In March 2021, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) interviewed Angeline Chand, the Human Rights and Gender Advisor at the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF). The interview was shared with student leaders during IFES’ webinar series with the University of the South Pacific Student Association. The interview highlights challenges encountered by people with disabilities in the Pacific during COVID-19 and PDF’s work to address these through their regional policy platform and advocacy. The video transcript is below.
Angeline Chand: Good morning to my regional colleagues and good evening to my colleagues from IFES, who are the hosts of this webinar. My name is Angeline Chand and I am the Human Rights and Gender Advisor at the Pacific Disability Forum and we bring you warm Pacific greetings. For your information, the Pacific Disability Forum is a regional organization based in Suva, Fiji, and we are a membership organization made of disabled people's organizations throughout the Pacific region and also we work together with our partners and stakeholders to bring about change, inclusion and recognition of the voices of women, men, youth and children with disabilities.
Some of the work that we have done that has brought about positive changes in our advocacy work, we work closely with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, which is an inter-governmental agency and we have found the advocacy that you need to do, bringing it to that high-level inter-governmental meeting is able to get the buy-in from our ministers and the different partners and they are able to advocate on our behalf. So, we have had over the years regional toolkits on violence against women, we have had regional toolkits on disaster risk reduction, so these are some of the areas that we have been successful in advocating for regionally.
And now with COVID-19, some of the challenges that we continue to face in our advocacy work is basically for people to understand how COVID-19 affects the different impairment groups within the disability movement. One of the biggest challenges will be communication. If one is a person who is Deaf, we would surely need sign language interpretation or captioning when information is out there given to everyone on what is COVID-19. And for us, a challenge is for persons with disabilities to actually understand what is COVID-19, what they do have to know, and what they should do and shouldn't do. And for some of us, this may be a very scary process because if information is not given in the way that we understand, it is not easy for us to understand, it is not in simple language, then we get scared.
So, a project that our organization is embarking with the World Health Organization is targeting the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders, both regionally and internationally, and taking the mainstream information that is out there to make it disability-inclusive. So what does social distancing mean when I am a person with a physical disability? What does it mean for me as a blind person? What does it mean for someone who requires sign language interpretation? What does it mean for someone with a psychosocial disability? What actually does it mean for someone with an intellectual disability? So it's this whole range of things when it comes to COVID-19, so those are some of the areas that we have been working closely with. We have information available in various formats, easy-to-read, as well, and if you are interested, we are happy to share them, we'll give you our contact at the end of this.
Now coming to the policy platform that we have been working on with IFES -- so, with the policy platform, we were able to develop a regional policy platform where we get our members from the region and we decide amongst ourselves what are some of the regional priorities that affect women, men, children, youth with disabilities in the region. And then we have to come to consensus. OK, if these are the three, or four, or five things that we need to do over the years, what would these be? And then from that policy platform, we advocate to our regional agencies, our regional partners and our governments. Then, the policy platform is then translated at the national level, where the countries decide OK, these are the regional priorities, at the national level, what would these look like as our priorities? Then they advocate for those.
The challenge we see with the policy platform and advocating to national governments is we know that government officials change from time to time. You might be talking to one person and you get there the next month, and the person is gone, he is no longer there. So you have to continuously advocate and with the work with IFES, we are focusing around political participation. What does this mean for persons with disabilities to exercise their political rights? Not just going to vote, but also working at the polling station, in the administration area, or even running for elections if they want to. So it's about building the capacity of persons with disabilities and also working with the political parties and the elections officials. How do you do this, working with persons with disabilities if they are coming, how can they freely exercise their right to vote?
And, finally, I guess my message to those of you listening is advocacy is not easy, we need to prioritize, we need to have clear messages, we need to have data, we need to have statistics because those things are often asked -- how many people are you talking about? And we need to all agree on our priorities. And we all must go with the same priorities.
As I said, our office is based in Suva at Kadavu House at the ground floor so you will not miss it. As you walk through the door, it's on your right and so you will not miss it. So please visit our office, keep in touch, I know you are regional students, so we look forward to working with you. Thank you very much, you all have a good day!
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