Berlin. - When Abia Akram from Pakistan meets with a parliamentarian in Islamabad it happens that she is asked not to ruin the office´s carpet with her wheelchair. This only reconfirms the reason why she is having a meeting in the first place. Akram is a disability advocate, working in Pakistan and internationally. She empowers women with disabilities through education, training and advocacy. She holds two Master´s degrees and was the first woman with disabilities to receive a prestigious scholarship to study in the UK. Together with Kudakwashe Dube, CEO of the Africa Disability Alliance, Akram attended the Dialogue Forum "No post-2015-Agenda without us", where disability advocates from the Global South met with representatives of German disability associations.
As almost everywhere, people with disabilities face major obstacles when it comes to participation on all levels in society. In Pakistan people with disabilities are pitied, isolated and hidden from society. “Some consider disability as a punishment from God”, said Akram explaining people´s attitudes. People with disabilities are too easily forgotten and silenced. They are not counted; some of them have no ID´s or birth certificates and they are often left behind and face harassment and abuse. When disaster strikes, humanitarians aim to help as many people as possible, but that often means they help those who are most visible: non-disabled men. Akram works on mainstreaming disability into disaster management and at the same time empower women with disabilities and make sure their voices are heard. This is the so-called twin-track approach to disability and development, which is also used by CBM to break the vicious cycle of poverty and disability.
Dube and Akram both agree that their disabilities are not the real problem. It is society, which disables them. And they are on a mission to fix society. Not only in Pakistan and South Africa, but globally. This is why they are touring Europe, meeting politicians and disability advocates in Berlin, Brussels and Strasbourg.
The aim is to discuss the post-2015-development-agenda (SDGs) with representatives from the Global North as the SDGs are also for industrialized states. The advocates want to make sure the SDGs are inclusive. Among the 17 SDGs disability is addressed in regard to education, employment and infrastructure. But the disability advocates worry that if the matter is not strongly embedded in the SDGs it might undermine the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The SDGs should refer to the convention and support it. Disability must be a cross-cutting issue linked to human rights, health, poverty, disaster management and gender equality. "We don´t need a ministry of disability and disability should not just be part of the ministry of health, but considered by all ministries" Akram explained.
Kudakwashe Dube has more than 30 years of experience in development and advocated for inclusive laws when South Africa reviewed its legislation in the post-apartheid period. He also advises media on how to cover people with disabilities, similar to leidmedien.de in Germany.
Akram and Dube have high expectations of Germany. They hope the country holding the G7-presidency this year pushes for more inclusiveness and convinces other states that the economic costs of exclusion are much higher than including people with disabilities.
On the way from the hotel to the venue of the Dialogue Forum it was not possible to get one of the two taxis in Berlin (a city of 3.5 million people), which can accommodate wheelchairs. Both cars were out of order. People with wheelchairs are left to navigating the streets along the sidewalks´ low curbs.
At the Dialogue Forum organized by CBM, the Federal Government Commissioner for Matters relating to Disabled Persons Verena Bentele reminded everyone that Germany did not get a very positive review on its performance in regard to people with disabilities, yet. Together with disability advocates from Germany common goals and claims are discussed.