Suva, Fiji - The inclusion of sign language interpreters provided persons with hearing loss access to social, economic and legal services and highlighted equal access to justice and government services as human rights during a recent outreach at the Nausori market coordinated by the government officers and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Members of the Fiji Association of the Deaf (FAD) communicated their needs to government officers through sign language interpreters, who are not always available.
Director of the FAD, Krishneer Sen said, “Provision of sign language interpreters would help us access government services. The programme today was helpful because we had interpreters with us. We have now accessed the information we wanted through sign language.”
He spoke to the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission about the need to have sign language interpreters in the courts, not only in the capital city of Suva, but in other locations as well so that the deaf can have equal access to justice.
Social, economic and legal services are available and provided to persons in Fiji by the government but are not always known and easily accessed by all communities. Geographical location, language, economic, social and physical conditions can be barriers to essential government services. The need for increased awareness of the right to access to justice and the delivery of services that are enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji, has been identified as a priority so that no one is left behind.
A mobile service delivery approach to raising awareness of rights and delivery of services was initiated by the Fijian Government and UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji with support from the Japanese Government.
Teams from the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Legal Aid Commission, Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, and other related government agencies use mobile offices to take their services to the doorsteps of communities. Buses were custom designed and equipped to serve as mobile offices to deliver the services.
Sign language interpreters were invited to the recent REACH awareness and service delivery sessions to provide the deaf community with easier access to the services.
A member of FAD, Asena Waqa, highlighted the challenge of accessing justice and services as a woman and deaf person.
“It is really hard for deaf persons to communicate on social issues such as domestic violence. Deaf women living with violence do not know where to go and how to seek assistance. It is difficult to communicate without sign language.”
“I obtained a lot of information during the awareness session which will be useful for my colleagues and friends as well. I requested the officer from the Department of Women to come and talk to deaf women to raise awareness of accessing the services,” she added.
Fiji ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 7 June 2017. The CRPD adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Aligning with the aims of the CRPD, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill was introduced in Fiji Parliament in 2016.
The Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) for Rural and Urban Fijians Project aims to promote peace building, social cohesion and inclusiveness by reaching the furthest behind first. The REACH Project is implemented by UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji in partnership with the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, and Legal Aid Commission and is supported by the Government of Japan and UNDP.
It supports the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 which highlights UNDP’s commitment to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development and to provide access to justice for all, to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. It also promotes SDG 5 which seeks to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
*An advocacy video, ‘REACH service delivery in sign language’ which presents the awareness and service delivery session with FAD members is available on UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji YouTube
Tomoko Kashiwazaki, Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, email: email@example.com, tel: +679 331-2500