By Martin Child and Josephine Kalsuak
The Pacific is well-known around the world for its strong culture of dialogue, debate and consensus-driven decision-making, and how resolutions on important issues are never rushed, to ensure better outcomes. So, it was only natural that the most successful Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) pursue a ‘Pacific-style advocacy’ approach to human rights issues. This approach has proven to be extremely popular in local communities and has opened the door to important discussions and debates across our region.
Around the world, CSOs perform a key role in improving the lives of women, men, children, people with disabilities, the elderly and other marginalised groups. The work of these organizations’ supplements, compliments and, at times, challenges the work of national governments, holding them accountable for the needs and rights of all people. CSOs in the Pacific in particular, play a key role in awareness-raising and advocacy actions directed at social change in the region.
This year the Pacific Community, in recognition of the growing impact and importance of civil society issues, merged its Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) and Social Development Programme (SDP) into the new Human Rights and Social Development Division (HRSD). One of the priority areas for this new division is the ongoing support for CSOs through the Pacific People Advancing Change (PPAC) programme.
With funding provided by the Governments of Sweden and Australia, PPAC continues to support Pacific-style advocacy campaigns on a range of critical human rights issues. The support targets CSOs in the Federated State of Micronesia (FSM), Kingdom of Tonga, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The programme includes advocacy training workshops, ongoing mentoring and provision of small grants.
The PPAC programme is unique in the sense that it recognises a significant proportion of CSOs in the Pacific region are based in rural areas or in locations otherwise underserved by similar programmes. The programme also recognises that, in order to see effective social change, it is important to provide CSOs with financial support along with training and ongoing mentoring to build their capacity. Grantees under the PPAC programme have campaigned on violence against women, youth empowerment, right to health, the rights of people with disabilities, waste management, climate change and more.
A common approach adopted in PPAC advocacy campaigns is to place people at the centre; this proved extremely valuable during the adverse times the region faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The PPAC in-country staff have been instrumental in providing continuous capacity-building support to the CSOs, resulting in more targeted support for the communities.
A good example of the contextualised Pacific style-advocacy was seen in RMI where two PPAC grantees, Jo Jikum and the Marshall Islands Conservation Society, advocated against single-use plastic and promoted reusable bags to enhance the right to a clean and healthy environment. The two CSOs collaborated with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and other government agencies and formed the Eniwot Juon (Say never mind, no need) public information campaign.
Further success stories have emerged from FSM. Assistance to a grantee in FSM ultimately led to the formation of a Disabled Person’s Organisation. This organisation was formally registered to advocate for the rights of people with disability in Chuuk state. Another grantee, Micronesian Productions, successfully lobbied for the passage of the Pohnpei Disability Act, which the legislature passed in August 2019.
Also in FSM, the Care Micronesia Foundation successfully lobbied Pohnpei State to increase the age of consent and marriageable age from 16 to 18 years in 2019 to ensure alignment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This organisation collaborated with the Public Safety officers in Pohnpei to raise awareness on law change.
Moving to the Kingdom of Tonga, PPAC grantee Seleka succeeded in getting school principals, teachers, community leaders and parents of students in high schools in Tongatapu, Eua and Vava’u, to acknowledge the capabilities of young people in using art to promote youth empowerment. The Tonga Centre for Women and Children used the grant effectively to obtain support from the district officers and community leaders to help prevent domestic violence in Vava’u.
Achievements from the archipelago of Vanuatu showed support from the provincial government in Santo to ensure future public buildings are accessible to people with disabilities following a campaign from Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy, and the Vanuatu Council of Churches in Port Vila used the grant to promote the prevention of domestic violence using human rights and faith-based approaches.
In the Solomon Islands, the Auki Market Vendors Association successfully lobbied for local government support of Auki market waste management system to ensure effective disposal and waste management methods in and around the Auki market. Also in the Solomon’s, the Family Support Centre received provincial government endorsement to mainstream Family Protection Act principles into existing Moli and Tetekanji wards by-laws.
These positive examples and achievements demonstrate the potential that local CSOs can unleash when support is provided in a tailored and context-sensitive way. HRSD, through its PPAC programme, recognises that Pacific-style advocacy combined with open dialogue through talanoa, storian or tok story creates the right environment to drive positive social change.
We are looking forward to sharing more PPAC success stories in the coming months and years.