Suva, Fiji, 19 March, 2021 – Criminals trying to infiltrate borders with illicit drugs and contrabands is real. In Fiji and across the globe, one of the key roles of Customs administrations such as the Fiji Revenue and Customs Services is to stop criminals and arrest this illegal trades. In Nadi, one of our international ports because of the Nadi International Airport, Principal Customs Officer, Laisa Naivalurua heads a team that are really intelligence officers who try and intercept criminals or illegal cargoes. A handful of women have been given this responsibility. OCO/PACNEWS Pacific Women in Customs interviewed Laisa of her experience as a woman in a male dominated industry.
Laisa was already on her eighth year as an Intelligence Analyst at the Fiji Financial Intelligence Unit (FFIU), when a friend told her of a Customs vacancy in Nadi.
That was in 2015.
Coincidentally, she was searching for jobs in Nadi, where her husband was already working.
“I was surprised to be offered the job but very thankful because it was in a field that I am passionate about, which is in the intelligence space and I also was still able to serve my country in the public sector.
“Working at Customs has been rewarding in that there are so many technical aspects and risks that you get to learn along the way. I think there is that general misconception that Customs work is just about clearing goods but it is not as simple as that. In addition to this, there are many stakeholders that we as Customs officers have to interact with so there is always the opportunity to build our communication skills.”
Laisa has been based at FRCS’ Air Cargo Control Unit in Nadi since January this year. The Air Cargo Control Unit is currently in its pilot phase and comes under the National Border Control Targeting Center in Suva.
“I am responsible for the daily operations of the Unit in Nadi with its core role of profiling and targeting high risk air cargo consignments before these consignments arrive into Nadi. This includes mitigating border security risks such as illicit drugs, arms and ammunition and also revenue risks such as undeclared dutiable goods and tariff misclassification.”
Challenges in a male dominated industry
“The challenge we face as women is mainly due to stereotypes about women’s lack of ability, aspirations and the traditional roles of women which causes that assumption that women cannot successfully contribute to the workforce. With these kinds of assumptions, women can be overlooked for career development opportunities and may not be taken seriously in the workplace.
“As a result women are under more pressure to perform to prove these stereotypes wrong and this can have a negative impact on their physical and emotional health. I have experienced some of this stereotypical thinking but I have been fortunate enough to learn from role models in my family and in my career who have taught me to persevere and rise above such obstacles in life.
“Whilst there are more women in Customs now, there is still a need for more women in leadership positions to bring greater diversity in setting the strategic direction of this field of work.”
Balancing work and personal lives
This is probably the greatest challenge, Laisa believes, a woman in the workforce faces where she has to balance work with the demands of a personal life.
“Despite your work status, there is always that expectation on women to still manage the affairs at home. It causes stress in most career women especially when you have children who are at a younger age.
“I have been married for eight years and I have three girls aged between one and eight years. But thankfully I have been blessed with trusted helpers that take care of my children when I am at work and I know this is hard to find. I believe it is also my faith in God who allows me that work-life balance because I believe it’s not something that we can do on our own strength.”
Laisa always had the support of her parents in the pursuit of her career, and has tried to honor them with that – not only because of their expectations but because of the sacrifices they made for her and her education.
“I am blessed with great role models in my family that have played a big part in shaping my work ethic and commitment. I am also blessed to be married to a very supportive and understanding husband. He also has a demanding career but he always manages to step in whether it is with moral support or with managing the home.
“My husband and I grew up in the Baptist Church which set the foundation in our Christian beliefs and as we started our own careers and our own family, we appreciated the fellowship with our church family in keeping us grounded and reminding us to always be thankful despite the challenges.”
Advice to women
“We all have a calling in life and once you do understand what yours is, pursue it and own it! If you do get distracted or lose your way, don’t let that discourage you. What matters is how you will finish. As women, let us build our networks and influence the next generation to break the stereotypes of women in the workforce. We can do this by standing up for each other and advocating not for special treatment but for a more gender inclusive workforce across the Pacific. Each one of us can bring about that change in our own unique ways.”
Challenges of COVID-19
“The challenges we face as a customs officer during this pandemic was mainly around changing the way we would normally work and ensuring we did our part in supporting government’s efforts in fighting the pandemic. “This included wearing proper protective equipment such as hand gloves and face masks, downloading the CARE Fiji App and enquiring with customers whether they had this App as well on their mobile phones. It was an additional responsibility that we had to embrace as frontline officers.
“COVID-19 has also challenged us to strengthen our risk assessment processes so that there is a more streamlined approach on physical interventions. We also had to move meetings and trainings to the virtual space which has been challenging because Customs work is practical and hands-on. Nevertheless, I have seen the Customs community overcome these challenges by managing the changes and sharing experiences across jurisdictions to build a more resilient and united workforce.”
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Our Gender Program: In 2019, the OCO held its inaugural Change Management on Gender Equality workshop, which suggested there should be gender equality on all aspects of OCO’s work program. This suggestion was endorsed at the 2020 OCO Annual Conference. In 2020, OCO member countries were encouraged to celebrate the International Women’s Day in their own administrations and to share their activities widely. This year, OCO is dedicating the month of March to our women. The Pacific Women in Customs Series is a collection of stories of women who are working in Customs in their various countries and we hope to inspire more women to join this field of work.