Opening Remarks by the Secretary General , Dame Meg Taylor
Annual Regional Civil Society Organisations (CSO) Forum [Held Virtually]
3 June 2020
Good morning and greetings from the Forum Secretariat in Suva. I trust you are keeping well and safe. I’m pleased to note and acknowledge everyone joining us from the different islands across the Blue Pacific.
Welcome to this year’s virtual Civil Society Forum being held at an unprecedented time, with our region dealing with two emergencies, namely COVID-19 and the aftermath of cyclone Harold. I have been following some of your discussions from the pre CSO Forum sessions last week, and I trust you have found this new way of meeting an enabling alternative.
The Pacific region is dealing with double crisis with climate change impacts still being felt by our Pacific people as TC Harold damaged our homes and communities. Since March, the COVID 19 pandemic has launched another period of crisis and uncertainty for us in the Pacific. Globally, there are over four million cases and significant loss of life. Closer to home we have seen a loss of 148 lives and increasing cases.
People are living under some form of lock-down. Businesses, schools, cultural and entertainment centres have been forced to close to deal with this pandemic. The pandemic has certainly made it harder to deal with our existing social issues including scale and gravity of domestic violence during lockdowns.
It has also exposed entrenched inequalities; between communities and people, increased vulnerabilities – women, girls and persons with disabilities; and risks of abuse faced by children. Lack of access to protective equipment, health care and basic services remain a challenge for our region.
While our Leaders have been swift to close to borders to protect their citizens, the ramifications will be severe. Leaders are now faced with making difficult policy decisions and it is imperative that we all support and work together to ensure the long term protection of our societies. I have to emphasise that the inclusion of civil society in the policy process for this region was a decision of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders. It is an issue that I am deeply committed to, especially at the time of this pandemic.
As you know our Forum Leaders invoked the 2000 Bitekawa Declaration as a collective response to the dual crisis of COVID 19 and TC Harold. The Pacific Humanitarian Pathways creates the political leadership and enabling regional environment to ensure the timely support and movement of medical supplies, technical experts and humanitarian assistance and to Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Members.
Inclusion is a basic tenet of the Framework of Pacific Regionalism. I am very pleased with our progress in formalising this process and ensuring that Pacific voices contribute to the regional policy development process.
As CSOs, you bring this voice to the Leaders when difficult decisions must be made. You continue to work on the frontline of many of these issues either providing essential services or documenting and advocating policy change. In this regard, this virtual CSO Forum is a special one, as you will play an important part in designing the response and long-term recovery solutions for our blue pacific.
There has been an overwhelming response by Pacific CSOs to participate in this year’s Forum despite the ongoing challenges you are facing due to COVID-19. The virtual participation by you all in itself reflects your determination to engage
I congratulate you all for the work completed with the Secretariat in developing your collective advocacy strategy, and I have been advised will be finalised during the next few days. The sessions this week will provide an opportunity to review the economic and social impacts deeply using a security, resilience, gender equality frame.
I would also like to acknowledge the funding support by the Delegation of the European Union under the Technical Capacity Building Facility through my office as the Regional Authorising Office and Pacific Partnerships to End Violence Against Women and Girls. It has enhanced the engagement civil society and their communities with the Pacific Islands Forum’s.
As the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum I encourage you to share your stories with us. Whatever the area of work of your organization, I believe that our common purpose will lift us in the Pacific during this difficult time, we will benefit from your technical advice and data as we progress the work on the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway and advice to Leaders on the socio-economic impact COVID 19 and natural disasters in our region.
I look forward to the outcome of your discussions.