3 Questions to Right Livelihood Award Laureate 2017 Yetnebersh Nigussie

Yetnebersh Nigussie is a human rights activist from Ethiopia who lost her sight at the age of five. She started her work in the international disability movement in a collaboration project with Visually Impaired National Association through MyRight.

How can we make the world focus on the person, and not the disability?
The social model of disability is the right lens to change how a person and their disability are viewed. The understanding of disability as a social construct focuses on the person “first” and on removing the barriers which are disabling preventing the person from interacting with their environment. I entered this world first; not my disability.

Why is it important to support civil society, and disability organizations working to empower persons with disabilities to advocate for their rights and to counter discrimination?
Countering discrimination requires continuous engagement and evidence-based arguments that demystify prejudices. Persons with disabilities have experienced discrimination. They can bring these to the forefront in their organizations and propose solutions on how to tackle those discriminatory policies and practices. Ending disability-based discrimination is in fact a shared value for all human rights activists. Nevertheless, empowered organizations of persons with disabilities are indispensable leaders of the fight against discrimination and responsible for sustaining its ultimate success.

Disability and development organizations, including My Right and Light for the World, bring huge returns to the whole development discourse and particularly to ending inequality of any form.

What challenges do you meet connecting national realities with international frameworks?
The main challenges I meet in trying to connect national realities to international frameworks are predominantly those of mindset. They evolve around lack of accountability, inadequate finance and overlook of crosscutting issues like gender.

It is necessary to use international accountability mechanisms for monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). However, this is only sufficient if global advocacy is informed by experiences from the grassroots and if they make the globally agreed goals and rights also change the lives of those in the rural villages of Africa and Latin America.

Another big challenge is the disconnect between policy aspirations and budget allocations. Disability inclusion requires committed funding and dedicated resource. Evidence shows that funding for disability inclusion is hardly available. For instance, only 1% of international humanitarian Aid is used for supporting disability inclusion. There is a need to interpret policy commitments in to concrete actions by allocating sufficient budget.

Last, but not least, I'd like to underline the lack of gender focus. Women with disabilities were historically placed outside both the disability and the gender movement. Targeted actions are required to make sure that our international frameworks also respond to gender sensitive development of the disability movement.

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