Arlington, Virginia (October 27, 2016) — On October 26 and 27, 430 representatives from government, international donors, NGOs, civil society and people with disabilities from all 34 provinces across Afghanistan will convene at the Salaam Khana Palace Presidential Palace (“The Arg”) in Kabul. This first-of-its-kind conference in Afghanistan addresses issues that include improving medical access, vocational training, increasing employment prospects, financial considerations and recognition of disability rights. The goal is to bring all key stakeholders together to collaboratively contribute to advancing government policy at the national and sub-national level to improve the lives of people with disabilities throughout Afghanistan.
“Addressing the needs of persons with disabilities and ensuring their rights are National Unity Government priorities,” said Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. “The government of Afghanistan is committed to changing the current situation of persons with disabilities, and will take all necessary action to provide them their rights and entitlements. As people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable within society, this National Conference is an outstanding opportunity to consult and seek participative input concerning the challenges they confront.”
According to the 2011 World Bank and World Health Organization’s World Report on Disability¹, there are more than one billion people globally living with disabilities. Afghanistan is further impacted by the protracted violence and conflict, and disabilities are all-too-common with women and children. The lack of services and proper accessibility to those throughout the country adds to the struggle of living with disabilities.
In recent years, the government of Afghanistan has taken a number of legislative and policy steps that demonstrate their commitment to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. In terms of international instruments, these steps include; signing and ratifying (in 2012) the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as well as its Optional Protocol – among other international legal protection frameworks. This conference serves as the next step toward operationalizing this commitment.
Counterpart International has been working to increase the capacity of civil society in Afghanistan for more than 14 years, empowering citizens to better address issues facing Afghan society. Currently, more than 40 Afghan civil society organizations (CSOs) are working to ensure the voice of people with disabilities are heard by government. Working with these civil society leaders, Counterpart is assisting the Afghan government in facilitating this groundbreaking conference.
“We’re proud to see this conference giving a voice to people with disabilities on a national stage,” said Joan Parker, Counterpart’s President and CEO. “We are grateful to the government of Afghanistan, President Ghani, the First Lady, Rula Ghani, and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for their willingness to continue improving services and national policy, and we are grateful to the US Agency for International Development for helping to make this conference possible,” Parker added.
The Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Kabul, Dennis Hearne, made remarks to the distinguished attendees on the first day of the conference. “The inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society and public discourse is vital to building a nation that values all citizens equally,” said Hearne, highlighting the commitment that the United States has made to support Afghanistan in furthering the rights of people with disabilities. “Afghanistan is working to raise awareness of the needs and challenges of persons with disabilities and to make policy that empowers their participation in government and society. But this change cannot happen without a concerted effort by the government, by civil society leaders, and by the international donor community.”
Hearne went on to note, “His Excellency President Dr. Ashraf Ghani and his Excellency Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, have shown their commitment to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and promoting a climate of non-discrimination in Afghanistan. This conference, with the attendance of the highest officials in the Afghan government, sends an important signal. It announces that the government of Afghanistan is a government of inclusion, even for those with the greatest barriers to participation.”
The two-day conference included a keynote presentation made by the First Lady of Afghanistan, Rula Ghani, and the Chief Executive, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, as well as remarks by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD) Minister, Dr. Nasrin Oryakhail. The opening session was followed by several panels focusing on Disability-Social Inclusion, Social Protection, and Security and Disability Challenges. On the second day, small group sessions will be hosted to facilitate the discussion around additional topics such as; health, education, gender and protection.
Photos from Day 1 of the National Disabilities Conference can be found here.
Counterpart International’s Afghan Civic Engagement Program builds the capacity of Afghan civil society leaders, organizations, and networks, as well as the media, to educate citizens on how to exercise their rights to ensure a more transparent and responsive government, and to increase civic participation. Afghanistan’s civil society represents and amplifies the voices of citizens and leaders. Funded by the US Agency for International Development, more than 150,000 citizens across 642 civil society organizations – particularly those led by or focused on women and youth – have become more viable, visible and vocal with ACEP’s support.
Counterpart International helps people build better lives and more durable futures, community by community. For 50 years, Counterpart has been an innovator, changing the way people look at, and solve, global development challenges. This year alone, Counterpart is working with 150,000 leaders – including women and youth – and more than 3,000 local organizations in 25 countries around the world. Learn more at counterpart.org.
 World Report on Disability, 2011. World Health Organization, World Bank. http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf