Excellencies, distinguished colleagues,
Welcome to the Informal Panel on “Addressing the vulnerability and exclusion of persons with disabilities: the situation of women and girls, children’s right to education, disasters and humanitarian crisis.”
According to the World Report on Disability, approximately one billion people (about 15 per cent of the world’s population) live with disabilities and frequently encounter a myriad of physical and social obstacles. They often lack the opportunities of the mainstream population and are usually among the most marginalized in society. Disabled people are not “less than others”, they are “more”, more vulnerable. This is why they deserve to enjoy the same rights as everybody else, which is possible only if the institutional framework is sound and solid.
Today we will focus on three different yet linked aspects of the issue of vulnerability.
First, women. The persistence of certain cultural, legal and institutional barriers makes women and girls with disabilities the victims of two-fold discrimination: as women and as persons with disabilities. Much has been written on discrimination against women, but very little has been done so far to deal adequately with the problem of disabled women. The few attempts made have been based on a mistaken approach that treats the acute problem of disability as a category of the general discourse on discrimination against women. But sex and disability are two separate factors that, when combined in the same person, usually reinforce each other and compound prejudices.
The main question there is how we can overcome this discrimination and exclusion. We should discuss on past experiences and best practices to move forward and to find out the remaining challenges.
Our second point is on children. In the world living with a disability, at least one in ten are children. In other words, an estimated 93 to 150 million children live with disabilities. Children with disabilities are more likely to drop out of school than any other vulnerable group, even in countries with high primary school enrollment rates. Poverty, malnutrition, poor health, illiteracy, and lack of access to proper sanitary conditions or clean water aggravate the consequences of existing disabilities. In many countries there is little relevant data to identify the number of disabled children. There are also no effective policies to address their needs and give them access to a quality education. And even when such policies are in place, there is a shortage of funding to build accessible buildings, train teachers in inclusive education, and scale up successful local pilot programs to the national level.
Here, I believe the key question we have to ask ourselves relates to education, as a warning signal but also as a means of emancipation. We may discuss how to reduce the gap between children with and without disabilities and how we can address disability since the early childhood.
Our third point relates to risk and humanitarian emergencies. The CRPD pays particular attention to these situations and calls on States to undertake “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.” Several studies show that including the needs and voices of persons with disabilities at all stages of the disaster management process, and especially during planning and preparedness, can significantly reduce their vulnerability and increase the effectiveness of Government response and recovery efforts.
Despite an increasing worldwide focus on disaster risk reduction as opposed to mere disaster response, however, many cities and related Government agencies fail to adequately plan for – or include – persons with disabilities in their disaster management activities. This leads to sharp inequities in access to immediate response and in long-term recovery resources for people who have disabilities prior to a disaster and those who acquire a disability as a result of one. In this context the higher degree of vulnerability of disabled people is just evident. The critical and all-embracing question here is the following: how to contribute to build disability–inclusive disaster risk resilience communities? Let us also think about the terrible humanitarian emergency that Italy – as many other countries in the Mediterranean – is experiencing at the present time receiving many thousands of people trying to reach the European shores in search for a better life. Also in this case, we should reflect upon the conditions of those migrants with disabilities that need more attention from our side.
I believe we have now much food for thoughts and for brainstorming. But I want to make just two further points, which in my opinion are the pillars on which to elaborate strategies.
First: any answer, any strategy has to be achieved through the constant active involvement of persons with disabilities, including their representative organizations, in the development and implementation of legislation and policies and in all the relevant decision-making processes. This is a key element in achieving the goals of the CRPD.
Second: We have to reason having in mind the Post-2015 Development Agenda scenario, that is a scenario where the rights of persons with disabilities are fully included. We can’t repeat the error of the Millennium Development Goals, where the absence of disability represented a tremendous missed opportunity.
Last but not least: I kindly ask you to be concise and respect the informal format of this panel. With this in mind, I have no doubt that we will have a most lively and interactive discussion.
I now give the floor to our first panelist, H.E. Amb. Walton Alfonso Webson, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda.