What results has the campaign "Agenda 50" given, what helps to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the regions?
There are three years that the campaign "Agenda 50", aimed at the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has been implemented in Belarusian regions with the support of the European Union. There have already been done a lot of things under the campaign: a study of readiness of Belarusian cities to implement the provisions of the Convention; teams of local communities have been created in five cities which are implementing mini-projects to address the issues of people with disabilities, as well as writing their local agendas. The "EuroBelarus" information service spoke to those who help the participants of the campaign on their progress, and on how is one of the main objectives of the campaign being realized, that is the inclusion of people with disabilities in the processes. In the first place, these people who help are the coordinators from the Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
New relationships instead of "extinguishing fires"
- In the course of the campaign’s implementation the interaction between local campaigners has become more intense. The pace has increased both meaningfully and by the number of meetings, notes Siarhei Drazdouski, director of the Office. First results of field activities have already appeared in the form of the mini-projects’ implementation by participants. Besides the direct benefits from the projects’ implementation, this creates a very positive attitude towards the idea of the agenda.
And yet, it is still impossible to speak of a solid understanding of the Convention’s values by the local communities’ participants, although certain aspects of it - accessibility, independent way of living - have begun to be embedded in people's minds. But this is a time consuming process as the Convention would change many of the principles of relations between people and institutions in respect to the disability issue. This way, the approaches to social activities have been gradually changing.
- Talking about mini-grants, I should note that previously, for many organizations whom we’ve worked with, social activities implied mainly different kinds of assistance, and charity. Well, the mini-grants being implemented at present promote a different view on the issue, focus not on permanent "extinguishing fires" and assistance, but on the change of the very essence of public relations, adds deputy director of the Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Mikhail Matskevich.
It can be lined out as a general trend, although it would be rather difficult to generalize the results of the campaign in different cities: there’s a big essential gap remaining between them caused by differences between people, approaches, and communities in different places. All this creates a challenge for the campaign coordinators that forces them to look for new ways to facilitate the preparation of the agendas.
- Our experience proves the need for the personified planning at the level not only of districts, but even of specific locations where problems of people with disabilities are being accumulated, says Siarhei Drazdouski.
Siarhei Drazdouski and Mikhail Matskevich during a meeting in Minsk with the participants of the "Agenda 50" campaign. Photo by "EuroBelarus" information service.
Motivation and the principle of non-interference
For the greater part, this has led to participation in the campaign of development coaches called facilitators that mobilize local communities’ representatives to work. Initially, it was planned that they would participate as experts in the content and in profound aspects of the Convention. However, the most urgent need has now become the processes’ moderation in communities. Furthermore, facilitators provide the constructive communication between different parties, despite their status and position. For example, Yuliya Stankevich helps the initiative group in Babruysk. Together they work on the methodic approach called "22 steps" which allows gradual building up of a local agenda.
- They are very motivated people, willing to discuss and to solve problems in their own city, says Yuliya about the community in Babruysk.
There, the participants have already identified problems in the field of disability to be addressed in their city, have identified priorities. Now they are developing the logic of addressing the priority issues: goals, objectives, expected effects ... And soon they will begin to create a plan of action. The main difficulties, according to Yuliya, stand in bringing of all stakeholders to the work of the group, but this question they are trying to solve.
- Members of the initiative group are working with the understanding of the need for the Convention. The main thing is that its provisions really worked, and this depends on all the interested communities and organizations, assumes Yuliya Stankevich.
Her colleague Ellada Hukasava is working with the Stolin team. The most important principle of such cooperation she believes to be the non-interference in the processes taking place on the ground.
- We can express our opinion, tell them about similar situations, share our experience, but we must understand that people in the field know best about their problems and difficulties, as well as about the ways these can be solved. I do not write plans for them; do not tell them what and how to do. I just inspire, motivate them, support and try to be beside them if something goes wrong.
The Stolin team consists of both local authorities and non-governmental organizations. They are professional enough and have long been working with each other. Difficulties arise only due to the business of the group members, as well as due to the fact that they all have own vision of how it should be, own experience and knowledge, but the members are always trying to find a compromise.
- I am very inspired to see that many wonderful and dedicated people inside the project, it is important to me that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has increasingly penetrated into our cities. I believe that this project is very important, and following the example of the cities represented, other communities would be able to prepare their agenda. And, of course, our colleagues in Stolin are the best, they are wonderful, and I do believe that both them and us, we will succeed, sums up Ellada.
Ellada Hukasava and Yuliya Stankevich (extreme left) during a meeting in Minsk with the participants of the "Agenda 50" campaign. Photo by "EuroBelarus" information service.
Non-resistance of the authorities is already a positive action
During the joint work, the campaign participants have understood the mechanism of creating local agendas, but it remains unclear how these will fit into people’s everyday life.
- It is traditionally believed that there must be a local normative legal document, but, as practice shows, the adoption of strategic documents at local level is a very difficult process in Belarus, states Mikhail Matskevich.
- There is no such practice, such culture of documents’ adoption by local councils. Usually, ready-made acts are descended "from above", supports his colleague the director of the Office.
- In this sense, we are faced the issues of local government and self-government. Therefore, in different cities the work is built differently, depending on the composition of communities that work on the agendas, continues Mikhail.
In other words, if the team has the support of a local executive committee, it feels the force and builds quite extensive plans. In other towns where most communities are represented only by social activists, these plan their activities basing on the experience of their relations with the government.
- Socio-economic situation in our regions is not improving, so the success that can be achieved is to overcome inertia and unreadiness to any innovation. Therefore, in case we do not face the resistance of local authorities this is viewed as a positive effect, believes Siarhei Drazdouski. As we are usually expected a kind of the board of trustees’ work, like "Bring us the money and do not mess in". We do not bring the money, but we bring the ideas and knowledge - and this is not always perceived as something valuable.
Understanding of the problems requires time
Nevertheless, each of the five cities does already have something to boast under the campaign "Agenda 50". Babruysk is one of the cities with the rapid pace of creating agenda. In Ščučyn, representatives of a wide variety of institutions and public organizations work on the agenda, as well as people with disabilities and their families do. The campaigners had to stop their work in Lepel (Stoubcy joined the campaign instead), since the city has its own agenda and resources to promote it, so it is hard to influence the local processes. It is difficult to talk on the subject of Stoubcy, but a local territorial social services centre has actively involved in the work, and the town has the support of a local MP Alena Anisim. In Stolin, there is a good community of local activists working productively and independently. Valožyn is simultaneously implementing several powerful projects on disability, including ones outside the campaign "Agenda 50", and many stages, which representatives of other cities are faced with for the first time Valožyn participants have long been familiar.
- Preparation of local agendas is a real challenge for us, sums up the director of the Office. We have an expectation of something global, but at the same time we try to look at all the processes realistically. After all, you can not demand from the local communities to do what they are unable to do. This is a realistic assessment of their readiness for the implementation of the Convention.
The official completion of the campaign "Agenda 50" was previously planned for the end of 2018, but it is likely that it will be prolonged for another six months. Even despite the aspirations of the government such as the ratification of the Convention, the approval of the National plan for its implementation, the need to write this year's first report on the implementation of the document, - the understanding by the society of disability and human rights issues, to which the Convention appeals, comes very slowly.
The material was prepared in the framework of the international project "Rights of People with Disabilities: agenda for Belarus (Agenda 50)".
The campaign "Agenda 50" is being implemented with the support of the European Union in partnership with the Fundacja TUS (Poland) and the PA "European House" (Denmark). Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, International Consortium "EuroBelarus" and Center for European Transformation participate in the campaign implementation in Belarus.