How has the Convention benefited persons with disabilities?
This is an interesting question. Because, before the Convention even arrived, a change in awareness was already occurring amongst persons with disabilities. But, when we signed the Convention, and began to draw the population’s attention to the document, we witnessed an awakening and it was like a light came on for persons with disabilities who, from that moment on, became aware of their strength; for a start, it gave them self-confidence and they became more and more attentive to what the State was doing in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities. In short, it sparked an awakening of consciousness that helped us forge ahead on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Since the Convention’s adoption, what actions undertaken with persons with disabilities are you particularly proud of?
First of all, we thought that in order to more effectively draw the population’s attention to the Convention, it had to be translated into the Republic of Mali’s major languages. We organised a workshop to address this. There was really strong response, and this enabled us to translate the Convention into Bambara, Tamasheq and Fulfulde. As a result, we were able to reach great numbers of persons with disabilities, as well as local authorities and communities. You see the communities surrounding persons with disabilities are more or less aware of all these challenges and issues, because they lack information. When we began broadcasting in local languages on TV and on the radio, people said, this document can be very beneficial for everyone, and for persons with disabilities; and that’s what happened.
There were also awareness-raising efforts by persons with disabilities themselves, who said, “see, our country is the signature and ratification champion.” For once, we would like to break free of this stranglehold. You must take action on the Convention. This is why we approached the President of the National Assembly, and he immediately sought to involve the government in the discussions. We worked with 7 ministers in order to raise awareness at the government level. And we also created a parliamentary network for the defence of the rights of persons with disabilities. Currently, thanks to the Convention, we are seeking to create a Convention focal point at the level of the Prime Minister’s Office, in order to facilitate coordination at the government level. We still have some way to go.
However, what is truly fundamental is that we now have a national 10-year strategic plan, which adheres to the Convention, and will make the inclusion policy cross-cutting. Disability issues will no longer be under the Ministry of Social Development’s sole supervision, but will be integrated transversally into the sector-based budgets of all government ministries. This should help us overcome a number of challenges, such as education and employment. So, these are some of our battle horses. Education, though, is intimately related to employment. Therefore, employment is the final outcome of the inclusion of persons with disabilities. This is why these criteria are so important to us.
In addition, I will say that, thanks to the Convention, persons with disabilities have also understood that their voices should be heard on many issues. They are now aware that nobody can speak for them, that they must reject the charity and assistance logic. The Convention’s Article 29 stipulates that persons with disabilities must participate in political and public life, so that they can be involved in decision-making processes. Therefore, persons with disabilities have seized this opportunity. Now, advocates are present in a number of political parties, and they will be able to speak on behalf of persons with disabilities and hold a place at the heart of decision-making.
Can you give an example of your involvement in your country’s Convention implementation process?
Yes, for example, we participated in the development of the Strategic Plan for the 2015-2022 period, which the government will launch soon. And we insisted that the Plan’s contents adhere to the Convention. So that the Convention not be “just one more Convention”. We also insisted that our country’s Civil Service take the Convention exactly as it is, so it could be used to overcome the Republic of Mali’s employment problems. And also, with regard to education, we are working to make the system more inclusive.
Let’s talk about the main challenges to overcome in the next 10 years:
Ah, yes! First, we want to mutualise the Western African subregion’s major inclusive policies, and that is a big challenge. Together, we have greater ability to strike. ln addition, we want to address the challenge of education, especially for persons with disabilities. Because, for lack of knowledge or means, States are confining themselves to the policy of opening specialised centres. But, these centres are run by local organisations. We want to go much further, towards an inclusive policy that will enable school enrolment for a great number of – if not all – persons with disabilities, because this is what is written in the Convention. This will force the State to engage in an inclusion process for persons with disabilities, within an inclusive education system.
Our other major challenge is employment. Employment is the final outcome of everything. Not only does employment give us personal dignity, but it also enables us to overcome socio-economic challenges, and live with dignity in our inclusive society.