as labourers for other farms. If they choose to stay, their new lifestyles are precarious because they are not making enough to pay the rent for their houses, nor educate their children (and their children cannot access scholarships either), nor even contribute funds to their religious organisation (and many of the religious organisations collected such money to distribute in times of need but these have become fragmented because of the out-migration in the area).
Youth are very much affected by these changes. It seems that both Indo-Fijian and Fijian youth feel that there is little opportunity in Labasa, despite the fact that it is a nice town to live in. Youth are turning to kava and alcohol. There is great concern over the number of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease, and suicide figures are high. The youth also spoke disparagingly of parents who are more interested in drinking kava than looking after their children.
People who are already squatters are living very much a hand-to-mouth existence at the edge of town. The surprise here was, as in Lautoka also, that church organisations appear to have abandoned them. Middle class participants of the focus groups were also very critical of Suva-centred church politics and government policies.
In Lautoka, urban poverty was readily apparent with people complaining of high rents. Those who had moved to funded housing were barely able to afford to clothe their children to send them to school, and many cited illness and bad health as major problems in their lives. Some were directly affected by the closure of garment factories, and many more were reported to have also been affected by lease expiries.
Fijian landowners also talked of how they found it difficult to make their land pay, in part because of the way that rents are distributed through the NLTB and among the heads of various levels of Fijian society. With the closure of the garment factories, Fijian youth were also hanging around the villages and prone to engaging in marijuana smoking.
In Suva, there were more direct responses to immediate issues that had become politicised at the time, such as politicians' broken promises, the vulnerability of squatters, and the vilification of homosexuality. One issue that had been mentioned in both Labasa and Suva was the problem of children who were born to Fijian mothers but whose fathers were not Fijian because they could not access scholarships for education and their identity as Fijian was always being questioned.
Thus, the report found that there are big challenges for churches who want to be active in rectifying social justice issues in the community. Those who are interested in purchasing a copy should contact ECREA.