To mark International Day for People with Disability on Thursday 3 December, and as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) organised a public panel discussion with the University of the South Pacific (USP), the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation and the Australian High Commission.
Discussion panelists included Joshko Wakaniyasi of the Employ this Ability Project; Ruci Senikula, of the United Blind Persons of Fiji; Melita Delaibau, a USP student with disability; and Gina Houng Lee, Gender Advisor with Australia’s Pacific Women Program.
Panelists addressed the question, ‘Why does inclusion matter?’, and shared experiences on access and empowerment for people with disabilities.
‘Today was fruitful because it builds our self-esteem to come out and show that we can be included in any education level,’ said audience member Sainimili Naivalu, a wheelchair user working on starting her own beauty therapy business.
Australia has had a long-standing partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum, which works to strengthen the voices of representative organisations for people with disabilities throughout the region.
‘Today we celebrate the important contributions that people with disabilities make in our communities,’ Australian High Commissioner, Margaret Twomey, told attendees in her welcoming remarks.
‘We also reflect on how we can raise awareness about the benefits of an inclusive, accessible society for all.’
As DFAT’s Senior Regional Advocate for Disability, Ms Twomey also highlighted the need for a safe and violence-free society for Pacific women and girls with disabilities.
Earlier this week, Australian High Commission staff participated in a PDF social media campaign calling for a safe, inclusive education for women and girls with disabilities – an important factor in addressing violence.
‘We must – and we can – create inclusive societies in our Pacific and across the globe that leave no one behind,’ Ms Twomey said.