By Meenu Sikand, CEO & founder of AforA (Accessibility for All)
In April 2017, The department of Global Affairs Canada and The Women, Peace and Security Network-Canada (WPS-C) invited me to provide input in the renewal of Canada’s National Action Plan (CNAP). Recently, on November 1, 2017 the CNAP 2.0 was released. Being part of a 150 person strong, vocal, and passionate feminist group focusing on representing civil society and the government was an exhilarating and enlightening experience. However, on my first day, walking into the room, lack of representation from women with disabilities (WWD) was noticeable. During the consultations, there were intense debates to ensure a “feminist approach” is infused across all international assistance programs delivered by Canadian departments, such as Peace and Security programming, Disaster Management, Defence programs etc. With a steep learning curve to understand the CNAP framework and its implications, it became clear to me that in the absence of an “inclusive feminist approach”, the systemic exclusion of vulnerable groups will have grave consequences. During a natural disaster such as an earthquake, tsunami, floods and hurricanes or atrocities such as war and physical conflicts, temporary or permeant disability can be caused in the case of civilians being injured; this, in addition to the pre-existing persons with disabilities facing these disasters will all require adapted assistance.
Without aligning Canada’s obligations under the CRPD, CNAP 2.0 is at risk of excluding persons with disabilities in its humanitarian and peace missions and during their disaster management programing. In Article 11, the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that there is an obligation for governments 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.” Additionally, Article 4.1, states that “State Parties undertake to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability” and also Article 32, which recognizes the importance of international cooperation to address the limited capacity of some states to respond to situations that involve risk and humanitarian crisis. War, conflicts, environmental dangers and natural disasters can lead to the onset of multiple types of disabilities, and inaccessible environments. Relief and evacuation efforts that do not consider the needs of persons with disabilities prevent them from benefitting from these limited relief efforts offered by the local and international communities.
All groups of women experience multiple disadvantages due to their gender and physical abilities. Gender biases compounded by attitudes towards disabilities makes women with disabilities particularly vulnerable especially when resources are limited. Without the application of an accessibility lens at different stages of the disaster management process and peace efforts, WWD does not benefit from government and civil society’s relief, evacuation, recovery and rehabilitation efforts. It leads to severe inequities in access to immediate response, as well as long-term recovery resources for women who have disabilities prior to a disaster, along with those who acquire a disability as a result of the disaster. When a devastating earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, the organization Accessibility for All (AforA) received desperate requests for help from the Nepal Independent Living Center, as they were trying to find accessible shelter and portable toilets especially for WWD. We approached the government and non-profit agencies collecting and donating funds and providing relief in Nepal with no success for six long days while men and women stayed in makeshift tent without access to a functional toilet. The international community failed to meet its obligations under the CRPD, and same situation was experienced when an earthquake hit Pakistan in October of 2015 with limited relief resources at their disposal, where relief workers extended help first to men, leaving injured women and children behind to die.
Today we observe, December 3rd, as United Nation’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) where theme for 2017 is “transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all”. Let us remember the overarching principle of this theme is to ‘leave no one behind’ and to ‘empower and enable people with disability to be active contributors of society.’ On this day, I encourage all of you to take a pledge for Canada’s recently released action plan which provides a framework for a cohesive whole-of-government approach to ensure that our efforts within fragile and conflict driven states align with Canada’s broader commitments such as: gender equality, empowerment of women and girls, respect for women’s and girls’ human rights, inclusion and respect for diversity include women with disabilities. During implementation of this plan, we must ensure adequate resources, mobility devices and equipment, technical aids to create accessible shelters providing disability accommodations at all stages are all equally included. Rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts must not only be inclusive and responsive to the needs of all people, including persons with disabilities, but should include the participation of persons with disabilities, to ensure that their needs and rights are respected. Women with disabilities are a particularly vulnerable group whose needs should be voiced at all stages of recovery and reconstruction efforts. After the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, I had the privilege to work with the Queen’s University ICACBR and visit the Center for the Paralysed in Savar to deliver Peer Support, Girl Leadership and Accessibility Planning trainings to workers who acquired disabilities through this tragic incident, as part of the AHEAD project team funded by the Canadian CIDA. The project was designed and delivered using an “inclusivity lens”.
Fortunately, during discussions in April, I continued to raise awareness regarding the vulnerability experienced by various disabled groups in the absence of “inclusive feminist lens”. Since then, I have found many allies who now have joined hands with me to highlight the exclusion of women with disabilities in the United Nations Security Council women, peace and security agenda and work in solidarity.
To continue to advocate for the needs of persons with disabilities, I take great pride in officially launching the AccessibilityforAll on December 3rd to ensure our government and civil society organizations strive for inclusivity by identifying, removing and preventing physical, attitudinal, employment, technological, financial and policy barriers experienced by persons with disabilities. AforA aims to break silos and create partnerships to strengthen the resilience of people with disability by creating meaningful opportunities to employment, social integration, peer support, rehabilitation, infrastructure and accessible communities.
To learn more about AforA please visit our Facebook page
Meenu Sikand the CEO & founder of the AforA (Accessibility for All), is a Canadian immigrant of South-Asian origin. She brings 30 years of personal and professional experience advancing the disability agenda nationally and globally with a passion to improve employment situation of WWD (Women with Disabilities), as she knows firsthand what it’s like to have a disability and accessibility barriers that exist. Under her leadership, AforA focuses on public education campaigns to raise disability and diversity awareness, human rights and the AODA, training and development of multi-year Accessibility Plans and accessibility policies for government, NGOs and the private sector to remove accessibility barriers strategically.