Local Communities at the UN Headquarters in New York
There is a first time for everything, for me, this visit was my first time at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York and my first time to the USA. I am not alone, I am together with my colleague and friend Yetnebersh who has experience with the world of the UN and this bustling city.
We are here for the annual meeting where governments report on their progress in implementing the rights of persons with disabilities in their national laws and policies. My mission here is to promote disability inclusion in community development.
Marieke Boersma and Yetnebersh Nigussie in front of the UN Headquarters in New York City.
I was not sure how it would work out. How does one pass a message to world leaders that we should not forget about the realities of all those boys and girls, women I meet in our community programmes? So many realities in my head in this big shiny building with my best clothes on and my feet hurting in high heels. This world at the UN seems fast-paced, people seem to be engaged in 3 meetings at the same time. There is a large group of disability activists from all over the world and they are on a mission to make things happen.
Panel of speakers at the COSP 2019
The firsts are not only mine. During this week the UN launches the UN disability strategy. The UN was always advocating to countries about the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, but they did not have a strategy for implementation in their own organisation. This became very clear at the start of the meeting where we were told that there would only be limited places for people in wheelchairs to the main meeting room since wheelchairs were considered a fire hazard. So, being people of action, we began with a demonstration in the main entrance hall and within 30 minutes the issue was resolved and we all got into the impressive main meeting hall. Where the secretary general of the UN promised this disability action plan will not be a document of words but of actions.
Demonstration held in the main entrance hall.
Being with a prominent disability activist in this meeting was a special experience. Yetnebersh was shining as usual while advocating for stronger leadership of women with disabilities. It was impressive to see a room full of female disability leaders. Working in their national governments and in the UN… It did not matter whether they were African, Asian, European or American they all had their stories of struggle to get through the education system to be accepted as having the capacity to be a leader and to be accepted as such.
Only towards the end of our visit was the event I came for. A side meeting where we promoted the need to bring all these high-level agreements to communities. I was not going to speak but had made sure we had good speakers from various countries and continents. I was nervous because I did not know them well and was not sure how their presentations and statements would go. It was a great event. A packed room, both the Austrian and Ethiopian Ambassadors in attendance, ready to speak, The testimonies of those on the panel were touching and they transmitted a clear message: "if we do not bring all of these promises down to the context of each community, all these nice legislations have no meaning at all. In addition, they pointed out the fact that these rights are not a utopia but rather can be realised when we use the community approach as described in the Community Based Rehabilitation guidelines.
Afterwards, I happily slipped back into my comfortable sneakers, left the excitement of New York City and returned back to my calm regional town in Ethiopia where we will ensure, through our work on disability inclusion in community development, that these high-level promises change the lives of boys, girls, women and men with disabilities; their families and their communities.
Director of Disability Inclusion in Community Development for Light for the World