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By Ernest Heatley

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 13, 2002 – Fiji Daily Post/Pasifik Nius)---Land and property ownership in Fiji is still mostly held by men while rural Indo-Fijian women continue to labor in the farms, have little say in family decision-making, and are mostly unaware that they have equal legal rights to men under the 1997 constitution, the Daily Post reports.

Indo-Fijian women's access and rights to land have been investigated in a paper entitled "Women's Access to Land: Case Study of Fiji," presented by Anupam Sharma, a graduate assistant and MA student at the University of the South Pacific.

Ms. Sharma delivered her paper at a three-day Transforming Land Conflict symposium at USP's Laucala campus.

She said that research of Hindu women in the Western Division of Fiji revealed that most ownership and lease titles remained the property of men.

Women mostly only received titles under their names when they become widowed and their sons were preferred to daughters when inheriting property.

Equality in property could only be made with changes to religion, culture, status, farm labor and feminist theory, Ms. Sharma said.

Her research revealed that:

* Fifty-six percent of Indo-Fijian women interviewed worked on the farm but only 11 percent received remuneration for their labor.

* Eighty-three percent of women knew nothing about feminist theory.

* Seventy-two percent were unaware of their social justice and constitutional rights.

* All women interviewed agreed that the Hindu religion preached superiority of husbands and gave more freedom to men, but only 11 percent wanted a change in the Hindu culture and tradition.

* Forty-four percent of women were not consulted in family decision-making.

* Thirty-nine percent were consulted but males had final say while 17 percent had equal say. Those with equal say were educated, employed and from nuclear families, while those not consulted or did not have final say were from extended families.

"In many instances, the term 'culture' has been used to enshroud the injustice suffered by women in regard to land. But one should not forget that culture is not given by the gods," Ms. Sharma said.

"It is very much a human artifact. In so far as males have been dominating members of the community, it is also man-made.

"Thus, culture is mostly biased towards men."

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