016: Development for the people

1 January 2016

IT is that time of the year again when a slew of the proverbial new year's resolutions herald in wide-ranging intentions that aim for, ultimately, progress at an individual level - at least for those who look at this first day of the year worthy of such lofty pronouncements.

For the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA Pacific subregional office, this year marks a new biennial work-plan (2016-2017) with Pacific governments we work with, and civil society and/or institutional implementing partners, with the support of our development agency partners.

"Some activities are on-going and some will roll-out as new initiatives but suffice to say, UNFPA is excited about what we will contribute as part of the development sector in 2016, to the peoples of the Pacific," UNFPA Pacific director and representative Dr Laurent Zessler said.

The work that UNFPA does in the region is set out in a five-year program cycle. This year marks for the (UNFPA) Pacific subregional office the imminent closure of the 2013-2017 program cycle, which focused on four main areas: family planning; gender equality and reproductive rights; young people's sexual and reproductive health and sexuality education; and data availability and analysis.

In terms of activities, UNFPA contributes to data availability through its technical and financial support to countries for their census. In the past two years Tuvalu and Kiribati conducted their census and UNFPA Pacific recently published four monographs, which are brief reports of raw census data analysis.

UNFPA has also been working with Pacific Island countries in the past two years on their education curriculum to ensure correct and timely sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights information are disseminated. This is a major activity UNFPA supports globally on the request of countries and studies have shown children who receive timely and correct information are more likely to prolong first sexual encounter.

Children or young persons who are equipped with comprehensive sexuality education or have come across training programs at community level that include life skills are also more likely to have self-esteem and self-confidence that lead to good decision-making which sometimes unwittingly create trailblazers - perhaps because the adolescent girl successfully argues her way out of an arranged marriage.

With the collaboration of the New Zealand Government, through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade, UNFPA was able to complete sexual and reproductive health needs assessments in five countries - Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Another milestone for Pacific progress was the launch of the Health Guideline for Comprehensive Case Management Responding to Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in December (2015). Fiji is the first Pacific country to have such a guideline. It is part of a health systems strengthening recommended for island countries which requested for violence against women prevalence studies. The studies per se were supported by the Australian Government.

South-South co-operation has been a celebrated approach for UNFPA Pacific and its government partners - supporting 18 retired Fiji midwives to work in Vanuatu for a month each as part of the response to Cyclone Pam and supporting two Fiji doctors to conduct national training in the Solomon Islands related to the modern five-year modern contraceptive jadelle, are just two examples.

In both instances, knowledge-sharing and experience-gathering were primary benefits of the exercises. In terms of the introduction of jadelle in the Solomon Islands for example, one of the three main reasons women chose jadelle was "we can concentrate on making money, marketing our produce" - it is a given that women always put their families first in terms of the benefit of their economical or financial activity, rather than themselves.

Youth is a core activity for the UNFPA as a whole. It is thus one of the main topics of UNFPA Pacific's program cycle. UNFPA supported the inaugural Fiji Sports Day which was both celebrated by the civil service and students across the country. Youth is also central to a recently completed regional assessment of sexual and reproductive health services - in everything UNFPA does, capturing pertinent issues and concerns of future leaders and peoples of Pacific Islands communities has been an imperative for the organisation.

Last year, 2015, has been a year of historic achievements for both people and the planet - world leaders adopted the transformative, universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a global framework for financing it. They also came together in Paris earlier last month and agreed to take common action on climate change.

While marked by triumphs, 2015 was also a year of trials and challenges - more than 100 million people around the world in need of humanitarian assistance, including a growing number of refugees and displaced persons; insecurity, violence and terrorism; and an uncertain funding picture that is challenging us to do more with less as move into the post-2015 era.

Globally-speaking, the 20-year Program of Action that came out of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) is essentially UNFPA's framework for action if you will. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reaffirms and reinforces the ICPD, and UNFPA has a vital role to play in supporting countries to implement and achieve these global goals.

The ICPD was endorsed by more than 170 countries including Pacific nations. Tonga celebrated in 2015 the revamp of its Population and Development Parliamentary Committee. Parliaments have such committees to ensure that population and development issues are core to any discussion in the legislature: it is vital for development or national planners to be cognizant of population and development dynamics, it is imperative for informed and targeted (thus ideally, effective) approaches.

These past two years has also seen the UNFPA Pacific subregional office beef up its presence at country level. Previously the Solomon Islands, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) were the only countries in which UNFPA had field officers. The organisation begins 2016 with increased national staff - in Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Kiribati.

The boosted national presence will be supported with increased technical staff. January marks the return to the UNFPA Pacific Office of a HIV, gender and population development (PD) advisers. They will complement the existing technical capacity in the office reproductive health (RH) adviser and reproductive health commodity security (RHCS) specialist.

The UNFPA reiterates to its Pacific partners that it is here for the long-haul and with the benefit of hindsight, the intention is to be bold with innovative approaches, facing challenges with visionary leadership and continued invaluable collaboration with its development partners.

New Year's resolutions may be personal mundane tradition but intentions at least push us towards progress, however illusionary this may be. UNFPA Pacific has already affirmed its commitments to the 14 governments it works with for the 2016-2017 programming year.

UNFPA looks forward to the next two years of working together with Pacific governments, civil society and institutional implementing partners, and its developing partners - with a development paradigm that is for the people.

May 2016 be the year that people and their human rights, are a collective raison d'etre for all of us - development partners, private sector, faith-based organisations - it will take all of us. Happy New Year.