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Manisha takes female voice

Lice Movono
Thursday, November 02, 2017

SHE is possibly the youngest member of Fiji's 100-strong team which has begun to leave for Bonn, Germany, for COP23.

Despite her youth, Manisha Ali, 24, speaks of climate change using the same urgency as senior members of the negotiating team she joins this week.

"As a Fijian, I have seen and felt the impacts of climate change first-hand. I've lived through cyclones and other natural disasters and I've watched my fellow Fijians suffer dearly due to the destruction and devastation brought by climate change. So my interest in this is far more than being only professional," she said.

"As a Fijian and Pacific Islander, I know this is a matter of life and death. I know the threat of climate change is the single greatest threat we in Fiji have ever faced, and I know that we must be relentless in our work to confront this challenge head-on."

Educated at the University of the South Pacific, Ms Ali is already somewhat of a headliner having caught the attention of local media when she was admitted to the bar this year with her older sister.

Her sister told the media it was Manisha who inspired her to change her program of studies from medicine to law.

Immediately after graduating, Manisha joined the Attorney-General's office and was chosen to be part of an Australian Government funded initiative to boost gender representative on Pacific delegations.

The Women Negotiators Climate Change training which was facilitated by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat but run by the Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), an international non-governmental organisation based in New York City, USA which advocates women's equality in global policy.

Of the 14 women who have successfully completed the DFAT/PIFS/WEDO training, Manisha said there were many who would experience the UNFCCC COP for the first time.

She is confident though that the year-long series of at least two workshops would give them the practice insight required to make a difference in the negotiating blocs.

"Yes a lot of them are first-timers. The workshop was very helpful because as first-timers were not actually familiar with the UNFCCC processes so we got practical insights from that," she said.

WEDO, a leading provider of capacity building for the feminist movement provided the regional participants of climate negotiation training with simulation activities to give them a feel of what negotiations and pretend national statement presentations might be like.

The skills transfer process focused on ensuring women could draft and deliver interventions and Manisha said that this process removed any fear and doubt arising from her youth.

She said the process of learning with other women like her from influencing government positions in the various governments of the region helped her to understand the importance of the Pacific negotiating bloc.

With plans to "carry my knowledge and skills to Bonn as I do my part to support our presidency", Ms Ali said she hoped to reconnect with the other women of Pacific governments and civil society organisations who were part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade program to "stand together to fight for the secure future of every Fijian, every Pacific Islander and every global citizen".

"As much as it was interesting, it was also informative and it built our confidence and I think for many of us after those (pretend) negotiations, we were confident that we could speak on behalf of our countries," the young lawyer said.

What she lacks in experience and skills, Ms Ali makes up for in passion.

She said she can no longer stand by and not contribute to the climate change effort.

"As I have learned more about this issue, I have come to appreciate the gravity of what we are facing. I have learned that the worst is yet to come, that the cyclones are only projected to become more frequent and more severe and that the other serious impacts of climate change will worsen in the years ahead," she said.

"That is why I'm so keen to be part of the negotiation process in Bonn, Germany as part of the Fijian presidency of COP23."

Already a model civil servant Ms Ali said she wanted to be part of the "PM's critical work to help reverse the degradation to our planet's environment and address the root causes of climate change in any way I can".

She insists that "our position as most vulnerable and most poised to witness the worst of the changing climate, means we have the stories necessary to inspire global climate action".

"It is the Fijian people whose stories, struggles and experiences can inspire the change we need to make the decision cuts in these carbon emissions, and our presidency of COP23 is giving every Fijian an amplified voice on the global stage to make that happen," she said.

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