I joined the disability rights movement following a battle I fought in 2006-2007 for the employment of graduates with disabilities. The Labour Code of Niger legally guaranteed 5% employment for persons with disabilities. However, many persons with disabilities remained unemployed; neither private businesses nor the public administration wanted them. As young persons with disabilities at that time, we began advocating for this law to be effectively implemented for the benefit of persons with disabilities. I have not stopped since then. I think there is much to be done so children with disabilities can go to school, youths with disabilities can learn a trade, and persons with disabilities can sell the goods that they make.
At present, I spend much more time working on advocacy, on raising awareness, with the States so that they guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities, but also with the persons with disabilities themselves to encourage citizenship. Rights and citizenship both go hand in hand: we have rights that we are making a stand for, and we must also fulfil our duties as citizens.
Of course! With my country’s ratification, the convention is one of the tools that we can use to get our government’s attention. Our country has ratified the convention, so our country must implement it. The Convention only deals with those rights that it recognises for persons with disabilities. Our country must respect this commitment, which it made of its own free will. However, much remains to be done because the United Nations can’t equip itself with a convention and then just stop there. What is necessary is to go see what is happening in the countries themselves, and not just rely on what countries say when they take the floor at United Nations. We’ve been hearing the same thing for years, each country comes to speak, and they say: “We have provided wheelchairs, given food, etc. “. And it feels like they are still thinking in terms of the social model, the charitable model of disability: That’s not what the convention is about. The Convention is about guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities.
As far as persons with disabilities themselves are concerned, there is at least a certain pride in saying that the United Nations, which gathers all of our countries, has made the commitment to guarantee their rights. But as far as countries are concerned, sometimes it seems like States signed the Convention without actually considering the underlying practical implications. If laws are not harmonised with the convention, the convention will not have any impact on daily life. For example, the constitution of certain countries state that one must be physically and mentally fit to run for the presidency. This is not normal, it is in blatant contradiction with the Convention. But this is what we find in our constitutions, and it is not at all normal.
During events such as the Conference of State Parties to the United Nations, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Convention is civil society’s Convention: civil society is active, keeps calling everyone to attention, tries to show the way forward. One would like to see such fervour at the State level, that is their role, it is their job normally.
This Convention has given persons with disabilities muscle. Now they can wield this instrument and make States take a good look at the commitments they made. “You ratified the convention, therefore you must be now give yourself the means to undertake tangible action.” Though they do not acknowledge this publicly, States must often remind themselves that they signed the Convention and that they must therefore act with a certain level of accountability. There is now a tremendous disability rights movement, which is pressure to bear on States. This is one of the Convention’s major achievements.
The United Nations has equipped itself with a number of agencies to address the rights of children, the rights of women, and the subject of AIDS. If the United Nations wants to show that it takes the rights of persons with disabilities to heart, there should also be an agency for persons with disabilities. Most of the time, it feels like none of the UN agencies in our countries have a mandate to address disability. If there existed a UN agency working specifically on disability, we would at least know whom to address.
I often say that everything is a potential challenge for persons with disabilities: eating, getting married, going to school. If we, as persons with disabilities, are able to represent our peers in international forums, it is because we were lucky enough to go to school. For me, school is the priority, so that all children with disabilities can go to school. Making schools accessible, training teachers to fully embrace children with disabilities, revising curricula to take the disability dimension into account: if all this is done, all the other components of disability rights should follow in a domino effect.