The Civil Society Forum prior to the UN COSP (United Nations Conference of the State Parties) was hosted by the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and involved Disability Persons Organisations (DPOs) from across the globe. Mr Vladimir Cuk, IDA Executive Director, opened the Civil Society Forum, which included several panel discussions on key themes:
Plenary Session: Working Together for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – International Cooperation:
Ms Jukka Salovaara, Permanent State Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland, (Finland currently holds the presidency of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) gave opening remarks on the current situation for persons with disabilities in terms of the current war in Ukraine, and the pandemic. The importance of meaningfully involving persons with disabilities in the planning of the implementation of the CRPD was highlighted.
Mr Yannis Vardakastanis, Chair of the IDA, mentioned that we need to work on creating a new disability movement as there are new challenges, and goals to achieve since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the increasing seriousness of the climate crisis. With regards to the situation in Ukraine, Mr Vardakastanis explained that the IDA and its members are preparing an approach to take the initiative for a disability-inclusive response to emergencies. Secondly, Mr Vardakastanis highlighted the need for more participation in decision-making around climate change at all levels. Last year, for the first time, there was an official delegation of representatives of persons with disabilities participating in the United Nations Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) which was held in Glasgow. The UN COP is the supreme decision-making body of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where all State Parties to the Convention review the implementation of the Convention. However, realising these ambitions, requires capacity building, financial and institutional resources. Under the UN CRPD, State Parties have a strong obligation to ensure that efforts for international cooperation, are inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. Mr Vardakastanis said that this session is to highlight this obligation and show what it means in practice.
Ms Rosemary Kayess, Chair of the CRPD Committee, stated that we need a human rights approach to international cooperation, ensuring active involvement of persons with disabilities. Article 32 of the CRPD requires State Parties to consider how persons with disabilities can exercise their rights in the context of international cooperation, and to implement their actions in a way that means all human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.
The President of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), and the Secretary General of the IDA, Dr Joseph Murray, provided a statement for this session. Dr Murray opened by saying that the engagement of WFD with its members has changed during the pandemic, to become much more interactive. This new work has meant greater information sharing. Dr Murray highlighted the importance of Article 21 of the Convention, to ensure that sign languages are recognised and promoted , however so far, many signatories to the CRPD haven’t implemented this e.g. in Africa and Asia. Dr Murray continued that, in Ukraine, WFD wanted to ensure that deaf refugees were supported from the start, and this was possible thanks to their collaboration with the Ukrainian Society of the Deaf. Direct collaboration with deaf communities has been important. Dr Murray concluded by saying that, going forward, it’s important we foster international collaboration, by ensuring that NGOs and governments work together to support recognition of and right to use sign languages, and implement budgetary measures to ensure sign languages are prioritised.
Taking advantage of opportunities to move forward on deinstitutionalization:
Ms Bhargavi Davar, Executive Director, TCI (Transforming Communities for Inclusion), Global Coalition for De-institutionalisation (DI), opened this session, mentioning that the guidelines for this coalition were just released for DPOs and other stakeholders to engage with and provide feedback on by the end of this month. Ms Davar stressed the need for independent living and inclusion, but that, currently, not enough is being done.
Knowledge sharing for inclusive education in digital classrooms:
Moderated by Mr James Thurston, Vice-President for Global Strategy and Development, Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT (G3-ICT), opened by asking the following question to the panellists, ‘from your experience, what’s the current state of inclusion in your country?’, to which Mr Bryan Russell Mujica, a politician from Peru, replied that in Peru the education is still not accessible in sign language, and it’s very important that the authorities address this. Ms Praveena Sukhraj-Ely, Director of the National Department of Justice, South Africa, answered that inclusion, regarding technology in classrooms, is very different for learners in the global south. It is recognised that in developing countries, technology has offered great opportunities for children with disabilities. However, technology alone cannot guarantee inclusive education for all as is stated in Sustainable Development Goal 4, there needs to be a holistic solution.
Dr Joseph Murray, WFD President made some important contributions, providing a deaf perspective. Dr Murray explained that WFD wanted to learn more as to what worked during the digital shift in Covid-19 in order to discern how to build back better, recognising the shared responsibility of inclusive digital education. Dr Murray continued that National Associations of the Deaf and regional networks show widely variable access to technology and sign language. Dr Murray mentioned that deaf learners were often left behind in this shift, with little to no sign language in their education. Teachers in sign language-based educational settings, struggled with the digital change. Dr Murray called for the need for reliable data on the impact of Covid-19 on inclusive education, disaggregated by age, sex and type of disability. OPDs and persons with disabilities must assess this to ensure it accurately reflects the rights of persons impacted.
Ms Diana Stentoft, General Secretary, the World Blind Union, underlined that education is venturing into a new digital arena. Ms Stentoft made the important point that, if education is accessible, persons with disabilities have a good chance of succeeding later with employment thus leaving them less vulnerable to poverty. Article 24 CRPD is clear on the right of persons with disabilities to inclusive education, including the right to the digital classroom. Finally, Ms Stentoft, mentioned the importance of including persons with disabilities when deciding new modes of education and listening to the voices of those who rely so much on being included, to ensure no one is left behind.
Intersectionality and sexual and reproductive health rights for persons with disabilities:
Ms Ana Pelaez Narvaez, European Disability Forum (EDF) Vice President, opened by saying that women and girls with disabilities often suffer ill-treatment and that has very bad consequences on their sexual and reproductive health. Often women with disabilities are wrongfully considered as unable to be mothers or to share their lives with a partner. In this way, there is a lot of discrimination of women and girls with disabilities. They rarely receive education regarding family planning or how to recognise violations. Often, they aren’t aware of the help they can receive. There’s lack of information in families of these women and girls, and among the people who offer professional services that give sanitary health.
Ms Maulani Rotinsulu, Chair of the Indonesian Association of Women with Disabilities stated that reproductive health and education for teenage girls is lacking in Indonesia. Reproductive rights are still considered a taboo topic by the government. Accordingly, contraceptive services are lacking for girls with disabilities. It is crucial that education for sexual and reproductive health is provided for girls with disabilities.
Ms Agniezska Krol, Manager of Programmes and Innovations at CREA, underlined that sexual and reproductive health rights are central to the wellbeing and human rights of persons with disabilities. Issues related to reproduction and sexuality are present for persons with disabilities, however due to structural discrimination and prejudices on this, barriers are still faced. Ms Krol mentioned that it is crucial for us to deepen our understanding and support at the intersection of gender and diversity, and disability justice.
The Civil Society Forum to the 15th session of the COSP addressed several important and topical issues facing the disability community. For the deaf community specifically, it is crucial that they continue to engage with these issues such as the climate crisis and international cooperation. However, given the current climate, it is crucial that decisions to address these issues are not made on an isolated basis, in silos, but rather a holistic approach is required, as a number of interconnected challenges are presented.