Young Pacific Island Leaders Advancing Disability Rights, Education and Youth Participation
by Kailee Smart, Inclusion Program Associate
In partnership with the University of South Pacific Student Association (USPSA), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), launched interactive virtual webinar series Youth Advocacy for Inclusive COVID-19 Response and Recovery to empower young advocates throughout the Pacific Islands. Participants included students from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. As part of the webinar series, participants collaborated to develop an inclusive policy platform for Pacific youth. 12 student leaders identified three key priority areas: education, disability rights and youth participation. Throughout the summer, in the lead-up to International Youth Day on Aug. 12, 2021, the student leaders held webinars, events and discussions to raise awareness on their priority areas.
The USPSA Nauru branch held a student forum to advance education advocacy. The USPSA Nauru President and member of IFES’ COVID-19 Response and Recovery webinar series facilitated the forum discussion, which created a space for enrolled students to voice their main concerns and priorities. Among the challenges mentioned were a shortage of accessibility features at schools, diverse and accessible content for all learners and resources to support accessible infrastructure and scholarships. Following the forum discussion, the student leaders completed advocacy activities directed towards various stakeholders such as the government, state-owned enterprises and higher education institutions to alleviate the challenges presented by participants through awareness programs.
To advance disability rights, student leaders held a webinar series and created social media pages. The Count Me In: Disability Advocacy Webinar Series highlighted experiences of persons with disabilities, including youth with disabilities in Fiji, and experts working in the field of disability advocacy on issues such as "Achievements and Needs of the Deaf" and "Life as a Deaf University Student.” Speakers included disability rights advocates and experts from various disabled persons’ organizations across the region, including the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation and Fiji Association of the Deaf. The student leaders created a Facebook group, "Count Me In: Disability Advocates," and a Facebook page, "Count Me In," to expand the reach of the webinar series. The pages encouraged engagement and participation throughout the series and included a contest with prizes for those with the most likes. The Facebook group has approximately 286 members and the Facebook page has surpassed 814 followers.
To target the Policy Platforms' priority area, youth participation, the Nauru, Fiji and Solomon Islands branches of USPSA held youth-led discussions focusing on young people and their roles within democracy. Discussions focused on the role of young people in enhancing youth-related issues, past and current challenges young people face to participation, young people in employment and the international obligations needed to support youth-specific programs. Speakers from the various discussions included prominent advocates such as a University of the South Pacific professor, a member of the Fijian Parliament, the Chair of Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, the Assistant Director of Nauru Youth Affairs Department and the Chair of Malaita Provincial Youth Council – Solomon Islands.
Ahead of the webinar series, the student leaders met with IFES experts in group consultations and one-on-one Zoom calls for assistance to develop and refine their advocacy plans. The student leaders continue their advocacy efforts by taking the reports from the discussions to form concrete advocacy plans to improve their Policy Platform. Read more about the USPSA's Policy Platform here.
The Youth Advocacy for Inclusive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Webinar Series was made possible through the support of the United States Agency for International Development.
Published on December 3, 2021.