The voices of young people should be considered by decision makers in the Pacific because they will live with the impacts and consequences of climate change and gender inequality, says Christina Ora of Solomon Islands.
Ms Ora was in Nadi recently for the Pacific Partnerships to strengthen gender, climate change response and sustainable development. She was representing young people of Solomon Islands and the Pacific Youth Council. She shared her aspirations for young people in the Pacific with PACNEWS Editor, Ms Makereta Komai.
Christina Ora: Yes very much so. As you know, young people represent almost half of the population of some Pacific Island Countries. For us climate change will be our future and will affect us more. We will see the drastic effects of climate change in our lifetime. This is the reason why we should get more young people involved in the decision making process. A time will come when we will look up to our leaders to be accountable to ask them whether they negotiated well to secure our future or not.
This is the question they will have to answer for us. As a young person from Solomon Islands coming, this meeting has enabled me network and secure partnerships with other youth groups, civil society groups and even with government representatives. It has provided us young people a space to be heard about views on gender, climate change and sustainable development.
PACNEWS: Are you happy that youth voices are also included in the outcomes document of the Pacific Partnership on Gender, Climate Change and Sustainable Development?
Christina Ora: In the past, young people have been represented at numerous meetings but we have had to work hard to lobby for our issues to be reflected in the outcomes of meetings. At this meeting, it’s not me or the young people are pushing to be included but they are already inclusive in their discussions. It was them that are saying ‘include young people’ in every aspect of discussions. It made us feel good that this group is inclusive of not just young people but women’s groups, civil society groups, people with disability etc.
PACNEWS: What are some issues you raised on behalf of young people of Solomon Islands?
Christina Ora: I have highlighted an experience about the flooding disaster in Honiara last month. Young people were part of the assessment efforts. We went out the affected communities, sat down with the families and talked to them about their difficulties after a natural disaster. We are happy to be included in this rehabilitation effort because some of the questions asked reflect issues that affect young people. The answers will form part of government’s policies on relief efforts in the future. It also gave young people involved an insight into that process.
What we found at the end of the assessment is the need for better gender-based questions in the assessment questions because when a disaster strikes the needs of different groups are different. I also highlighted that in the community young people can easily mobilise through social media and assist with relief work. One of the things that I saw while working in the community is that some women are already mobilizing other women’s groups in rural settings. These groups are quite influential in community projects. NGOs working in these communities should take note of the work done by these informal groups and help strengthen and support their work.
PACNEWS: So you have been able to build some new regional networks for your youth groups in Solomon Islands, here at this meeting in Nadi?
Christina Ora: Definitely! I have sat down with the youth group from Tonga, Tuvalu, and Samoa under the Pacific Youth Council umbrella to hold face to face discussions on what is happening in our various countries. I have also built networks with women’s groups and CSO’s from around the Pacific that are here. We have a UN Women office back home but we don’t what activities they do because we don’t go and knock on their door to ask them their activities. But after this meeting, I will go back and talk to them and find out if there are opportunities to support young women in Solomon Islands.
PACNEWS: Do you sometimes feel that young people remain ‘left out’ of decision making process, whether it’s in government, civil society or private sector setting? Has that improved over the years?
Christina Ora: On certain issues it has, and in other areas, not so much. For instance in climate change, we can feel baby steps where we are beginning to see youth voices coming out. This is evident in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) grouping where young people are involved in the process. For example, Brianna Fruean of Samoa who is involved with the Samoan Youth Council who is helping to mobilise young people in Samoa in terms of the discussion towards the major global SIDS conference to be hosted by Samoa later this year.
On other issues like youth unemployment and sexual reproductive health, it’s difficult to get our voices heard because they still have the blanket of culture wrapped around them tightly. We need our parents, grandparents, our elders within our households and communities including those in government to break the silence in some sense.
PACNEWS: What happens now – when you go back home? What will be your key messages to young people in Solomon Islands?
Christina Ora: Seven years ago I was totally different person that I am today. I won’t be able to come and talk to you like this but I have been empowered to speak up and speak out on issues that affect young people, not only in Solomon Islands but around the region and around the globe. I have now become vocal on issues that affect young people because of the exposure and capacity building trainings that I have had over the years. Although I don’t have a degree or a certificate to talk about these issues but I know that my voice or the voice of young people matters.
I can go back now and explore how best our young people back home can best fit into the national discussion on the gender framework. At this gathering we had Mrs Helen Beck who is with our Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, our government representatives and NGOs – this is the network that young people need to tap into. If we can build on these networks then we would have achieved a lot at this meeting. I think we need to go back and build on these networks and partnerships. This has been a huge learning curve for me personally and I hope to share that with young people when I go back home…