Fiji’s fisherwoman activist Tarusila feels at home in Kerala

Tarusila Veibi speaks at the eighth global conference of Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries in Kochi on Tuesday. Photo: Special arrangement

Kochi: A Fijian fisherwoman’s story of challenging the power structures that ignored the concerns of the women in her community grabbed attention at a global conference going on here. Tarusila Veibi, a fisherwoman and welfare worker from Fiji, shared her experiences at the eighth global conference of Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries (GAF).

A community conservationist with the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network, Tarusila’s dedication towards advocating conservation efforts at the community level started gaining global attention when she started challenging governance structures that ignored women’s voices in Fiji’s fisher communities.

Tarusila began her journey by becoming a representative of the Natural Resources Management Committee. It was common for her to be ignored by decision-makers and community leaders since she was the only woman representing the district and the province.

“As an advocate for women's rights in the fisherwoman community, it is not always an easy journey. You need a lot of sacrifices, your time, money, life and everything,” says Tarusila reflecting her 14-year-old journey fighting for fisherwomen in her community.

“I had to be creative to convince and make my voice heard. I started to take off time in order to attend more meetings. I shared success stories from other villages and their benefits from community-based fisheries management (CBFM) and made other women aware of their rights. I ensure that women’s views and voices are included and heard in a community discussion about community-based fisheries management and the natural resources around us,” she said.

In 2015, Tarusila joined a team advocating mud crabs culture for women fishers across Fiji provinces. Mud crab is a favorite delicacy in many fisher communities around Fiji and a prominent attraction in the tourism industry. “In 2017, I was chosen to represent the women fishers in Fiji to speak on one of the side events in New York on the topic ‘Women Healer of the Ocean’. Now I am in Kerala, which is so much like my home Fiji, the food, the climate, welcoming people. It seems everything is similar even the issues too,” she said.

She emphasizes how vital it is to conserve Indigenous fishing knowledge since it is essential to the community's cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Fiji's community management plans that support sustainable fishing practices for women-dominated fisheries, the creation of fisherwoman associations, and making women fully involved in decision-making were some of the changes that set off a wave of change in the fisher community.

In a proposal for sustainable community-based fisher management, Tarusila said promoting sustainable fishing practices alleviates possible threats like climate change.

Tarusila, who is in her early 60s continues to play an integral role in woman's rights matters related to fisheries and natural resource management inspiring fisherwomen communities around her.

Tarusila was accompanied by Natalie Makhoul, PEUMP Gender and Human Rights Specialist, FAME Division, SPC and Margeret Fox, South pacific Community Program.

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