Persons with Disabilities (PWD) across the globe have been struggling with many aspects of their lives; such as discrimination and exclusion. They suffer on a daily basis with transportation, access to services, communication, information and lack of inclusive infrastructure in general. In addition to basic services, the struggle goes on in education, access to health care, and labour as well; which affects national development as countries lose 7% of gross domestic product by excluding people with disabilities, according to the International Labour Organisation.
As a result, exclusion happens; large numbers of Persons with Disabilities live in isolation and remain disconnected from their communities, and the world, as discrimination affects their cultural lives, especially in regard to the lack of access to technology. In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD) as an instrument to establish and preserve their rights and dignity, and as a method to protect their human rights.
The UN adopted the CRPD as a result of decades of hard work to change the world’s perspective on PWDs; to view them as subjects with rights and the capability of claiming those rights and making decisions as active members of society. This is in contrast to viewing them as objects of charities, medical treatment, and social protection. The CPRD’s broad categorisation includes persons with disabilities, social development dimension and stresses disability rights and fundamental freedoms.
In Sudan, statistics relating to disability were collected as part of the 1993 population census; Persons with Disabilities were estimated to be 1.5% of the population, with males being 53% of the group. The statistic indicated that they mostly exist in rural areas where their suffering is doubled as they face all the general sorts of problems in addition to discrimination. In 2008 the percentage was estimated at 4.8% of the population, and that is the latest available official statistic.
Disability in Sudan
Sudan signed the CPRD in March 2007 and ratified the convention in April 2009 as a legislative step to show commitment to improvements. Even before that the Constitution of Sudan recognised the rights of PWD: -
“The Republic of Sudan shall guard justice and prompt social solidarity to establish a basic structure of society that provides the highest standard of living for every citizen and fairly distribute the national income, curtailing excesses and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable, elderly and handicapped.”
However, lots of changes need to be made, even to the constitution itself, to make it more human rights-based.
“There are lots of challenges regarding disability in Sudan; obstacles in accessing information and the media for example, as the outlets, discriminate against disability in their programmes. Also, using available technology is an issue, accessing public facilities, transportations and the list goes on. People with disabilities suffer from the discriminating infrastructure in public institutions, and often they are not able to use public transport which leads to paying high prices to private taxis,” Colonel Pension Bader Eldin Ahmed, the Secretary-General of Supreme Council of Persons with Disabilities in Sudan, told 7Dnews.
He explains that all the basic needs are a constant struggle for persons with disabilities in Sudan. “There are some types of disabilities that allow people to attend public schools, although the schools aren’t equipped, such as movement disabilities. However, for other types, they need to go to specialised institutions. There are only a few of those schools and they lack sufficient staff, due to the lack of qualified teachers, and though in Sudan Education is inclusive in terms of policies, inclusion is far from the reality.”
“Obstacles differ according to the disability; there are no appropriate schools for inclusion and specialised centres are unreasonably expensive,” Marwa Hassan, Communication and Speech specialist, told 7Dnews. “Education and rehabilitation cost tons of money which most families don’t have, and unfortunately most of them are single mothers struggling alone to care for their children. Furthermore, there is no medical insurance; the prices of treatments as physical therapy and regular medications are very high and there’s a rising black market for medicines. There are cooperative doctors, but still not enough. All of those problems add up to the general hard-living which affects the nutrition of people with disabilities as well.”
Bader Elddin thinks that health problems extend to more than the cost, as facilities are not equipped to provide medical services for persons with disabilities. He says that most public places, transport, public-sector institutions and service-providing sectors, hospitals as well, are discriminating. “If a person with movement disability, for example, went to the hospital and was instructed to provide a stool or urine sample for testing, they wouldn’t be able to do that as they can’t access or use the bathrooms of the hospital, and that includes big health facilities as well.”
