Opening Statement at the Forum Disability Officials' Meeting by Deputy Secretary General, Cristelle Pratt

Tanoa International Hotel, Nadi, Fiji Islands
15 – 17 July
Senior Officials from Forum Countries
Development Partners
Disabled Peoples Organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Good morning and welcome
2.       According to a World Health Organisation metric more than a billion people in the world live with disability –another metric and perhaps more stark a picture is that persons with disabilities may make up as much as 20% of the World’s poorest. The reality is that in many – if not all societies, disability and poverty can form a vicious cycle. Persons living with disabilities are too often faced with additional barriers – such as access to education and training; which may limit job opportunities, and in turn may lead to poverty, social exclusion and restricted access to basic human rights that most people take for granted.
3.       For the next three days as Senior Disability Officials of Forum Countries you will consider various issues and challenges faced by persons living with disabilities within our region. In addition any gains that have been made toward greater promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities will be considered, acknowledged and recognised.
4.      I would like to recognise and express our sincere appreciation to representatives of development partner and non-government organisations present today, who work tirelessly to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Your partnership in this significant work of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the region at large is greatly appreciated, and particularly given the very limited financial and technical capacity of our region in respect of this. The commitment and zeal with which you all work is testament of the need to strengthen current partnerships with regional and international organsiations in this crucial area of focus.
5.       Colleagues, in the coming sessions you will be asked to consider very specific recommendations that have been made to address issues and opportunities concerning persons with disabilities. You will need to discuss and consider among others - issues related to - the Third International Conference on Small Island Development States (SIDS) (to be held in early September in Apia); the Incheon Strategy; Disability Statistics; Improving Accessibility to Transport in the Pacific; the International Labour Organisation’s Community based Enterprise Development Tool to promote equal opportunities and outcomes in employment for persons with disabilities and, the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability 2010.
6.       I would now like to touch briefly on a few issues that will be the subject of discussions over the course of this meeting such as the approach to be taken to treat each of the recommendations of the Mid Term Review of the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability (2010 – 2015). Some of the key recommendations from the review include, developing a two-year delivery strategy that provides a revised implementation and management plan that would strengthen the outcomes of the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability; secondly, improving outcomes in thematic areas such as Disability Inclusive Development and resource mobilization through influencing and facilitating a stronger engagement with governments, other Pacific regional organizations, private sector and civil society organisations, to help strengthen their understanding, commitment and contribution to disability rights and inclusion: and, thirdly strengthening focus on the strategic management of the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability including developing policy, broadening the engagement and networks, and strengthening coordination and contribution of disabled peoples organisations development partners and other regional organisations.
7.       This meeting will also allow you to hear about the outcomes of the Pacific Plan Review, led by Sir Mekere Morauta a former Prime Minister of PNG and finalised last October. A key recommendation of Sir Mekere and his Team was to recast the Pacific Plan into a Framework for Pacific Regionalism that will replace the Pacific Plan. The final draft Framework will be considered by Forum Leaders at their meeting in Palau at the end of the month. The paper aims at highlighting key elements of the Framework and its implications and utility in support of disability-inclusive development in the Pacific Region.
8.       Another important paper that has been prepared addresses issues concerning women and girls with disabilities. As many of you are aware the 2012 Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration by Forum Leaders makes a strong commitment to lift the status of women in the Pacific and to empower them to be active participants in economic, political and social life. As recent studies indicate the status of women and girls with disabilities is very low and they are often confronted with double discrimination due to their gender and to their disabilities. This is highlighted in the 2013 Pacific Regional Millennium Development Goals Tracking Report which notes that women and girls with disabilities face stigma and discrimination compared to their disabled male and non-disabled female peers, and that women with disabilities are likely to be less educated, experience higher rates of unemployment, and to be poorer.
