Five Belarusian cities are open to the campaign launched there to translate into practice the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The way to pass on from expectation to participation
Traditionally, adoption of international obligations is provided by the chain of state command: first, a series of decisions at the governmental level is taken, then the budget is being examined, and only after a few steps the documents are being "pulled down" to the level of local communities. But the point is that, in fact, any international document in the field of human rights is being originally designed for people who live in local communities. Here comes a paradox: a document has been allegedly designed for a plain man, but the latter gets to it in the last place. The process of passing through the chain of command and the document’s particular implementation may take tens of years. Therefore, people in Sweden have decided not to waste time, but to create instead their own local agenda on the base of present resources and opportunities. The movement has spread throughout Europe and has reached Belarus. At first, it revealed itself not very distinctly in the project "Agenda 21" that was dedicated to sustainable development at local level. But about two years ago, it was put into practice in a campaign "Agenda 50", aimed at the implementation of provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Belarusian regions. The very design of the agendas is a well-established technology in many countries, the one of the transition from expectations to personal involvement in changes.
- Agendas contribute to promoting of local self-government and self-determination aiming to the people to be more actively engaged in creation of living conditions in line with progressive models, says the director of the Office on the Rights of People with Disabilities Siarhei Drazdouski.
This organization is one of the main positive changes’ motive powers in lives of people with disabilities in our country. Belarus finally signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, also thanks to the active eight-year-long work of the Office. The organization is now actively working on creation of the local agendas.
According to Siarhei, one of the challenges of the state chain of command of approval and "putting down" of government documents is that district level institutions get already ready-made template documents, which can not take into account all local conditions. At the same time there is almost no feedback on how the local communities perceive the implementation of these documents.
- This is the second objective of the agendas. And the third, the most important one, is the implementation of one of the main principles of the Convention, inclusion. When we say that a disability is also an issue of segregation, exclusion from society, then the reverse process would be crucial. The very character of the agendas provides for inclusion: they are designed not by a separate group of people with disabilities, but by all the interested local community members, interested in solving the issue. Thus, the relations are built in which everyone can find a place for their participation.
Sometimes, authorities say, well, we call for civil society activists, present them our plans, but they do not want to implement these. While in reality these plans often consist in co-financing. However, the financial part is not the only possibility. People can participate by volunteering, making intellectual contribution; simple empathy is already a big deal.
Social services often complain of the consumer attitude to them of people with disabilities, but most often it is the result of an incorrect approach to the shaping of interaction between the two groups. Besides, it happens very often that people's needs are insufficiently addressed. And if services offered are not in line with the needs of citizens, the latter say they need not the proposed service, but something different.
This year, Center for European Transformation held a truly innovative study on the willingness of Belarusian cities to implement the provisions of the Convention. It is considered innovative due to the difficulty to find a research product with a similar methodology in Belarus. The research was somehow in tune with the one that was carried out eight years ago. There were two essential components in that research: the first one was the direct studying of a city (presence of public relations, economic and social activities, points of increase, etc.), the second was connected exactly with the topic of disability. Despite the rather disappointing conclusions, out of nearly 20 studied cities five were marked: Valozhyn, Lepel, Ščučyn, Babruisk and Stolin. These cities have shown themselves to be the ones with the greatest potential to create a local agenda.
- Our Polish colleagues from the TUS Foundation shared their experiences on how to think out and plan joint actions. This is a rather difficult task for us, since we live in a slightly different, vertical, political hierarchy, notes deputy director of the Office on the Rights of People with Disabilities Mikhail Mackiewicz. The first year we dedicated to consolidation of people around the specific issues, we held roundtables in the pilot cities. We were explaining what the agendas were made for, outlining our position as of those who were helping to create them, not writing programs for people from local communities. And there are still problems with that. Also, often in the same city people either do not know about each other, or some old grudges prevent them to join for a common cause. And we need to show how is it possible to be included in the process in this case.
The Danish partners also announced a mini-grants competition for NCOs, and a study visit to Poland was held. In addition, we worked closely with the local media, as it is important that people know about the Convention and the campaign "Agenda 50".
- Our colleagues from Poland published a guide named "22 steps" which comprehensively describes the technology of agendas’ preparation with examples and indications of risks. However, practice shows that the use of such guides hardly proceeds as people just stopped reading books, adds Siarhei Drazdouski. Nevertheless, this book is fundamental for us, and we hope to further promote it.
- We are also planning to establish the methodology as a tool for agendas, which, we hope, will be of interest not only to organizations working in the field of disability, but to local activists in general, as it will describe the technology of achieving a political agreement, collecting interests in order to achieve a common goal, announces Mikhail Mackiewicz.
According to the director of the Office, regions now just began to feel their potential for change. Each of the regions chose a strategy for further action - for some it's spreading information, for some - close interaction with each other. And, although we managed to make the representatives of various local community organizations to come together to solve problems for the first time, it is unlikely that the dialogue between different stakeholders was held.
- These were only the first steps, which may easily come to nothing, rather reservedly appraises the situation head of the Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The communication process requires additional efforts, support, external moderation. The discussion that is in the process of birth is a very delicate germ, which, on the one hand, you can not just abandon, on the other - you can’t "overfeed" it and spoil with external influence. After all, it belongs to the local communities, and we are only a support. Discussion is one of the values of the whole project, and when the latter goes to its finish, the dialogue must remain.
It should be noted that some time after the signing of the Convention, the Belarusian state adopted a National Plan for its implementation. But the campaign "Agenda 50" is in no way creating an antagonistic relationship with the government, on the contrary, the project participants will seek to integrate the local agendas in the National Plan.
- Agendas solve not only the problems in the field of disability, but also other social issues, emphasizes Siarhei Drazdouski. This experience can be extended to environmental issues, local development. All this is achieved by means of solidarity and equality.
This article was created within the framework of “Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Agenda for Belarus (Agenda 50)” international project.