IT was a pleasure to be invited to last week's National Conference on Social Development, organised by the Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS). The Pacific Theological College offered a comfortable venue for convening a large group of civil society organisation (CSO) members and volunteers under the banner of "Building the CSO and community capacity in nurturing the families of Fiji".
At UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, we believe that sustainable development is best served by planned and resourceful families, a goal to which UNFPA Pacific sub-regional office has been contributing to over past several decades, be it through "family welfare education" or "sexual and reproductive health awareness raising", be it through "family budgeting", "financial literacy" or "critical consumerism"; it is all part of the same noble goal to which civil society organisations such as the Family and Population Activities Centre (FAMPAC) are signing up, caring for people in enabling them to look after their health and wellbeing in the best possible manner.
Partnership with civil society organisations does not only provide the United Nations (UN) with the energiser to go the extra mile in negotiating for a sustainable future with a human face, but also brings in the common sense that reminds us of the complex development models we apply to local circumstances. The National Conference on Social Development opened with a commemoration to explicitly reflect on the ideals that are advocated through the International Day of Rural Women (October 15), the World Food Day (October 16) and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17), a series to which we then also linked the United Nations Day (October 24).
Increasingly, these days stand symbol of the fragmented rather than integrated view we apply to the socio-cultural realities we work for. The initiative of the said civil society organisation to commemorate a number of international days in one go is not only an act of bringing in common sense, it is also an indication that people wish to make more carefully use of their time to commemorate and to work. One also reads into it a desire to abandon extreme fragmentation of which we and in particular our families, risk to fall victim.
Above-mentioned days — with the exception of the UN Day that is the 67th birthday of the UN — stand for one and the same complex reality that the majority of our world population is confronted with. They are part of such a closely interknitted daily reality that we should not render meaningless by commemorating at distinct occasions.
The National Conference on Social Development deliberated on the malaise that is surrounding the family in contemporary development thinking. A contributing factor thereby may well be the fragmentation of our world view and lifestyle, which makes us more vulnerable to influences brought to us in an increasingly intruding way by an increasingly aggressive marketing and advertising.
This fragmentation in perception, thinking and organising undermines our individual and group capacity to pursue harmony with and within our natural and social habitat, and unravels the social fabric that many of us use to rely on for socialisation and securing feelings of belonging.
Whether intentionally promoted as part of an ideology or not, it leaves the individual more susceptible to the never retrieving exposure of mass and so-called "social" media, moulding all of us into willing or needing consumers of products turned out by global conglomerates.
Such individualisation compounded by an expanded media exposure affects our resilience and turns self-reliance into dependency, including a dependency on markets where the goods are or will be subject to real or man-made scarcities.
We may thus have to look for ways and means to reintegrate what we have fragmented, and we must for sure reverse the propensity to ignore the social value-added offered by our families and communities.
The focus on household resource planning and management at this year's National Conference on Social Development is aligned with UNFPA's mandate to empower rather than protect families, households and communities, and make them lead in their own development. This is clearly enshrined in the 15 principles that underpin the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
At UNFPA we feel privileged that we can work together with civil society to make sure that projects aiming at poverty alleviation are directed towards empowering communities, and thus do away with the approach whereby communities are simply passive recipients of government services.
And again, international days thereby run the risk of disempowering communities to work for themselves on priorities defined by themselves. Commemorating international days shouldn't become a mere duty but an opportunity to critically select and reflect on what's important for our own societies.
The boom in international days increasingly reflects issues that specialised groups manage to have adopted as a global and local concern, whereby themes are tabled in an attractive pre-packaged manner including street banners that most often weigh their price in gold.
International days reflect issues that are either no longer tolerable or quickly disappearing. We are in for more of these days and it should not be of surprise that the Day of the Night is already for many years celebrated in the more urbanised parts of our world, for the simple fact that nights are being lit to an extent that darkness has become a scarce public good that requires commemoration.
It may even bring us a Day of the Day as we witness increasing governmental manipulation of how and when we are supposed to experience dawn and dusk, by introducing winter and summer time, or daylight saving time, which implies yet another assault on the harmony we used to enjoy with what sun and moon bring us. It hereby needs to be footnoted that daylight saving in the northern hemisphere is now mainly being pursued for it encourages people to consume more, during the late sunny evenings, at public places and private verandas, away from the family.
Therefore, let's make a critical selection in the international days our communities consider important for the social good of all. Let's be aware of how our critical planning and management of the complex of resources surrounding us can truly push back the frontiers of poverty. It is my firm belief that working together we can do more to place the dignity of our people upfront, and radically reverse the development paradigm so that it offers strength — which is bottom up — rather than protection — which is top down.
* Dirk Jena is the director of the UNFPA's Pacific sub-regional office in Fiji. The views expressed are his and not that of the The Fiji Times.