The Finnish Foreign Ministry listened to Finnish NGOs on human rights-based approach and their existing toolkit and their good practices
Today, representatives of 8 NGOs discussed with the Ministry’s advisors on cross-cutting issues and human rights-based approach. The Ministry is going to create a toolkit reflecting on the new Finnish development policy and wanted to learn from experiences of the NGOs. The new priority articulated in the new Finnish development policy, namely human rights-based approach, has geared some NGOs to modify their activities to fit into it, while it affected all NGOs to think carefully how their activities were associated with this approach. I participated in this meeting, though I am a researcher in this area. Abilis Foundation and FIDIDA (Finnish Disabled People’s International Development Association) were the two invited disability organisations, which I think is an important fact. First, the Ministry staffs introduced human rights-based approach which has three components: mainstreaming, empowerment, and policy negotiation and dialogue. After the brief introduction of the Ministry, each participant presented existing practices in own organisation. Some NGOs has policy guideline, and others checklist mostly relevant to their activities such as children, and persons with disabilities. Those are useful for themselves to raise awareness on cross-cutting themes to be seriously taken into account in their practices. However, they are too frequently neither welcomed nor important per se on the grassroots in Southern countries. At the same time, their human rights-based projects are not enough, when governments are not sensitive to human rights, for instance. Towards the end, there was a consensus that toolkits can work to a limited extent mainly to meet own purposes but are hard to be applied to all situations. Southern ownership in the process of producing a toolkit based on their own needs was pointed out to be crucial. When I reflect on the discussion to the field of disability and development, I feel that human rights-based approach is far from the reality. In my understanding, perhaps the obligation element is one significance of the approach. Is development cooperation based on transnational obligation? I think it is not yet, as it is always under the threat of budget cut and not a long-term commitment. Another question is why persons with disabilities are not prioritised to date? That is most probably because persons with disabilities are too often excluded by actors both in the global North and South. When various actors do not prioritise persons with disabilities, it is essential that a top-down approach takes place to pressure actors to properly include them. For that, toolkit would be useful from the viewpoint of mainstreaming. At the same time, continuous dialogue of DPOs with (and also reminder to) all actors for them to internalise the idea of mainstreaming persons with disabilities as a common sense, while building capacity of persons with disabilities themselves is also necessary simoultaneously. That is to say, a required toolkit is one of many ways towards making sustainable social changes under the circumstance where persons with disabilities are too often excluded. The toolkit of the Ministry will be ready before the summer. I am personally looking forward to seeing how disabilities are included in it as human rights issues.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Harri Englund of University of Cambridge. He mentioned the Finnish new development policy 2012 that highlights human rights-based approach to development as an example of a recent donor phenomenon. He then provoked the audience by mentioning the phenomenon as “human rights fundamentalism,” thereby he meant that human rights activists and practitioners were increasingly becoming intolerant to alternative ideas and means. Particularly, he pointed out that the concerned people’s voices were not heard under this approach when activists’ and practitioners’ voices were louder. He stressed that human rights-based approach being “very productive” and yet “another buzz word,” “only one alternative,” and “not a final solution at all.” In my opinion, it is easy to criticize extreme cases such as fundamentalism. I feel it is more constructive if he would have focused more on actual negotiations and even struggles in complex contexts and themes. He had a few concrete anthropological examples including Maasai women’s rights and traditional circumcision practices. He criticized the way how Northern human rights activists were “obsessed with African people’s intimate private lives” by trying to stop circumcision practices. He then introduces a Maasai indigenous women’s organization as an alternative voice to listen to which has not been listened to well. However, listening to the voices of the concerned people is not simple: voices are not one but many; historically produced and reproduced ways could contradict with rights; prerequisites for expressing voices could be lacking; the global efficiency seeking neoliberalism affects everybody, to name a few. (These are all findings from my Ugandan study on human rights-based approach to disability and development.) Thus empirical theories are more than needed. In the later discussion, one Finnish Foreign Ministry official expressed the pressure from the government to call for research works that interrogate efficiencies of development cooperation. Applicability of research findings was stressed. Academics were of the view that consultants could do that but scholars of social science aim at going beyond such an existing framework/box and thus cannot correspond with the expectation of the Ministry. When it comes to myself and my own research works, why I am engaged with all these research works? That is because the current realities of persons with disabilities around the world are not equal with others without a disability and thus need to be politicized. Research works could critically investigate the realities to (modestly) attract attention to certain themes with their analysis, knowledge and theories, on one hand. On the other hand, researchers have to raise fund for research works and sometimes need to co-opt to existing frameworks and needs. As long as persons with disabilities globally experience discrimination against them, I hope research works on this theme are to be funded towards equality.