9.       The meeting will also be updated on the status of the ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the status of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and Legislative Review. Since September 2013, the Forum Secretariat, in partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF), has provided assistance to the governments of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands in undertaking reviews of their current legislation for the purpose of assessing what legislative changes would be required to ensure compliance with the Convention.
10.      For Kiribati, its recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has encouraged its current work toward finalising its national disability policy. The policy aims to provide strategic and planning guidance on the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities, empower national Disabled People Organisatons, and to promote mutual collaboration between Disabled People Organisatons and the government to improve the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of persons with disabilities. Similarly, Tuvalu is working on its national disability policy, which includes the proposal for a national coordinating body on disability to manage and oversee the implementation of the Convention as well as to mainstream disability issues in all government policies and plans. The Government of Tonga, with assistance from the Forum Secretariat, Pacific Disability Forum, UNESCAP, and other development partners, have developed its National Disability Inclusive Development Policy and this is currently being considered by Cabinet.
11.      Papua New Guinea; Solomon Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati have had varying degrees of success in facilitating Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) – important initiatives to achieve community based inclusive development as it seeks to break down barriers and enables people with disabilities to be included and to participate in their local community. As many of you know Community Based Rehabilitation was initially developed and promoted by World Health Organisation (WHO) as a strategy for rehabilitation in communities over three decades ago –it has been able to demonstrate that it increases the quality of life of people with disabilities and has been able to evolve into a strategy with a much broader focus on the equalization of opportunities and social inclusion of persons with disabilities.
12.      Importantly the sustainability of CommunitBased Rehabilitation in the Pacific is reliant on government support and therefore we would commend Governments to view Community Based Rehabilitation as a good and worthwhile investment to support access to services for people with disabilities while helping governments to achieve their national disability policy objectives. Government support for Community Based Rehabilitation requires a single ministry being nominated to take the lead and in this respect countries have selected either the Ministries of Health or the Ministries of Social Affairs – this is not dissimilar to the practice of other regions around the world. Investment in Community Based Rehabilitation programs, including personnel, training, coordination and delivery of services is essential for it to be successful and to be sustained.
13.      Colleagues, we can look forward to a variety of other papers including from the International Labour Origination (ILO) who will share their experiences as strong advocates for - “Decent Work” as the overarching concept in pursuing full and equal employment for All- including persons with disabilities. Their paper outlines their intent to develop project initiatives to promote “Entrepreneurs with Disabilities" in PICs, in partnership with disabled persons, their representative organisation and disability stakeholders in the region. Given that more than 800,000 people in the Pacific may be living with a disability such initiatives should be considered as they could provide potential opportunities for employment and improved livelihoods. While statistical evidence in the Pacific is not always firm, it is known that people living with disabilities represent a significant portion of the working age population. Most are young and face great challenges accessing education, health services, and employment opportunities; yet they represent a large, diverse pool of talent. Their exclusion from employment and their location often at the margins of society comes with an economic cost estimated by the ILO as being between 3 and 7 per cent of the World GDP. What can we do in the Pacific – we could establish specific measures to reflect member country commitments when ratifying pertinent international labour standards and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and, we should consult with employers’ and workers’ representatives and representatives of civil society – especially persons with disabilities themselves if we are genuine in our intent to develop relevant policies and outcomes.
14.      My comments have traversed the agenda for the next three days, which are a mix of papers and plenary discussions and specific working group discussions to discuss a Human Rights Approach to Disability in the region, and development of a Long-term Approach for implementation of a Post2015 Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability. The outcomes of your deliberations this week are key and of crucial importance to informing a strategic agenda for the upcoming Ministerial meeting to be held later this year in the FSM.
Please be assured of the Forum Secretariat’s commitment to supporting regional and national initiatives that aim to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. I would like to take this early opportunity to thank our partners both national, regional and international for the technical assistance that they provide to our region with regards to progressing the very important agenda for persons with disabilities and especially the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia who have provided financial resources to support the development and implementation of the Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability.
I wish you all a very successful meeting.
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