The democratic process for sustainable development relies on the engagement of everyone, young and old, with shared goals. Meaningful engagement of young people can build a more inclusive, equal society. Young people in Fiji are engaging in human rights learning and exploring their potential through various activities.
Young members of communities in central and northern divisions organized themselves to participate in a human rights training and commemorated International Youth Day on 12 August. The week-long training was coordinated by community human rights advocates as part of the EU-funded Fiji Access to Justice Project. The training equipped young people with knowledge of human rights-based approach to their engagement at the community, national and global levels.
Young community members learned about the international human rights framework, which is an integral part of Fiji’s Constitution. The members also learned about specific issues, including the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of the child. The sessions were facilitated by Fiji’s Human Right and Anti-Discrimination Commission.
The human rights training was combined with sports activities guided by the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
In Mokani village, in central division of Fiji, some of the Mokani Youth Club members have been coaching sports, which has also helped develop their leadership skills. They are coaching youth in several types of sports, such as rugby and badminton, and encourage young members to find the sport that best suits their different skills and interests.
Sereima Mualevu, a member of Mokani Youth Club, feels that youth engagement in decision making processes is very important, saying “In the village meeting every week, where elders plan and decide about the village affairs, young members should be able to participate and give our ideas too.”
Victoria Wilson, also a member of the club added, “Everyone’s point of view is important, including youth. It is also important that their points of view are heard.”
Another member of Mokani Youth Club, Ratu George Cakobau, shared his concerns about the current socio-economic challenges posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and a way forward in which youth can take the lead.
“Hotels have been shut down, some workers have had their pays cut, and some have been left unemployed. Through more vocational training and the training like this we had today, young people can identify the trades suitable for the different skills we have and can be self-employed and be independent.”
Young people represent a majority of the population in most developing countries. In Fiji, half of the population is below the age of 27.5 years (2017 Census). Young citizens of Fiji (Fiji’s youth category is between the ages of 15-35) are contributing to society as sports players, farmers, community organizers and more. At the same time, youth face disproportionate social, economic and political barriers to fully participate in decision-making processes.
To enable young members of society to fully explore and develop their potential, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) promotes youth-focused and youth-led sustainable development path through the Youth Global Programme. The Fiji Access to Justice Project partners with young people and justice institutions, to promote human rights-based approach at community level to enhance citizens’ access to justice.
Viema V. Ratulaila a member of Urata Youth Club in the northern division of Fiji said, “I am so proud of the human rights programme that was held in our village. Thank you for concerning the life of the youths. It was indeed a great honour to be present on that day. I have learnt so much.”
Some of the participants in her community are now organizing themselves and preparing to engage as community human rights advocates in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Urata Youth Club members also engaged in a dialogue with the United Nations in the Pacific Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha and UNDP Deputy Resident Representative a.i. Kevin Petrini during their recent visit to Urata village. The youth members shared with them that building on the knowledge they gain from the community human rights advocates, the youth members were developing various projects to contribute to the community.
The Fiji Access to Justice Project supports access to justice, in particular for impoverished and vulnerable groups. It does so by empowering people to access their legal rights and services, strengthening key justice institutions to deliver improved services, and strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to deliver justice accompaniment services, with a special focus on supporting persons with disabilities and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The project is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP in partnership with Judicial Department and Legal Aid Commission.
The ways young people engage today will determine the prospects for sustainable development. With the enormous challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic for reaching the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Fiji Access to Justice Project, in partnership with young Fijians, aims to contribute to Fiji’s sustainable development with focus on Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and Goal 16 to promote peace, justice and strong institutions.