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What's your stance

Fay Volatabu
Monday, January 14, 2013

HAPPY New Year everyone.

It is a brand new year and while some of us are just reeling from all the festivities and excitement of meeting and catching up with friends and family members some parents are already busy scoping the store shelves for textbooks and school stationery.

I don't envy parents as it seems their task is an endless one in which they are mollycuddling, disciplining or shopping till they drop.. and to come home only to further stressed by some teenager or teary-eyed individual who needs more of you.

No I don't' envy them when it deals with all the stresses but I do enjoy time out with my nephews and nieces and the good thing about my life is that I get to be a parent when I choose to and when I have had enough parenting for a day I ship them back to their parents..

Well if only life was like that but unfortunately, in real life you cannot do that as you have to live with the choices and the consequences of choices you make, whether it be a choice of a partner, marriage, a school for your kids, the subjects they opt for, the tertiary studies they intend to take up, the career they want to pursue or the political thought you ascribe to.

In current times we have all been forced to make a stand or to make choices about our beliefs, our ethical and moral principles, our integrity and our ability to speak or be silent.

Many have opted to be silent and even in their silence they have tried to convey a stance they have taken. It reminds me of a presentation by two university students, Romitesh Kant and Eroni Rakuita who gave a presentation to some groups of individuals about public participation.

The two esteemed gentleman were talking about the need for fair, transparent and widely participatory processes in constitution reform. They agreed that to do this effectively certain questions needed to be asked.

Such questions were: Who is participating? Who is excluded from participating? Who have excluded themselves? Why have they excluded themselves? How are people participating? Whose benefit are they participating for?

There was reference to two types of participation models. The first, Arnstein's (1969) Ladder of Participation model showed three types of participation ranging from citizen power at the top end of the spectrum, with tokenism in the middle, and non-participation at the bottom end of the scale. In citizen power, the citizens were central and they were delegated power and were in partnership with the central powers, In tokenism, the citizens were consulted, informed and were placated but there was no real interaction whereas in non-participation, there was a high incidence of manipulation.

The second typology of participation by Pretty (1995) had seven types of participation and this ranged from manipulation at the lower end of the scale to self mobilisation on the top end of the scale.

Manipulation was participation by preference.

Passive participation was when one was being told what to do.

Participation through consultation was when one was consulted through the answering of questions to gather information help in the defining of problems.

Participation through material incentives is when one participated by contributing resources or have resources contributed.

Functional participation was when external agencies participated to achieve goals and people participated in groups to achieve certain predetermined objectives.

Interactive participation was when people participated in joint analysis and it was seen as a right rather the just a means to achieve and ends.

Self-mobilisation was when people participated by taking initiatives independent of external institutions to change systems. They would use external agencies for resources and technical support.

Based on the two typologies of participation the Fiji citizen is therefore urged to identify what typology suits her or him and which typology has been our choice. The nation has been involved in all levels of participation from the civic education, constitution submissions, rallying, marching, registering to vote and now we look forward to a new year of participation. We will soon have a call for registration of political parties and, yes, the identification of citizens to be part of the Constituent Assembly as well as the call for candidates for the 2014 elections.

There have been whispers of the need to define the type of participation that has been exercised in Fiji and analyse the effectiveness of our participation as citizens of this country. We are going to formalise the blueprint of our nation's laws through the Constituent Assembly but we need to question ourselves about the intent and the effectiveness of the process we will embark on.

Participation is more than just opening spaces for dialogue but is truly about inculcating skills that empower and enable citizens to effectively and meaningfully participate.

Have we been inclusive in all participation?

Have we truly had citizen power, tokenism or have we not been participating?

Have we been manipulated?

Have we been passively participating?

Have we been participating through consultation?

Have we been participating because of material incentives?

Have we been functional in our participation?

Have we been interactive in our participation or have we really been self mobilized?

Furthermore in the next stages of participation will the public be effectively and meaningfully engaged?

Will the people understand the roles they will play?

Will they have ownership?

Will they participate interactively?

These are questions that all Fiji citizens will need to ask ourselves and as women we need to make choices on the information we share to our children and family members with regards to the participation model that is truly engaging, participatory, interactive and inclusive. We will not all be members of the Constituent Assembly nor will we be all members of political parties but we will all register and we will all vote when 2014 comes around.

We need to start participating now and the onus is on you and I to start choosing what model of participation we will engage in.

You cannot do what I do and that is to be a parent when it suits me or make decisions now only to change our minds later. We have to start being responsible and be like parents who make conscious choices about their parenting roles and cannot deviate from it. We have to choose to participate and realise that the decisions we make now will affect us in 2014 and in years to come.

Lets all resolve to participate meaningfully this year Fiji.

Come on 2013.

p Fay Volatabu is the general secretary for the National Council of Women Fiji. Opinions expressed are hers and not of this newspaper.

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