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Historical archive

“Reaching the most vulnerable”

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion

Disability in Conflicts and Emergencies                           
 “Reaching the most vulnerable”    
Oslo 30-31 May 2011
Audun Lysbakken, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion

Distinguished participants,

As minister for coordination of the policy for persons with disabilities and responsible for the anti discriminatory legislations, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this important conference.
How to ensure persons with disabilities during and after crisis and emergencies? Every person should be met with respect for her or his inherent dignity, persons with disabilities not excluded.
Nevertheless; we do know that people with disabilities more often than not are left behind and not reached before, during and after crisis and emergencies.
We also know that to be able to include persons with disabilities in the initial phases of relief work as well as in the phases of reconstruction and recovery, we must be aware of and understand the special challenges people with disabilities meet.
Without concrete plans and designs on how to include persons with disabilities; they will remain invisible and will not be ensured during and after crises and emergencies.

Norway can play a role internationally.
The 5th of May I had a meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay, where we discussed Human Rights and the importance of a strengthened and systematic effort to promote vulnerable groups. I believe that Norway can play an important role in this field internationally.
We have worked to include persons with disabilities on an equal basis in our society for decades. Our experience and knowledge nationally give us a good platform to cooperate internationally, in emergencies as well as in development issues.

I must underline that we are lucky to have a strong disability movement to push us forward. We have regular cooperation with the organizations of persons with disabilities and they are shaping our agenda end pushing us.

My ministry’s portfolio is families, children, young people and equality.The Norwegian approach is to mainstream equality and anti-discrimination on all grounds and into all areas of society and to identify multiple discrimination and unequal treatment. 

In June 2008 a new law came into force in Norway, the Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act. The purpose of the Act is to promote equality and ensure equal opportunities for all persons and to prevent discrimination on the grounds of disability. It applies in all areas of society, i.e. in the labor market, housing, goods and services.
The Act shall help to dismantle disabling barriers created by society and to prevent new ones from being created. There is a requirement of universal design which applies to buildings, facilities and outdoor areas. Thus we have a vision that Norway shall be universally designed by 2025.

No matter how undesirable conflicts and emergencies are, they open an opportunity window. If we have the political will, and plan properly we can make society accessible to all. Accessibility is a prerequisite for community participation. Accessibility will include more people in society, including the growing elderly population. I believe this is an area where Norway and countries rebuilding after crisis and emergencies can join forces, and make a difference.

Negative attitudes towards persons with disabilities.
Many people might think that making communication, installations and supplies accessible in a situation of crisis and emergencies, would not be appropriate and a priority. They might consider it too costly and time consuming, and the most important task being to reach the larger community affected.  But not doing so will mean that people with disabilities are left behind, not reached and discriminated against.

Both in refugee camps and in settlements for victims from natural disasters, is it possible to design for everyone. Access to water, water taps and water pumps is essential for survival and for your health. With careful consideration and respect for inclusion of all, they can be designed to fit both persons who are blind and persons with mobility impairment. The same goes for toilets.  Can you imagine what it means not having accessible toilets for mobility impaired in a refugee camp?
There are examples of good universal toilet designs for refugee camps, the knowledge has to be universally known and the installations produced. It should be a prerequisite for financial support to all aid organizations to make their help accessible to all.

Another example is the products and equipments used in catastrophes. Experience in refugee camps show that the design of the equipment seldom takes into account that the recipients are of different sex, age and functional ability.  To develop universal design for such equipment would benefit not only persons with disability. Would it be convenient to cooperate with designers to mainstream such equipment?

Children and women are especially vulnerable.
We embrace the fact that children are especially vulnerable in conflicts and emergencies. There are many states and organizations helping children in these situations. But there is still a lot to do to ensure that children with disabilities are reached and have access to the programs run by these service providers.
The executive committee of UN High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that children with disabilities are at a greater risk of abuse, neglect, health concerns, and the denial of right to education than other children.  There is a call upon all states, UNCHR and relevant partners to enable children and youth with disabilities to access appropriate protection, assistance and education.

Likewise to ensure the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. I am convinced that Norway, with its national experience of inclusion and gender equality has valuable experience which can be transferred to international cooperation. We are already engaged in programs reaching children and women, and we should accept the challenge to find appropriate ways to include children and women with disabilities in the programs we support.

This is crucial when we want to protect women in war and in refugee camps against sexual abuses. Women with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and will need special attention. How do we secure that women with disabilities are protected?
There is an intersection between HIV/AIDS and disability. Communication about preventive measures in many countries does not reach persons that are deaf or persons that are blind. The right to medical assessment and treatment is a right for all persons, regardless of disability and gender.
We stipulate that at least 10 % of the world’s population is persons with disabilities. UNHCR believe that the proportion is even higher among refugees, due to injuries caused by a disaster or during a war. Apart from the difficulties persons with disabilities face during the crisis and while in camps, they also face difficulties in resettlement.

The need for universal design in recovery, reconstruction and development.
Our national policy of inclusion of disability must be mirrored in our international cooperation.
In March this year, Norad, in cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability, hosted an international seminar with representatives from Governments, DPO’s, NGO’ and the UN, on mainstreaming disability. I understand that the meeting identified obstacles and solutions as to why it was difficult to include persons with disabilities in development cooperation.

I believe there is an important connection between the seminar hosted by Norad in March, and this conference. Today’s program concentrates on recovery, reconstruction and development. No matter how undesirable crises are, they give a window of opportunity to rebuild an inclusive society. I would believe that the identification of the obstacles, included the lack of political focus, and the solutions are the same.
At the above mentioned seminar the Minister of the Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, said he was looking forward to the conclusions of the seminar, and would consider the results. As responsible minister for the coordination of the disability policy and international conventions in the Cabinet, I will strive to find proper ways to ensure that our national policy is reflected in our international work in crisis and emergencies, as well as in development, in a stronger and better way than before.

I am sure that you will have an interesting day, and I am looking forward to read the statement from the meeting!


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