By Asenaca Uluiviti and Sadhana Sen
Fiji recently lost Dr Meraia Taufa Vakatale, a monumental woman leader who broke many glass ceilings with her numerous firsts. As an educationalist, diplomat and politician, she profoundly impacted the lives of tens of thousands in Fiji and the region, particularly young women in politics and anti-nuclear activists.
Dr Vakatale was Fiji’s first woman deputy prime minister, the first woman to be elected as a cabinet minister, the first female to be appointed as a deputy high commissioner, and the first Fijian woman principal of a secondary school in Fiji.
Dr Vakatale was also a fervent anti-nuclear activist. In 1995 she took a costly stand against her party and the then Sitiveni Rabuka government on renewed French nuclear testing on Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. Joining a protest march against French testing led to her losing her cabinet position in the Rabuka-led government, in which she served as a member of the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) party.
She held the portfolio of Education, Science and Technology in two stints: from 1993 to 1995 and then, after being reinstated, from 1997 to 1999. In 1997 she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. In 2000 she resigned as President of the SVT party over the 2000 coup fallout.
Dr Vakatale was a woman ahead of her time. Dedicated to her principles, she “paid it forward” to Pasifika generations by her fight to keep the Pacific a nuclear-free zone.
Dr Taufa Vakatale’s spirited and unwavering determination, her activism, idealism and her principles inspired thousands of women and youth to fearlessly pursue their dreams.
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