A university student found this blog site and turned to me with some questions for her research. I thought of sharing my answers with wider audience. • Given your experience working in Uganda, how do you judge the effectiveness of the government's policies concerning the rights and needs of PWDs? In my opinion, using the "effectiveness" measure is not quite correct for any intervention in the field of disability due to the history of profound discrimination against many persons with disabilities. Any single intervention cannot make significant change not due to ineffectiveness of the intervention but due to such historical factor in terms of both disabling environment and consequently under capacity of persons with disabilities, both of which make it difficult to create quantifiable positive impacts. In this sense, this question is somehow out of the context perhaps, particularly when “persons with disabilities” are not monolithic but heterogenic, while rights are many. Having said that, if I dare to answer your question, those persons with disabilities who had been more empowered have benefited from a number of government policies, such as affirmative action policy. For instance, political representation and higher education have empowered as well as mainstreamed a number of persons with disabilities. • What role do you believe disabled people's organizations play in effecting change in the lives of PWDs in Uganda? Again, as persons with disabilities as well as DPOs are diverse, generalizing question as this one is a bit difficult for me to answer. It would be easier when both “persons with disabilities” and “DPOs” are more specific, because different DPOs play different roles and even the same DPO could play totally different roles for different persons with disabilities under different conditions. For instance, some receive essential assistive devices from DPOs and thereby improve their quality of life to a great extent, whereas others get more moral and psychological support from peers. It is difficult for me to say what is more important role. However, in general, Northern actors tend to believe in the role of advocacy or watchdog as important, while Ugandan persons with disabilities expect the role as service providers. In reality, I have observed that Ugandan DPOs play multiple roles for meeting different needs of their constituencies and for making positive changes in their lives. • What do you think are the greatest challenges facing PWDs in Uganda today? Different persons with disabilities face different challenges depending on their situations, capacities, personalities, environments and so forth. Some told me that the greatest challenge is to pay for school fees for their kids, while others claim lack of information is, particularly for deaf and blind people. By answering your questions, I feel that perhaps the biggest challenge facing persons with disabilities in Uganda today is that their heterogeneity has not been fully understood by many. They are, for instance, mothers, daughters, caregivers, breadwinners, women, and/or wives, as well as women with disabilities. Many of women with disabilities face similar challenges as other mothers, daughters, caregivers, breadwinners, women and/or wives, in other words. For instance, illiteracy is not only a challenge exclusive to persons with disabilities. Even some persons with disabilities do not perceive to face a big challenge depending on their capacities, personalities and/or environments. Having made my point clear, if I dare to answer your question in a general term, challenges are many such as prejudice, low expectation, lack of accessibility, lack of medical treatments and services, malnutrition, neoliberalism to name a few. • How do you believe accessibility to resources, facilities, and information for PWDs relates to Uganda's overall development? When they are secured for Ugandan persons with disabilities, I believe that its impact to the overall development is significant. Statistically, persons with disabilities are a big part of the total population (15% by the latest World Report on Disability by WHO and WB) and when their family members are also taken into account in this discussion, it is not too difficult to imagine how big impacts uplifting of persons with disabilities alone could make for the whole country development. Moreover, universal design is for everybody including persons with babies, elderly, and those who are temporarily injured or could potentially become disabled at some stage of lives by accident or by age. The whole population, as a result, would benefit from secured accessibility. • Are there any strategies or initiatives that you believe DPOs should be implementing, but currently are not? It is difficult for me to generalize DPOs and persons with disabilities once again. When statutory and international services and interventions are non-existent or extremely limited, many DPOs are expected to play many roles to fill the huge gaps. For many persons with disabilities, DPOs cannot change their lives dramatically due to disabling environment and their under capacity. DPOs are only part of the society and DPOs alone cannot make big impacts when other actors both locally and globally continue to exclude persons with disabilities. Thus I believe not only DPOs but all actors should be inclusive and keep dialogue and negotiation among us to make eventually equal society for all.