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Observing government action

by Catherine Naughton
Local and international organisations teamed up to start the Disability Monitor Initiative – Middle East last year. It also serves purposes of learning, advocacy and capacity development, with activities in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen. [ By Catherine Naughton ]

Disability is a development issue. Of the 650 million persons with disabilities on our planet, 80 % live in the developing world. Over-represented amongst the poor, persons with disabilities are generally denied access to development opportunities.

Disability is increasingly recognised as a human rights issue. Persons with disabilities are systematically discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Women with disabilities often face multiple discrimination – for having a disability, for being a women, and for being poor.

A new beginning

In 2008, CBM (an international non-governmental organisation with German roots) and Handicap International (HI) jointly launched the Disability Monitor Initiative – Middle East (DMI-ME). The Mid-Eastern partners include the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation (BASR), the Arab Organisation of Disabled People (AODP), the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU) and The Al-Hussein Society for the Habilitation/Rehabilitation of the Physically Challenged (AHS). The DMI-ME is an advocacy initiative promoting equal opportunities and the full participation of persons with disabilities in society.

The DMI–ME does field research in consultation with persons with disabilities, service providers, members of civil society, government officials and local authorities. The objectives are to
– build up knowledge on the situation of persons with disabilities,
– examine good practices in terms of social innovation at the grass-roots level as well as
– inform about policy reforms at national and international levels.

In the Middle East, working conditions are tough. In places like Gaza, it is extremely challenging to improve the lives of those members of the poorest communities that have disabilities. Given these enormous challenges, the partner organisations of CBM have achieved impressive results in terms of ensuring access to healthcare, education and livelihoods. CBM supports 36 organisations in seven Mid-Eastern countries.

In spite of all efforts, however, important services are still not available to the majority of women, children and men with disabilities. The DMI-ME is meant to stimulate the sharing of knowledge across the region and to promote a human-rights based approach to disability. It provides an opportunity to network with international and local partners to generate learning and knowledge, as well as to build capacities in the Middle East. All summed up, the initiative serves monitoring, learning, advocacy and capacity development at the same time.

The DMI-ME disseminates information and monitors social innovation which is carried out by local actors. The initiative thus follows the example of the Disability Monitor Initiative South East Europe (DMI-SEE, www.disabilitymonitor-see.org).

Of course, disabled people’s organisations, service providers and local authorities are relevant actors. The DMI- ME gathers information at the local level and is thus in touch with the daily experience of the persons concerned. In order to promote promising innovations, celebrate success stories and stimulate grassroots organizations, the DMI-ME has launched a “Good Practices Award”.

Beyond civil society

The DMI - ME will monitor the evolution of legislation in the project countries with regard to the compliance, or not, with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The DMIs first publication gave an overview of views from the Middle East on the UNCRPD which came into force in May 2008.

Rima Canawati, Head of Special Education & Community Programs at CBM’s partner organisation, Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation (BASR), said: “We at BASR believe that the DMI could be a powerful advocacy tool for influencing policies towards the full participation of persons with disabilities in the Middle East region.” In her view, highlighting best practices in the region “will certainly motivate different stakeholders to ameliorate their own practices to ensure equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities”.

In the past, CBM and its partners focused on developing good and affordable services for persons with disabilities in the poorest communities. With a view to comprehensive services and in order to mainstream activities on broader level, CBM extends its advocacy work together with its partners to influence legislation and policies.

Therefore, a key focus of the DMI-ME will be the monitoring of development and enforcement of public policies and allocation of public resources. Attention will be paid to budgeting issues, decentralisation, and institutional capacities to enforce legislation. The DMI-ME will also pay attention to policies of multilateral and bilateral aid agencies, because they influence local stakeholders both in civil society and the public sector.

The DMI-ME thus takes a unique and comprehensive perspective on disability issues; it considers both the macro level and day-to-day life of persons with disabilities. The aim is to contribute to making knowledge available that will help stakeholders in the implementation of the UNCRPD. The convention will only come to life if we can show the world in practical terms, how to make inclusion work in schools and how to ensure that persons with disabilities can have equal access to social services. Unless the people concerned sit in the drivers seat, moreover, the UNCRPD will not be worth the paper it is written on.

Founder’s legacy

In over 50 years of commitment and service working in Turkey and Iran, the founder of CBM, Ernst Christoffel challenged existing attitudes about people with disabilities, focussing on their rights and abilities instead. He instructed his visitors not to pity people with disabilities, which he knew deprived them of their autonomy, but to allow them their independence. In his passion for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, Christoffel was far ahead of his time.

In a troubled early 20th century, few rivalled him as an authority on the Middle East and a non-partisan friend of its peoples and faiths. Now a new chapter of CBM’s 100 year-old work in the Middle East has started; one that ensures Christoffel’s legacy of promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in the Middle East will continue well into the 21st century.