One of Vanuatu’s women role models, former Senior Magistrate Rita Naviti, died at the Northern District Hospital in Luganville, Santo, Sunday morning at the age of 56.
She was believed to be in ill health for some time.
Her death was confirmed by a doctor from the hospital, Surgeon Basil Leodoro, who said one of his staff had confirmed this news.
Rita Naviti had served most of her working life in the legal profession. She was the first woman in the country to hold the position of Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court and later after taking up legal studies at the USP law school at Emalus Campus in Port Vila she served for a number of years in the bench of the Vanuatu courts as a magistrate.
She was one of the 21 successful women featured in the book “ni-Vanuatu Role Models – Successful Women in their own Rights” – edited by Shirley Randell, published in 2002. Her quote in the piece on the story of her life in the book she said “you must fight your way through: You can’t just sit there and wait for someone else to do it for you”.
Rita Naviti was born in 1958 in Tenmaru, Northwest Malekula, Malampa Province, the first of seven children.
She went to St. Therese School on Santo then came to Port Vila to complete her Diploma and secretarial studies in French in 1976.
Soon after that she began her service in the judiciary as Secretary to the Magistrates Court — the start of a career that would span over 30 years until her resignation after which she formed her own legal firm and became a mediator for the courts.
In 1993 she became the first woman magistrate and was the first to deal with land issues in court.
“In balancing my role as a woman in Vanuatu with traditional culture, I have faced special challenges.
“I am from Big Nambas – that is the worst place for women in Vanuatu, where women are treated lower than pigs. Fortunately, I am married to a man from Makira where kastom has recognized women for some time; where women have their place and the right to talk in front of the chief in the nakamal,” she was quoted in the book ‘Ni-Vanuatu Role Models’.
And her wish for Vanuatu is that “people have a high integrity and respect, not only for others but also for themselves.”