In developing countries around the world, far too many people live without access to basic human rights due to simply being born with a physical or mental disability, because they are part of an indigenous minority in their country, or because they are female.
At Counterpart, we’ve spent the last 51 years refining and building on our commitment to social inclusion, making sure that we are designing programs and working with partners that strengthen and empower disenfranchised populations, from women and youth to the elderly and people with disabilities. Gender equality and social inclusion considerations are incorporated into the design of all of our programs, and our partners on the ground in more than 25 countries are chosen in part because of the work they do to ensure these citizens have a voice, receive services, and are granted legal protections.
Most recently, we’ve worked across our programs to make sure that we are empowering people with disabilities in every sector and at all levels of civil society.
In Malawi, we partner with a variety of groups that specifically support disenfranchised populations, including the Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi (FEDOMA), a group dedicated to promoting and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. We partner with FEDOMA to ensure that people with disabilities are represented within local government structures, and have access to the social protections that the government should provide to ensure a high quality of life. We also promote job training and social support programs, promoting economic empowerment as a way to ensure better access to health services and education for the people who need it most.
In Morocco, our Civil Society Strengthening Program partners with civil society organizations to protect and enhance the rights all people, regardless of sex, age, or disability. We’ve worked with the Commune of Fez to help the local government set up Entities for Parity, Equal Opportunities, and Gender Integration Approaches, ensuring that the input and needs of these groups are communicated and that change occurs at the local, regional, and national levels. One of our newest partnerships is with the White Dove Association, a group that has worked in Tetouan, a city outside of Tangiers in northern Morocco, to protect the rights of people with disabilities for more than 20 years. They take a broad approach, working with local business to ensure fair hiring practices, changing local policies to guarantee equal access to medical services, and they speak on the national and international stage to promote the rights of people with disabilities through forums like the UN General Assembly.
In Timor-Leste, we work with civil society to promote civic engagement with government representatives at the local, municipal, and national levels. In preparation for the 2016 Suco Council Elections (local government elections), our partners let us know the majority of people with visual disabilities reportedly found the ballots hard to read, particularly those that were handwritten – something that happens often in Timor-Leste. To combat this challenge and ensure that all people had the ability to participate in elections, Counterpart and our partners developed and published Braille ballot guides for the first time in Timor-Leste.
Through our Afghan Civic Engagement Program, we worked with our partners and emerging leaders to facilitate the National Conference for Persons with Disabilities in Kabul last year. The first event of its kind, over 430 people with disabilities came together with leaders from the government of Afghanistan, as well as US government representatives and other stakeholders, to help design and discuss policies and programs that would help to improve the lives of people with disabilities throughout Afghanistan. We are building on this success by partnering with the Embassy of Afghanistan, the US International Council on Disabilities, and the US-Afghan Women’s Council to support the Afghan Disability Rights Conference: From Policy to Programming in May 2017 right here in Washington DC.
Together with our partners, we show our commitment to social inclusion every day in every one of our programs, around the world and right here at home. In countries where these disenfranchised populations often struggle to find acceptance or participate in civil society, we give them a voice, make sure that their valuable contributions are heard and respected, and ensure that governments are providing the basic rights, services, and representation that all citizens deserve.