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Saturday 12 December 2015 | Published in Regional


PACIFIC – An organisation representing people living with disabilities in the Pacific says a lot still needs to be done to create more inclusive societies in the region.

The Pacific Disability Forum says one-in-five people estimated to be living with some form of disability in the Pacific face many entrenched cultural and physical barriers to full participation.

At least 16 countries in the region have signed or ratified the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

But Setareki Macanawai the CEO of the Pacific Disability forum says there is still a lack of action on the ground.

“Most of, if not all of, the Pacific island countries have now got a disability policy. It is the translation of those policies into practice that is often lacking and the allocation of budgetary resources to implement those policies to really be targeted to benefit persons with disabilities.”

The theme for this year’s World Disability Day, held last week, was Inclusion Matters, but the president of Tonga’s National Visual Impairment Organisation, Ofeina Leka, says exclusion is a more accurate description in Tonga.

“We are behind the rest of the Pacific region. With Braille and other skills for the visual impairment, we don’t have much here.”

People with disabilities in the Pacific face a lack of access to basic services like health and education and few chances of employment and social and political participation.

This is made worse by entrenched cultural stigma often from people within their own families and communities.

Nelly Caleb of the Vanuatu Disability Promotions and Advocacy Association says a lot of the discrimination comes down to ignorance.

“People with disabilities are just kept at home and are not allowed to go to school or even socialise. And they call them by their disabilities –for example ‘one-leg’ or something. And it discourages our members to come out from their community.

Caleb believes educating communities is crucial. “We need more awareness in communities because most of our communities don’t know what disability is.”

Although the realities of living with a disability in the Pacific are quite bleak, Setareki Macanawai from the Pacific Disability Forum says he remains optimistic.

“For people with disabilities to participate, to go to school to be educated to get a job, to be able to put food on the table for their families, to be able to get married and to go to church.

“The inclusion of persons with disabilities really, really matters if we were to have a society that embraces everyone and leaves no one behind.”

International agencies say only one child out of ten living with a disability in the Asia Pacific region receives schooling or employment. - DP

Low turnout for Marshalls vote

MAJURO – Fewer than half of the registered voters turned out to vote in the recent
national elections in the Marshall Islands, while the impact of the substantial off-shore population was minimal, Electoral Administration voting data shows.

According to the Electoral Administration, 20,442 voters – 46 percent – out of the 44,588 registered cast their votes in last month’s election.

A number of candidates and election observers report that they saw names on the master voting list of Marshallese who are deceased, meaning the number of registered voters may be inflated over the actual.

Electoral data from the November 16 election show that voter turnout ranged from a low of 33 percent for Mili Atoll (593 of 1780 voters cast votes) to a high of 62 percent at Namu (829 of 1330).

Meanwhile, postal absentee ballots, which many thought would affect more than the two parliament contests impacted in the 2011 election because of the large Marshall Islands population living in the United States, ended up affecting only one electorate on the island of Ujae.

Fewer than half of the 4600 postal absentee ballots that the Electoral Administration said were mailed out to voters living outside the country arrived in time to be counted.

Parliament races showed relatively wide margins of victory for candidates.

In all but the Ujae case, domestic votes were enough for candidates to win and withstand higher postal ballot numbers for their opponents.

At Ujae, Micronesian Games gold medal winning wrestler Waylon Muller held a four-vote lead over former Marshall Islands Attorney General Atbi Riklon based on the domestic vote.

But Riklon grabbed 40 of the 42 Ujae postal votes to win going away, 109 to 74 over Muller.

While 4671 postal ballots were mailed out to offshore Marshallese voters, only 2006 made it back by the November 30 deadline, and about six per cent of these were rejected.

Ultimately 1880 postal votes were tabulated, according to the Electoral Administration.

- Marianas Variety