NADI, Fiji—While there is cause to celebrate advances in the Pacific region’s disability sector, stronger partnerships are needed to close the remaining gaps, the Deputy Director-General (Suva) of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu, said.
During her keynote address at the Forth Pacific Regional Conference on Disability on Feb. 19, Utoikamanu highlighted discrimination against women and youth with disabilities as particular areas of concern.
“The ongoing collaboration between governments, disabled person’s organizations, development partners, and the community at large are examples of the many achievements on disability-inclusive development in the Pacific, yet progress remains uneven,” Utoikamanu said.
“Compared to the wider population, women and youth with disabilities have a more difficult time finding and retaining jobs and receiving fair treatment at work because their skills, knowledge and contributions are often not fully recognized.
“In addition, a lack of reasonable access to public places such as hospitals, supermarkets, and recreational centers still challenges the day-to-day life of someone with a disability and there’s a great need to address these disadvantages in the Pacific region.
“To create an enabling environment for the full participation of women and youth with disabilities in all aspects of political, economic, cultural and social life requires improving governance mechanisms, challenging stereotypes and negative attitudes, and welcoming diversity.
“All relevant stakeholders from the public and private sectors, civil society and community groups need to be consulted and work together in a coordinated way to clearly target the identified gaps to ultimately improve the lives of Pacific people with disabilities,” she said.
The biennial conference was held by the Pacific Disability Forum in Nadi, Fiji, on Feb. 16-20, with the theme “Partnership and action towards a disability-inclusive Pacific.”
Utoikamanu said SPC was proud to partner with the Pacific Disability Forum to promote disability-inclusive development and to actively support the work of countries in the disability sector.
For example, SPC provides technical assistance to Pacific Island governments to ratify and report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and currently supports advocacy training for disabled persons organizations in Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. With SPC assistance, data related to people with disabilities will be collected during the national census in Palau in April. (SPC)