Since the Convention’s adoption, what do you think its contributions have been for persons with disabilities in your country?
First of all, it’s been quite a few years now that persons with disabilities have come to realise that they have rights like everyone else, that they must enjoy human rights just like anyone else. This realisation is really important, because it has multiplied and strengthened political advocacy and social movements. I still remember Niger’s last elections, in which we had 7 or so legislative candidates for the National Assembly. This had never happened in the history of the disability rights movement; we did have two candidates in 2011, but that was in the wake of the Convention. This time, there were also about 50 candidates in the local elections. In my opinion, a sign of an unparalleled change in awareness. There is a real desire to participate in the country’s decision-making processes. One of our members was even appointed Deputy Secretary General of the Governorate of Niamey, and was very much appreciated during the last President of the Republic’s tenure. There is also a culture, a sports councillor at the presidential level. And, there are project officers working in both the president’s administration and the prime minister’s administration, blind people and people with motor impairments. Change is under way. We cannot say that the great majority has already made significant changes in daily life. Because poverty and ignorance are still prevalent. Niger is the last country in terms of human development, you know. There’s so much behind this, poverty, lack of adapted housing. But, even still, things are beginning to change.
What actions undertaken with persons with disabilities are you particularly proud of?
I would like to mention the action we took to launch the advocacy campaign for the harmonisation of Niger’s national legislation with the Convention. When we launched this advocacy campaign, we wanted to do it in collaboration with a large body of people: the grass roots members of Disabled People’s Organisations. We rented Niamey’s Youth and Cultural Centre (which has seating capacity for about 1500 people). Our goal was to fill the centre, no less. Before the beginning of the ceremony, which was chaired by the Minister of Population and Social Reforms’ chief of staff, we were surprised to see that not only had the youth centre filled, the street in front of the centre had filled up too; there wasn’t even any room left to park vehicles and let people in. The authorities were so surprised that the Mayor, the president of Niamey City, called in the middle of the ceremony to ask the Youth and Cultural Centre’s director to pay us back the rental fee. Because he was so struck by the critical mass we had been able to assemble to launch the advocacy ceremony. This really showed just how much hope the convention had inspired amongst persons with disabilities.
Can you give a few examples of your involvement in your country’s CRPD implementation process?
The action I was most fascinated by was my participation in the development of the Economic and Social Development Plan adopted by Niger in 2011 for the 2011-2015 period. This plan has been extended for an additional year, until the end of 2016. It is the reference document for all development actions undertaken in Niger. I represented the Federation in the development, monitoring and evaluation of this plan. This gave me the opportunity to meet high-level officials, including direct representatives of the President, and Prime Minister. In addition to the actions that were included in the plan for persons with disabilities, I had the opportunity to advocate for the cause of persons with disabilities. I can also mention the many training programmes which I had to lead: including Convention awareness-raising sessions, in particular to presidential officials, to about twenty Presidential Advisers. This enabled a number of important issues to be raised, such as the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, which generated much interest and discussion. For this, I am indebted to all the people who gave me a chance to speak about the Convention, to understand it and to be able to discuss it legitimately with jurists.
What challenges lie ahead? What still needs to be done to implement the Convention?
Everything still needs to be done. The authorities are beginning to demonstrate a change in awareness, which is a good thing; we can really say that there is a budding-growing determination on the part of the authorities. You see, in Niger we are still in the process of harmonising legislation with the Convention. A commission has been created, a study has been commissioned, and we already have draft legislation for legal harmonisation. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is to successfully adopt this legislation by the end of 2016, or 2017 at the latest. At present, it is imperative that we tackle the real challenges facing persons with disabilities. The challenge of education. Niger is a vast country, 1,266,700 km², and much of its population is still very resistant to the education of children with disabilities. There is a need for awareness-raising campaigns. Human, material and financial resources must be mobilised so that education is inclusive and of high-quality for all children with disabilities.
The challenges in terms of social protection. Children with disabilities are mobilised as a source of income by their families for the despicable activity of begging, which must be stopped at all costs. In particular, by providing families with income-generating activities, or through minimum subsistence incomes. Another challenge is the challenge of health facility inaccessibility. In the area of employment, there is some degree of advancement in Niger, but it needs to be consolidated by also providing job opportunities to persons with disabilities who have not been lucky enough to go to school. At present, we have 5% quotas in civil service and in the private sector. This quota remains legitimate, but these opportunities need to be expanded, in particular through self-employment opportunities and incentives for private businesses.