The rights of persons with disabilities in the EU-Africa Caribbean Pacific Joint Parliamentary Assembly

At the June 2016 Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Windhoek, MEPs and MPs decided to bring disability back to the agenda

The EU- Africa Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA), held in Windhoek in June, was a step forward in protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The JPA brings together parliamentarians from four continents that can regularly meet and bring back to their constituencies, national parliaments and governments what they learned. The JPA approved in 2011 a Resolution on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This resolution was innovative but didn't have a proper follow up. 

What happened in Windhoek?

At the Windhoek JPA, on Saturday 11th of June, a number of motivated parliamentarians from the European Parliament and from ACP countries participated in the roundtable A disability-inclusive implementation of Agenda 2030: how can sustainable development leave no one behind?, organised by the International Disability and Development Consortium(IDDC), of which CBM is an active member. MEP Cécile Kashetu Kyenge, keynote speaker, called for a transversal network of MEPs, ACP parliamentarians and civil society to share good practices and to look at the impact that policies, such as the JPA 2011 resolution, have actually had on the daily life of persons with disabilities. MEPs Maria Heubuch, Maria Noichl, Bodil Valero and Hon. Alpha Babatunde Lewally, MP from Sierra Leone, agreed with this call to share experience and good practices across the continents.

The event was attended by many representatives of Namibian organisations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) that shared their concerns and hopes for an inclusive SDGs implementation. MEPs Kyenge, Heubuch and Valero followed up with this discussion with the Namibian associations the day after, the 12th June, during a visit to the Namibian Federation of the Visually Impaired (NFVI). The NFVI has 15.000 members, visually impaired, aged 15-55 (1). The federation has advocacy and awareness-raising activities and it also provides services to the members, such as rehabilitation, courses and trainings and provides accessible tools. Namibia has recently become a middle-income country and donors are phasing out; this let DPOs and organisations without external funding to keep providing the services persons with disabilities need, which could increase the inequalities that do already exist in the country. As a direct consequence, the NFVI had to reduce the staff and some persons with visual impairment have lost their job, as the  government's allocation are not enough to cover the expenses of the federation.

Why is the JPA important?

As Daniel Trum, acting chair of the National Federation of Persons with Disabilities of Namibia, said, "the JPA is an opportunity to communicate and exchange and to put pressure on governments in Africa to include persons with disabilities as part of processes and implementation of policies". Indeed, disability inclusion requires a holistic approach that can tackle the barriers that women, men, girls and boys with disabilities face at all levels and in all sectors, the engagement of local authorities, national governments, civil society and DPOs. Inaccessible information, inaccessible public spaces, false beliefs, discrimination, lack of resources, lack of trained staff in health services and school are among the many challenges that governments will have to face in order to implement the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. 

Inclusive sustainable development can only be achieved by a global, open, participatory and coordinated mechanism, engaging with all sectors of the society and all level of political representation. It is important to keep the link with the local level and also to share our experiences regularly. 

What's next?

To use the words of MEP Kyenge, "at each ACP-EU JPA, there should be a debate on disability inclusion in a certain sector to exchange good practices, to take disability out of its silo and come up with a strategy, which is at the same time comprehensive and targeted and precise; we need to reach all levels of society and sensitise as many countries as possible". In Windhoek some ideas to get a step closer to disability-inclusion were proposed, such as protocols, good practices, guidelines, disability quota, accessibility of information from all parliament sessions (sign language/braille), but also awareness raising activities with politicians and decision makers, like mandatory training and workshops. But more needs to be done and will come. Disability will from now on be part of the discussions happening at the JPA on a regular basis. The premises for these discussions to be participatory of persons with disabilities and action-oriented are there. CBM, with its partners in IDDC, will build on this momentum and will support the EU-ACP JPA members on this path toward a sustainable development that really leaves no one behind.

(1) Following the national statistics, the total number of persons with visual impairments in Namibia is 16.000 (2011 Census