Former President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Speaks on Efforts to #DecriminalizeLGBT - Pacific Human Rights Conference
Honourable Chair, Invited Dignitaries, Fellow Panellists, Esteemed guests and Ladies and Gentlemen
Good Morning, Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Salaam Alaykhum, Namaste to you all:
Before I move into my keynote speech I submit a small, but necessary correction to my bio data which is the fault of my office for not sending it out early enough to Ms Sulique Waqa of the House of Khameleon, so that it could be included in the conference papers. Let me set the scene and put things in their right order.
In 2004 when I was the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Fiji, the then Director of UNAIDS Dr Peter Piot appointed me as the UNAIDS Special Representative for the Pacific. This appointment ended in 2006, by a letter from Dr. Poit when he retired.
I informed cabinet of this, as I was then the Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade in the Interim Government. On the recommendation of the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, Cabinet immediately appointed me the Fiji Ambassador for HIV/AIDS to continue the advocacy on HIV/AIDS. I still am the Fiji Ambassador for HIV/AIDS.
However the Ministry for Health and the Fiji HIV/AIDS Board seemed to have forgotten this – whether conveniently or for whatever reason I have yet to find out. They know only too well my record as an advocator of longstanding and I can still do a lot more work on HIV/AIDS Advocacy.
In 2015, the New Director of UN AIDS Michael Sidibe, after his visit to Fiji appointed me as the UN AIDS Regional Goodwill Ambassador for the Pacific Region to continue the work of advocacy and eradication.
In 2017 the Rainbow Pride Foundation of Fiji a National Organisation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) for short asked me to be their Ambassador and I was honoured and agreed. Earlier that year I was also honoured to be the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health Pacific Ambassador.
Therefore it is my duty to these appointments that I believe I was asked to speak today and from my overall personal beliefs and experiences so bear with me a while.
In June 2014, a University of Harvard study showed that over the last decade or so many organisations have worked very hard at making sure that they have created diverse workplaces and workforces.
Diversity had been shown to bring and I quote “organizational benefits, including greater customer satisfaction, better market position, successful decision-making, an enhanced ability to reach strategic goals, improved organizational outcomes, and a stronger bottom line.”
The study went on to say that many organizations had achieved diversity and were slowly seeing these benefits but still felt that there was something missing from the environments and that workers from the top down were not overall happy and therefore the productivity levels were not what they had predicted they would be. They relooked at the study and soon they realised that although they had achieved diversity, they had not figured out yet, how to make the environment for all the workers “inclusive”.
That is to ensure that there is an atmosphere for ALL people to feel valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities.
The study interestingly went onto reflect how inclusion has the same benefits as diversity but with the added outcomes for organisations such as and I quote “reduced turnover, greater philanthropy, and truly being included within a work environment, they’re more likely to share information, and participate in decision-making.”
A good example of this is in the United States, it was shown that where more anti-discrimination laws were passed, a growing number of people came forward identifying as LGBTQI and thereafter this had a domino effect of acceptance.
However with that outcome came a wave of response from religious groups who ironically felt “discriminated against” and the law of freedom of religion came to the forefront.
Diversity in that instance was created for our LGBTQI brothers and sisters but we need to take into account inclusivity for everyone to understand and contribute to these talks and this movement.
We need people from all backgrounds not just the LGBTQI communities but also every possible stakeholder to speak from their privileged position to ensure that we eradicate all possible manifestations of bigotry, prejudice and discrimination.
That should be our foundation to properly protect our minority groups and to ensure that the next generation does not go through what we have had to.
The American Philosopher William James pronounced in the 1890 the following words “We humans possess a fundamental need for inclusion and belonging”. This is so true for all of us.
All humans need it and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we are entitled to it. For us Fijians, let me declare most humbly that the Bill of Rights in our 2014 Constitution has been acclaimed regionally and internationally as one of the best there is –if not the best.
So why are we meeting today? Because unfortunately there are still people, laws as well and groups who are unable to see that unless we can bring our whole selves to the forefront we cannot truly succeed as a nation, as a people to achieve the best that we can.
I look forward to working with you all in this beautiful space created by the Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network (PSGDN), in partnership with DIVA for Equality Fiji and the Pacific Community (SPC).
I will now conclude with the words from Epeli Hauofa which are befitting for the theme of this week “My Ocean, One Voyage, Our Journey”
“We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth and together use it to overturn all hegemonic views that aim ultimately to confine us again, physically and psychologically, in the tiny spaces which we have resisted accepting as our sole appointed place, and from which we have recently liberated ourselves. We must not allow anyone to belittle us again, and take away our freedom.
We can achieve so much together as long as we are able to be our whole free and best selves so let us ensure that this will be the new norm for us all.
How do we overcome this? How do we ensure that 10 years from now or even 20 years, there will be a group of us still meeting to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected and uplifted?
We do not know right now but we will damn well try the best with what we have and can do, and make the others come to their senses. We cannot stand still.
For now we teach the next generation to have better views and enlightened opinions than us, like something I had achieved during my term as President of Fiji when speaking to with all the secondary school students in Fiji and Rotuma high schools but one. In doing that I hope that we have planted the seed for the future.
Unfortunately for some of us, this will be a lifelong fight but if we can ensure that the generation after us live a more inclusive, diverse and better life than we have, then that is something worth working toward.
Thank You, Vinaka Vakalevu, Sukran, Bahoot Dynavaad
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau
Fiji Ambassador for HIV/AIDS
Former President of Fiji