International Women’s Day: Invest in Women – Accelerate Progress


International Women’s Day is a significant day to celebrate the achievements and progress of women in contributing to the development of societies, national progress, economic growth, and leadership, among the many qualities and contributions they’ve made in all other aspects of life.

With the theme Inspire Inclusion, focusing on addressing economic disempowerment by Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress, it aims to inspire, encourage and bolster women’s progress in our societies and be included in spaces often seen as male-dominated.

Though there’s progress on this front across many nations, including Fiji and the Pacific, more is needed to ensure a gender-equal world, one that is free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

As the premier institution in the region, The University of the South Pacific (USP) has and continues to produce women graduates who have gone on to be leaders in different countries, organisations, companies, directors, entrepreneurs and members of parliament over the past 56 years of its existence, to name a few.

However, International Women’s Day also embraces and celebrates the small wins and achievements of those who have made a lasting impression in their organisation, institution or field of work, no matter how small it may be.

One such person is Verenaisi Tuisovivi, who hails from Tailevu, one of 14 provinces in Fiji, and has worked at USP for the past 35 years.

Known by many who have worked with her at the University as Vere, she is one of the longest-serving staff of USP who is now ready to make a new start in a new country in a field of work.

However, to understand Vere’s impact on the people she worked with 35 years ago, we should go back to the beginning, when she started her journey at USP.

Born and raised in Tailevu, Vere, the fourth of six children, described herself as a village girl who spent most of her early years helping her parents around the house doing chores.

“Things weren’t easy for me and my family because my father left us when I was in class six, so my mother had to raise us single-handedly. We didn’t have a stable source of income, and we’d often go out to help our mother catch crabs and mud lobsters to sell.”

It was her mother’s dedication and hard work that ensured Vere and her siblings were able to go to school and, later on, secure jobs for themselves.

“I believe my experience and the lessons I learnt from my mother were the guiding principles that helped me through high school and later on join the then Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT) as a clerk typist student.”

During her study at FIT, Vere was determined to carve her own path towards an independent life that would allow her to chase her dreams and make something of herself.

This determination paid off when she was given the chance to join USP for the first time in 1988 as a clerk typist intern at the then Extension Services.

“During my internship at USP, I was eager to learn more about my job and meet people working at the institution. After a few weeks of my internship, I told myself that this (USP) is where I would want to work.”

“I was then assigned to check exam papers when students had to sit for their examination. I would then cross-check the papers before delivering them to the schools.

This was how I met course lecturers then, school secretaries, and administrative assistants and built my network.”

“What stood out the most to me was that I would get $20 every fortnight as an intern, which was big money. I remember feeling so happy when I got my first $20, and I told myself that this was the beginning of becoming an independent woman.”

“It just so happens that a vacancy advert came out for a clerk typist at USP, for which I applied. I was blessed because I was offered the position. After three years, I became a senior clerk typist, moving quickly through the ranks in my work area.”

“After some time as a senior clerk typist, I moved up to be an examination assistant until the then University Extension and Student Academic Services (SAS) before my position changed to a Student Officer.”

After serving at the University for a few decades, Vere decided to further her studies not just to upgrade her qualifications but to inspire her children to be independent.

“I started to have this internal conflict about what I was doing and my dream to upgrade my qualifications. I can’t be working in this institute and not go through the system to become a student and get some qualifications; what will I then tell my children and, more so, my grandchildren?”

In 2020, Vere decided to take the first step towards upgrading her qualifications by enrolling in the Professional Diploma in Business Management programme offered by the Pacific Technical and Further Education (Pacific TAFE).

Excited that she completed and graduated after two years, she described the whole ordeal as challenging but manageable as it so happened that COVID started to affect a lot of services.

The grateful 54-year-old said after receiving her qualification from Pacific TAFE, “I prayed and expressed my feelings. I have been here for so many years. I prayed for a workplace, and I know it was the will of God that I joined USP, but I don’t want to retire doing the same work”.

Soon after, Vere pursued another qualification, Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care, a “fallback plan” for when she retires.

“During the second semester of last year, the Australian Internship team came to talk to us in class, and they have some names of those they want to interview. I didn’t see my name on the list.”

“One of the ladies from the team came and asked if I was preparing for the interview. I said No because my name wasn’t on the list. She insisted I apply as soon as possible. The next day, I received an email inviting me to an interview.”

“Towards the end of my interview, the panellists told me I was one of the best interviewees they’ve had so far, and I was told to start preparing my papers.”

This was the beginning of a new journey entirely for Vere, who was given the good news that she had been selected to join the Early Childhood Education team in Australia and relocate on March 10, 2024.

“Though I don’t have children of my own, I helped raise my sibling’s children, and I regard them as my own. It was the nurturing and care that I received from my mother that I used to help these children grow, put them through school, and now help nurture children in the Early Childhood School that I will be joining this month in Australia.”

Looking back, she quoted, “Psalms 121:1-2 I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth”, a bible verse she holds dear to her heart.

Reflecting on her journey and the International Women’s Day theme Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress, Vere said, “I am grateful to the people I have worked with over the years who encouraged me not just to do my best but help me progress through the ranks at work.”

She added that for true Inclusion to happen, “We must openly embrace their diversity of race, age, ability, faith, body image, and how they identify. Worldwide, women must be included in all fields of endeavour”.

Vere’s story is a testament that women can achieve whatever they set their sights on, and sharing knowledge, support, and encouragement is vital to realising dreams and paving new paths to success.

To celebrate IWD 2024, staff at USP commemorated the event with a march to recognise the contribution of women at the University and to Inspire Inclusion.

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