NZ academic urges SIDS to address 'blatant inequalities'

11:11 am on 28 August 2014

A New Zealand academic is urging leaders of small island developing states to address 'blatant inequalities' in the region.


A New Zealand academic is urging leaders of developing states in the Pacific to use a major United Nations conference in Samoa as an opportunity to address blatant inequalities in the region.

Three thousand people are expected to attend next week's Small Island Developing States Conference, including 20 government leaders.

The director of Auckland University's development studies programme, Yvonne Underhill-Sem, spoke to Amelia Langford from Samoa, about the issues she hopes leaders will discuss.

YVONNE UNDERHILL-SEM: While Small Island Developing States do not want to be known as victims, there are some really blatant social inequalities in the region, in all of our counties. And as I said in my piece, these are to do with the mobility of people in the Pacific, whether it is forced mobility through climate change, whether it is mobility to move to places where there are better economic conditions, whether there is movement across the region. So this kind of issue around mobility is a really important one. You add to that the youthfulness of the population in the Pacific and you end up in areas, countries where there are many young people and there are countries where there are not enough young people. And the further dimension that I think layers on to what's happening in the Pacific region are the many disturbing issues around gender based violence and discrimination. And those three things, the mobility of Pacific Islanders, the youthfulness of our Pacific countries and the gendered nature of some of the inequalities make for a sobering read and one that we can't forget in the euphoria of developing new partnerships.

AMELIA LANGFORD: Are you confident or hopeful that these issues will be canvassed or are you worried they might be pushed to the side?

YUS: They're not evident in the draft outcome, they are not evident as strongly as they should be in the draft outcome. There is some evidence that some especially young and youth groups are not getting their voices heard. So in the formal proceedings I think that it's all very clear that the issues of social inequality are not going to be the focus because it would not be something that would warm the hearts of Pacific politicians. However I am kind of hopeful that there are some really interesting engagements around these issues by various NGOs and some government delegations.

AL: Do you think New Zealand should step up here and raise these issues?

YUS: I absolutely do think that New Zealand should be raising these issues. I don't see it highly on their agenda, and that's a huge shame because they are a huge promoter of Samoa as a particular country in the Pacific and yet Samoa does experience many of these social inequalities that just don't go away. And you can't pretty them over with the incredible generosity of Samoan people. And so the New Zealand government really needs to be making a stronger line on this.

AL: In an ideal world here, what would you like to see come out of the SIDS conference?

YUS: What I would like to see come out of SIDS conference is some very clear commitments from developing countries and from donors, and from partnerships in the private sector to fund not only programmes that deal with the obvious issues in environment and climate change, but which also go further and fund some of the programmes that will deal with the social inequalities in the region. And that's issues around sexual reproductive health and rights, access to decent jobs and free and easy movement of a range of people around the region.

AL: And of course, small island developing states, I suppose there's not a lot of power in one, they need to work together here.

YUS: Yes, and the Pacific has always had an understanding of how as a nation we can work together but we've also gone through various phases of feeling like a region and there have been tendencies in the past to split into sub-regions. That works in the favour of our neighbours, our bigger neighbours, and the people that the Australians and the New Zealand and the other donors. So we need to retain or regain another sense of regionalism, that's really locked into ensuring that our visions of development are at the forefront. In the past we were pressured by various different trade rules and trade agreements where the agenda is not in our favour.

AL: And do you think Pacific leaders of these states are willing to address these inequalities, is it a lack of resources? What do you think is the main stumbling block?

YUS: I think there is, as I said before, a bit of a euphoria that we are doing okay, it is something that we would like to be doing better on. But, it's very hard to draw attention to things we are not really happy about or maybe even ashamed about. But we need to be a bit braver and recognise that these social inequalities won't go away by just ignoring them, and we need to redirect resources into those areas. And whether that means negotiating different ways with our partners then so be it. We need to do that. They are leaders so they need to look after all members of the community.