Participants of the forum during the discussion. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
The Forum was devoted not so much to the outputs as to the challenges and prospects after the creation and signing of local agendas.
To tell about the rights in two minutes, to realize - the whole life
The final point of the “Agenda 50” campaign was the “Regional Development Forum: Focus on Disability”, which was held in Minsk and brought together the project participants and partners, as well as NGOs’ representatives involved in local development, and journalists, representatives of foundations. Let’s recall that the “Agenda 50” campaign was implemented for three years in Belarus with the support of the European Union. All this time, tremendous work was going on in five pilot cities, part of which was the development of strategies for implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the local level.
On the left - Andrea Victorin, in the center of Lena Peterson ("European House", Denmark). Photo by "EuroBelarus"Information Service
At the opening of the Forum, the Head of the European Union Delegation in Minsk, Andrea Victorin, called the signing by Belarus in 2015 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities an important event. She noted that over time, the ministries in our country are making more and more efforts to address issues in the field of the rights of people with disabilities.
“Our joint goal is for people with disabilities to have access to the full range of services and the opportunity to fully exercise their rights,” said Andrea Victorin.
She also stressed that the results achieved in this area would have been impossible without the participation of civil society.
AndreaVictorin. Photo by"EuroBelarus" Information Service
According to Ms. Victorin, the budget of projects implemented in Belarus by the European Union aimed at advocating the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities over the past few years has amounted to 2 million 100 thousand euros. However, she stressed that the main thing is not this, but the fact that the people involved in these projects feel confidence in themselves and realize their goals.
Guests and participants of the Forum. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
As Siarhei Drazdouski, Director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities noted, speaking about regional development, we mean not only regions of the country.
- I see such a context that Belarus is one of the regions of Europe, and we definitely feel that we belong to the European civilization. Regional development is extremely important for us because Belarus traditionally reflects “top down” (decisions are made at a high state level and then go down the vertical of power. - EuroBelarus.), and I would like to discuss whether we managed to start shaping our lives on our own and seek solutions.
Siarhei Drazdouski. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
This is the main approach that the Agenda 50 campaign offers. In addition to the fact that the plans go down “top down” to each administrative unit in the field, the opinion of people with disabilities and their families is poorly considered.
This is described also in the animated video created under the project. You can learn from it how the local agendas were prepared and how they can influence now the disability policy. Producer Leonid Kalitenya told that the video turned out to be a serious challenge for its creators.
Leonid Kalitenya. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
We need more responsibility and understanding of the authorities
The coordinator of the “Agenda 50” campaign and the deputy director of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Mikhail Matskevich, underlined that there should always be an individual approach to the problems of people with disabilities, because disabilities have many variations, and people with different types have different needs.
- Thanks to the campaign, I was able to travel to different cities and understand that despite the fact that people live in one country, they talk differently about their problems, they have different relationships within cities, they feel and see different ways of development and problem solution.
Mikhail Matskevich. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
Mikhail Matskevich noted that as a result of the “Agenda 50” campaign, five local plans were developed, four of them were signed by a circle of organizations and structures that take responsibility for their implementation. Preliminary public consultations were held in each city (after all, the main slogan of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is “Nothing for us without us!”), And in general, the campaign covered more than 1,500 people. The already mentioned “Local Agenda Instrument for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the local level” has been developed. And as additional effects, participants received new knowledge, skills, values, some organizations improved their competencies. There was a clear understanding that disability is not about charity, but about equal rights. There is also a professional community of people from different cities who support each other and exchange news.
Local agenda tool for the implementation of the Convention at local level. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
However, there were difficulties.
- In my opinion, there are no local communities in Belarus, admits Mikhail Matskevich. - They are not institutionalized, there is no division of responsibility for the place where we live. You can say that there are some initiatives, but this is a separate issue.
Also, according to the campaign coordinator, there is no sectoral responsibility in Belarus. No matter how great the TCCA or another organization is, they have no real levers of influence on the situation in the region, Michael explains.
We also had to face difficulties in perceiving the method of creating local agendas by the target audience. And also with the reaction of local authorities: they did not quite understand what the campaign coordinators wanted and perceived from them, rather, as “bags of money”. In general, due to the conditions of local government and self-government in Belarus, the involvement of local authorities in the campaign was not strong.
Assessment of the campaign by participants and researchers
Participants of the "Agenda 50" campaign from five cities positively evaluate its results. Elena Zhdanyuk from Volozhinsky TSSON believes that the most important was the experience that was obtained during the campaign. And the greatest difficulty was not to slip into actions “on the thumb.”
Elena Zhdanyuk.Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
Maria Kapustina, a spokeswoman for one of the Bobruisk Territorial Social Services Centre (TSSC) notes that thanks to the work on the agenda, it was possible to unite public organizations and state structures. The most vertical multistage system of state administration turned out to be the most difficult for the citizens of Babruysk. For this reason, a local agenda has not yet been signed in Bobruisk: it is handed over to the authorities, and they let it in a circle, and as a result it returns “down”, on the previous place.
Mariya Kapustina. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
Anastasia Melnikova from TSSC of Stouby notes: the most important thing is that the participants were able to gather to work together and made it. And, by the way, joining the campaign as the latest participant, Stoubcy were the first to sign their agenda. It seems that this has become the most difficult for them: there was no time for procrastination. On the other hand, it motivated them to work productively from the very beginning.
Anastasiya Melnikova.Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
And for Angelina Shpakovskaya from Ščučyn, the campaign participation brought an additional bonus. After a three-day fundraising workshop in Minsk, she wrote a draft and won a grant to implement it. In addition, the local agenda in Ščučyn was included in the overall Strategy for sustainable development of the region.
Angelina Shpakovskaya.Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
Oksana Shelest, senior analyst at the Centre for European Transformation, spoke about the effects and difficulties of the campaign. According to her estimates, the implementation of the campaign showed that the work on the formation of local agendas was a rather complicated process, especially regarding the involvement of the local community. Participation in the campaign of local authorities, as well as of people with disabilities, was assessed by the experts as episodic. Also, the local business, churches, non-core public associations and initiatives remained outside the scope of the process.
Oksana Shelest. Photo by "EuroBelarus" Information Service
In small towns, before the signing of the Convention, there was practically no information about it. Most representatives of local NGOs say that after signing the Convention has become a good tool for them, allowing to “open doors” and raise questions which no one wanted to hear of before.
Indisputable progress is observed may be only in changing the general attitude towards people with disabilities for the better. In addition, the campaign contributed to the creation of a new format of interaction between people; they learned how to create teams and work in them.
- The ideal output of the campaign would be to launch local the planning processes that implement the principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This output is not achievable today or tomorrow, but without focusing on it, it is impossible to reach significant changes, Oksana Shelest believes.
The material was prepared in the framework of the international project "Rights of People with Disabilities: agenda for Belarus (Agenda 50)".