Equal rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was adopted in December 2006 and went into effect in May 2008. It has drawn a lot of attention to the inclusion of people with disabilities in international development cooperation. As numerous publications show, development agencies are interested in redesigning their strategies long term.

[ By Ingar Düring and Dorothea Rischewski ]

Article 32 of the UN Convention stipulates that international development cooperation must include people with disabilities and be accessible to them. In the process, cooperation between various actors from civil society and persons with disabilities is decisive. Some donors – including Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom – have made disability and development a focal point of their development cooperation.

A strategy paper published by the UK Department for International Development (DfID 2000) was the first to study disability as a key issue in international development cooperation. In 2006, Germany was one of the first governments to adopt a policy to take better account of the needs of persons with disabilities in its development cooperation (BMZ/GTZ 2006). The Australian government recently presented its new strategy for inclusive development (AusAID 2008).

The guidelines in these papers include:
– human-rights orientation,
– active involvement of persons with disabilities and their organisations (DPOs),
– networking based on cooperation, and
– respect for the needs and potential of the disabled as a heterogeneous group.

Implementation is suggested to occur in a community-based as well as a “twin-track” approach. It combines advocacy on the one hand with specific programmes for the empowerment of persons with disabilities as well as initiatives to include these people in other developmental programmes on the other.

The three governments emphasise education and accessibility of infrastructure. Germany focuses on social security, social policy, health care and poverty reduction strategies (PRSs). Australia defines as main objectives up to 2014 to improve standards of living, to reduce preventable impairments and to boost the leadership of people with disabilities in the field of inclusive development cooperation.

Political commitment

Donors’ commitment is decisive for the success of inclusive development cooperation. Repeatedly, the question is how to make inclusion fair and sustainable. In the past few years, a number of good manuals and guidelines have been published for various target groups.

As part of a project supported by the European Commission, the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) and CBM (Christian Blind Mission) recently published a manual (2008). It specifies practical guidelines and lists concepts and guiding principles for inclusive development in line with the EC’s project-cycle management. Moreover, it contains a wealth of background information, case studies, practical links and reference literature. The online version is especially handy as it is quickly accessible.

Handicap International (HI) and the CBM published another manual with support from the GTZ and the World Bank in 2006. It deals with how to involve the disabled and their organisations actively in PRS processes. Such strategies are used internationally to combat poverty. In 2002, various studies showed that civil society was not sufficiently participating in these processes. The HI/CBM publication contains a comprehensive toolbox and literature for further information, and also includes training sessions and handy information for various actors to use in order to strengthen the active involvement of civil society and, in particular, self-help organisations.

In a recent publication, World Vision (2007) shed light on prerequisites and guidelines for inclusive education. Thanks to the Convention, and Article 24 in particular, all children have a right to education within an inclusive system. It is estimated that only three percent of children with special needs have access to education worldwide, most of them in special as opposed to inclusive facilities. World Vision argues that the inclusion of children with special needs is crucial if Millennium Development Goals are to be reached. The experts specifically address governments and the Fast-Track Initiative of the global Education for All Programme. They recommend that more attention be paid to the 26 million children with special needs who do not attend elementary school. The experts also call for more available funding to be devoted to inclusive education.

Social protection

Reports based on experience show what inclusion means and how it should be implemented. Here, reports pertaining to social protection and employment are presented.

In accordance with Article 28, social protection means the following for persons with disabilities:
– access to social protection programmes, such as health care coverage,
– the right to social services such as benefits and social transfers,
– the option of receiving micro-financing products, such as microloans.

German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the government agency, has worked with partners to come up with ways of adapting social-security programmes to the needs of persons with disabilities. As the evaluation of a cash transfer programme in Zambia showed (2006), families with disabled members are often among the poorest 10 %. Community-based approaches serve these people best. Cash transfers were used by families to treat diseases and disabilities at local clinics. Moreover, cash transfers lead to better nutrition, which in turn helped to prevent illnesses and disabilities.

The World Bank has been paying more attention to how disability and poverty relate for a few years. It has published numerous studies on the topic. Economists estimate that the exclusion of persons with disabilities and their family members from productive labour results in economic losses equal up to seven percent of GDP worldwide (World Bank 2008). Disability and development has become a core issue for the World Bank in the sector of social security.

Promoting independence

In a collection published by Leonard Cheshire International (2007), Peter Coleridge studies the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities. Article 27 of the Convention relates to this issue. Coleridge believes the twin-track approach is especially important. As little is expected of the work potential of disabled people, they often get stuck in a cycle of special support. But there is a way out: inclusion into general skills training and microloans. Economic empowerment requires local support structures; as the author shows, successful entrepreneurs take care of their social networks.

Handicap International (2001) took a look at the use of microcredit and start-up financing to promote the independence and entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities. Often, self-employment is the only way for affected people to earn their livelihoods. Access to capital is therefore crucial. Article 12 of the Convention relates to this issue.

Studies show that institutions that grant microcredit hardly serve customers with disabilities. On the other hand, this clientele can be empowered through start-up financing and loans, as case studies demonstrate. The authors recommend that equal access to micro-finance services be promoted for persons with disabilities. In contrast, free financing and subsidised loans should only be an initial step or be reserved for people in extreme poverty.

It is considered particularly promising to combine, in integrated programmes, financial services from micro-finance institutions with development agencies’ promotion of skills and personal development. Such coordinated cooperation increases the quality of the services and programmes offered whilst promoting an inclusive society.

All reports underscore that people with disabilities are a heterogenous group in terms of origin, education levels, needs and potential. It is noteworthy, that current literature takes little notice of persons with intellectual disability. In an exceptional report published by Inclusion International (2006), people with intellectual disability from more than 80 countries formulated a global agenda against poverty and exclusion. They emphasised the following aspects
– the right to self-determination and citizenship,
– inclusion in community life,
– access to education, lifelong learning, healthcare services and social support,
– access to gainful employment and
– appropriate support for families.

The plight of women

Gender aspects are also not getting enough attention in recent publications. And yet, women and girls face tremendous disadvantages. Article 6 of the Convention points out that women and girls with disabilities face multiple discrimination. Older World Bank studies, for instance, revealed that gender-bias in vocational training programmes lead to women with disabilities being exposed to poor labour conditions, lower-paying jobs and a general lack of opportunities for advancement.

Supported by Irish Aid (the Irish government’s development agency), the ILO’s WEDGE team (the acronym stands for Women's Entrepreneurship Development and Gender Equality) focussed on women entrepreneurs with disabilities. A guidebook (ILO 2008) for inclusive business development by and for women is based on WEDGE results. The authors list the following benefits of inclusive companies
– high standards of corporate ethics,
– great flexibility to react to socioeconomic changes,
– contribution to the economic well-being of local society,
– better image among the general public and generally good export opportunities.

To underscore the importance of role models, successful women entrepreneurs with disabilities are presented from Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zambia.

In accordance with Article 25 of the Convention, the Hesperian Foundation aims at improving health conditions for women with disabilities – a prerequisite for participation in societal life.. To this end, a practical manual (Maxwell et al, 2007) was published that specially addresses women and mothers with limited access to adequate and gender-specific health services,. The manual contains important information, provides illustrations of simple actions, and offers practical tips – such as how to prevent diseases and accidents, treat illnesses, and use medicines.

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