Empowerment: Persons with Disabilities: Key Debates & Implementation Challenges
This section presents a short summary of some of the key debates and implementation challenges discussed by academics, practitioners and policymakers in relation to the process of fully including persons with disabilities in peacebuilding processes.
The points covered are not exhaustive, but rather attempt to be illustrative of the major issues in this regard. They are encompassed by a number of main points, related to:
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For instance, a study on the situation of persons with disabilities among refugees has shown that "refugees with mental disabilities tended to be more 'invisible' and 'hidden' from public view than those with physical disabilities. They were less likely to be identified in registration and data collection exercises and tended to be excluded from both mainstream and targeted assistance programs. They were less likely to be included in decision-making processes or in leadership and program management structures."1 Among individuals with physical disabilities, land mine survivors (and others who have been harmed by weapons) and persons born with developmental exceptionalities tend to be placed in the same categories whereas they may have different needs as well as resources in terms of managing their impairment.
One of the concrete illustrations of this difficulty is the usual lack of reliable and accurate data about the different types of disabilities existing in a given community or displaced persons camps. In many cases, data is simply not available. 2 Where data exists, it is often inconsistent or inaccurate. One of the reasons for this lies in the "differences in the terminology and categories used to classify different types of disabilities and reasons for disabilities. In addition, concepts of 'impairment' and 'disability' can differ enormously among different cultures and societies."3
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[Back to Top] 5 For instance, this "community-based approach" is strongly advocated by organizations such as UNHCR, in the training and briefing of its personnel and partners so that persons with disabilities can be included in particular "in participatory assessments and community-based work."6 The focus is made in particular on "the attitudinal shift required to support inclusion, and on participation and empowerment, with a focus on recognizing capacities, rather than vulnerability and dependence, as well as on appropriate protection strategy and programme development."7
It is worth noting that, while relatively recent, the focus on the situation of persons with disabilities may be somewhat easier to implement in settings such as refugee camps and displaced persons camps than in urban settings or rural areas. As noticed by a recent field research, "due to more geographically and socially cohesive nature of refugee camps, it is easier to identify refugees with disabilities, adapt programs to be more inclusive and set up specialized services. It is also easier to effect attitudinal and programmatic change in refugee camps."8 It is much harder to identify persons with disabilities, in particular, or to integrate them into mainstream or specialized services when they are dispersed in the cities. This does not mean that their status in camps is enviable but rather illustrates the challenge of implementing such approaches at the level of an entire society.
[Back to Top] 9 To date, persons with disabilities are rarely formally encouraged to participate in community management and decision-making. This does not prevent them from forming their own organizations and self-help groups, and some of these groups actively participate in the community life and the different aspects of the peacebuilding process. But more resources are needed to ensure that they are able to advocate for their rights, participate in needs assessments, heal the divisions between different impairment groups and to acknowledge common concerns as disabled persons (e.g. war-disabled and people with congenital impairment, specific impairment-based organisations), practice co-ordination and networking with other civil society organizations (in particular human rights organizations), and strengthen their capacities.10 All of this has practical implication for peacebuilding process, and in countries such as Sierra Leone, has not been the case so far. Some feel that camps that separate persons with disabilities in order to provide services, even if well intentioned, may further divide already fractured communities.11
[Back to Top] 12 More time and efforts may be needed to ensure that the concerns for this group are actually reflected in peacebuilding programs and actions. Some practitioners also consider that the increased attention paid to the basic needs and rights of women and children may have meant that less visible groups are rarely, if ever, a direct target for humanitarian and peacebuilding programs.13
1. Will Day, Antoinette Pirie, and Chris Roys, Strong and Fragile: Learning from Older People in Emergencies (London: ReliefWeb, 2007).
2. Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, Disabilities Among Refugees and Conflict-Affected Populations: Resource Kit for Fieldworkers (New York: International Rescue Committee, 2008), 2.
3. Ibid., 3.
4. The World Bank in Claudia Bell, Disability in the Context of Armed Conflict Situations, (paper presented at the conference Disasters are Always Inclusive! Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Emergency Situations, Bonn, Germany, November 7-8, 2007), 8.
5. Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, Disabilities Among Refugees and Conflict-Affected Populations: Resource Kit for Fieldworkers (New York: International Rescue Committee, 2008), 2.
6. UNESCAP. The Protection of Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities. ESID/HLM-MIPAA/2, Macao, China: UNESCAP, 2007.
8. Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, Disabilities Among Refugees and Conflict-Affected Populations: Resource Kit for Fieldworkers (New York: International Rescue Committee, 2008), 2.
10. Claudia Bell, Disability in the Context of Armed Conflict Situations, (paper presented at the conference Disasters are Always Inclusive! Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Emergency Situations, Bonn, Germany, November 7-8, 2007), 5.
11. Communication with Maria Kett (5 December 2008).
12. BEZEV, Documentation of the International Conference: Disasters Are Always Inclusive! Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Emergency Situations (Notes on the conference Disasters are always inclusive!, Disability and Development Cooperation, Bonn, Germany, November 7-8, 2007).