One of the rights of PWD is inclusion in the civil service and labour markets. In Sudan this right of inclusion is only implemented in the public sector, applying to less than 2% of employees, but still, there is discrimination about the positions they can get assigned to and stereotyping regarding the jobs. All these factors deprive PWD of their fundamental rights to economic growth. “Part of the issues related to labour goes back to the educational system that fails to provide the same quality and lacks the tools to spread knowledge properly,” Bader Elddin explains.
“Unfortunately, there are people with severe disabilities that can’t even work and make a living independently, and though the state is supposed to provide for them, the support is neither sufficient nor sustainable. But, in general, most persons with disabilities tend to start their own small projects and businesses using their talents in crafts, and we try our best to help in providing access to financial support for them,” says Bader Elddin. However, Marwa told 7Dnews that neither the previous government nor the current one is supportive.
Rights and Social Awareness
Many initiatives and NGOs are working on social awareness in this regard. They are trying to enlighten communities about the rights and capabilities of persons with disabilities and advance their rights at the same time. The Disability and Development Report 2018, “Realising the Sustainable Development Goals by, for and with Persons with Disabilities”, by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, states that disability has been included in various targets and as a cross-cutting issue in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, and stresses the need to ensure that the goals will be achieved for PWD too.
Despite Sudan’s early commitment to the rights of disability, implementation remains an issue in the country. “Implementation wasn’t fulfilled, and that shows in Sudan’s submitted report to the UN’s commission of the rights of persons with disability. The commission made many remarks about the flaws in Sudan’s implementation of the convention, in addition to making recommendations to improve the situation. I personally think there was a lack of political willingness and lack of awareness which affected all the rights,” Alradi Abdullah, Disability Rights’ Advocate, told 7Dnews.
“There’s a major issue in capacity building as well. Sometimes even when the state had good intentions, they didn’t use the right approach; in education for example, though the policy is inclusion, they established isolating schools. The right approach would uphold inclusion and have Human Rights as basic principles. Also, many times, the previous government used disability causes for their personal benefit.”
‘We Are All the Same’
“The policy side isn’t the only issue; there’s a social stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities, especially those of a mental nature. Females suffer more from this and it has to be addressed through awareness raising and constant social efforts towards inclusion,” Bader Elddin told 7Dnews. Marwa also seconds that opinion by saying that society mistreats PWDs in many ways. “There is no inclusion or acceptance at any stage from elementary schools to the workplace,” she says. “Unfortunately, during my career, I came across many cases where parents had to withdraw their children from schools because of pressure from other parents on the administration.”
“Persons with disabilities are active members of society. They participated in the revolution and the first martyr in Sudan, Mohamed Eisa, was a person with a disability, in addition to many well-known activists who fought for political change. Despite that, their causes are yet to exist on the government agenda; they are not in the announced plans or any talks. Although justice is one of the main values of the revolution, the disability situation remains unclear in the political programmes,” says Alradi.
“Inclusion must be a priority, not just in the society but also in the political programmes, policies, legislations and they must be included in parliament to raise their issues, advocate their rights and speak for themselves, in addition to having disability-sensitive policy-making strategies.”
The main theme this year for the UN is inclusion; an important factor and a fundamental right. In Sudan, however, a national campaign called the “Basmat Khair” initiative, starting on December 3rd for one month, has a different theme, “We are All the Same”.
Hadeel Abdul Samea, from the initiative, told 7Dnews that their main goal is to show society how active and positive PWDs are. “We call it Green December, and this is the third year for the campaign. We have galleries, shows, awareness-raising workshops, children activities, and many other programmes and they are all by PWD.”
“We want to enlighten the community, families of PWD, public institutions, schools and many other entities about Disability Rights, in addition to showcasing the talents and artworks of PWD. We will go on for the whole month, and we hope to achieve our goals”, she says, adding that they will also go to the city of Kosti in a comprehensive convoy of medical and logistic services to provide assistance and hold awareness-raising workshops in there.