Pacific hosts International Civil Society Week

The largest gathering of international civil society organizations in the Pacific region was recently held in Suva Fiji from 4-8 December 2017 at the University of the South Pacific Laucala campus. Over 800 delegates representing over 100 plus organizations from around the world attended what is billed as International Civil Society Week (ICSW), hosted by CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation, based out of South Africa) in collaboration with PIANGO (Pacific Islands Association of NGO’s). Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark attended to show her strong conviction that governments must provide enabling environments for civil society participation. Dame Meg Taylor, the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum was a guest speaker at several events during the 2 day meeting.
ICSW brings together NGOs worldwide for a key global gathering of NGO’s for civil society and other stakeholders to engage constructively in finding common solutions to global challenges. The theme of the forum is: “Our Planet. Our Struggles. Our Future.”
Asked why Pacific islands need particular attention, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, the secretary general and CEO of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS the Pacific region has been at the forefront of global issues, from climate change to nuclear non-proliferation.

This is partly because as small island states – or large ocean states – they are particularly vulnerable to changes in the environment, whether rising sea levels, ocean acidification or super storms. “But I think that their leadership on these issues is also about much more than the threats they are facing,” he said.
The Pacific Climate Change Warriors often use the phrase “we’re not drowning, we’re fighting”. “To me, this reflects the spirit and strength of how the peoples of the Pacific are responding to climate change — and something that should inspire the rest of the world. Protecting civic freedoms of local activists, and their ability to organize and mobilize is essential in terms of ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable people don’t get left behind.
PIANGO has membership in several Pacific islands countries and territories, including FSM. The unique aspect of this Suva meeting was that FSM, although had its own delegation representing all the 4 FSM states, was represented by the entire Micronesian region through its PIANGO sub hub in Guam. The sub-regional PIANGO platform has members in Palau, Yap, Guam, CNMI, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, and Marshall Islands. It was decided that the only way to amplify voices from the North Pacific was through sub-regional solidarity and recognition. Often financing that are meant for community based development never reaches the communities and local civil society organizations working to address the challenges. Whether its humanitarian financing, international development or climate adaptation, too little support flows to the actual people or organizations working at the local level to effect change in these communities. Civil society needs to be an effective force that drives behavioral change, and without the support going to the local communities, it’s hard to achieve outcomes. The Suva gathering was a great opportunity for local Pacific NGO’s to build and connect with international networks and other national civil societies from other parts of the world that are working in similar fields to exchange and interact directly on ways to collaborate for effective advocacy and capacity building.
Amplifying voices of young leaders from around the world was a key objective of the Suva gathering. 43% of the world’s population is under the age of 30 and yet this age group is consistently underrepresented in politics. In Micronesia, this age group is not only underrepresented in politics but also in other leadership roles in government, culture and church, and their voice is almost non-existent. Mori Mori from Chuuk believes that the culture of silence dictated by our own chiefly systems may be a contributing factor to this impediment, so how do we find our way around this to make our advocacy and lobbying efforts more effective while still culturally sensitive?

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