Djikiné Hatouma Gakou
How did you join the disability rights movement?
First of all, I myself am a person with a disability, I am in a wheelchair. In my case, I was lucky to have a father who did everything he could so that I could go to school, despite the lack of accessibility. Very early on in my life, I knew that I wanted to fight for persons with disabilities, even though I had no idea how I would go about it. What spurred me into action was my meeting with Mr Konaté, who was the leader of a Disabled People’s Organisation. This is how, in 1994, I created Mali’s 1st organisation for women with disabilities (known as Association Malienne des Femmes Handicapées). At that time, I had finished my studies, and was working for a French NGO called Equilibre. When Handicap International established itself in Mali in 1996, I was recruited as an administrator, and I then held this position for 11 years. During all those years, I campaigned in the subregion’s Disabled People’s Organisations, and in particular as the Vice-President of the West African Federation of Persons with Disabilities, with whom we pioneered the organisation of the African Decade of Disabled People
Can you tell us more about your battle for women with disabilities?
Thanks to the African Decade of Disabled People, we created the African Network of Women with disabilities, Disabled Women in Africa (DIWA), of which I was vice-president. I especially focused my battle on women with disabilities, seeking to restore their dignity. When I saw dirty women next to the mosques, dragging themselves in the dirt and begging, I would speak to them to urge them to keep a more dignified appearance. As a result, we launched a project to improve the image of women with disabilities, to dispel prejudices and show that women with disabilities are just like other women, able to marry, to have children and run a household. In 2000, in Mali, as part of a concerted effort to facilitate synergistic action at the level of the Western African subregion, I had the great honour of gathering women with disabilities from 15 West African countries.
How did you become involved in the Convention’s drafting process?
I was informed by the Republic of Mali’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Human Rights Committee in Geneva that a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was being drafted. It is via Handicap International and the Ministry of Solidarity, which at the time was very close to the Malian Federation of Disabled People’s Organisations (Fédération Malienne des Associations de Personnes Handicapées – FEMAPH) that I became very involved in the drafting of the convention. I was chosen as Convention focal point, and participated in 3 sessions as a woman with a disability representing civil society, and as a member of the Malian delegation. I was convinced that the disability rights movement needed a legal instrument like the convention. Africa, especially, needed a frame of reference that could underpin and support the drafting of national laws, which were non-existent in many countries. I quickly found my place within this advocacy chorus. I will never forget what it was like to work together. We were all mobilised towards the same goal, to end prejudice and compel States to recognise the question of persons with disabilities as a question of human rights, and not in any way an act of charity inspired by pity. There was synergy amongst all the groups present: the International Disability Caucus, projet Sud; we all worked tirelessly to keep making proposals. Many friendships were forged at this time.
What were the consequences of Mali’s ratification of the Convention?
Mali was a pilot country in West Africa, and had a very dynamic associative movement. All types of disability were represented within the Malian Federation, and several of the main leaders were already actively advocating on an international level. We conducted an inventory which showed us that no legislation took disability into account. Therefore, Mali had to ratify this convention, in order for normative legislation to be elaborated. Mali was the 20th country to ratify the Convention in 2007, and this had a very positive impact on persons with disabilities. In particular, this enabled a law to be drafted to protect persons with disabilities. As a result, the State can no longer be content with putting in place exceptional measures for persons with disabilities, as if this was a favour. Instead, the State must now acknowledge and act upon the fact that providing for persons with disabilities is its duty, and an integral part of its mandate. Mali also elaborated normative legislation, and has reported on the Convention’s implementation. A strategic plan for the socio-economic promotion of persons with disabilities has been elaborated for the 2015-2024 period. Progress remains tentative, but it is under way.
How do you feel about your participation in the Convention negotiation process?
My involvement in this process gives me a sense of dignity and consideration. Being a person with a disability is not easy in our society, all the more so when you are a woman. To have been able to overcome these barriers and reach such a sphere is an acknowledgement. I am extremely proud to have participated in the elaboration of this international legal instrument. Ever since, I have not ceased to work on its implementation. We are present each and every day, on the radio, on television, in debate forums and in conferences, in order to participate in our country’s development process and raise the population’s awareness of disability. Today, even the general population, and families, have realised that this part of the population deserves consideration and must be taken into account. Inclusiveness is a major concept created by the Convention. With inclusiveness, persons with disabilities can begin to feel concerned by civic life, and this is the principle of equality of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Whereas, the implementation of specific programmes tends to create segregation.
What are the challenges for the future?
Today, the challenge for the future is the Convention’s implementation. Ten years on, it is time to examine the progress of ratification and implementation processes. Otherwise, my battle horse remains the improvement of the image of women with disability in Malian society. Women with disabilities were completely excluded in the report submitted by Mali. We must therefore be careful not to overlook this part of the population. In our actions, we have focused upon vocational educational training (sewing, food processing), because we know that women’s empowerment requires their acquisition of economic power. I would also like to focus on the treatment and care of persons with disabilities, as well as on reproductive health, which are of particular importance in our countries. This is my daily struggle… Some countries focus on family planning, prohibiting motherhood to women with disabilities. I believe that it should be possible for women with disabilities to bear children. Perhaps they need our support to become mothers, but we cannot forbid them to do so.