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Welcoming statement by Mm. Isatou Sanyang, Chairperson, GFD Board

Aug 21, 2012, 11:32 AM

Last week GFD, in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare, converged intellectuals and experts from diferent walks of life  in the Civil Society Community, different ministries and departments of the government, the Media community and the members of  the Disabled People Organisation at Kariaba Beach Hotel, to validate the first ever bill drafted to protect and promote the  Rights of  Persons With Disabilities in The Gambia.

The seminar was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Below we reproduce in full, the statement by the Chair Person of the Gambia Federation of Persons With Disability, Isatou Sanyang.

Chairperson, Honorable Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Director of the Department of Social Welfare, the Solicitor General, delegations on the high table, dignitaries from various ministries, the representative from the UNDP, our sponsor today, dear participants from NGOs and civil society, and all other protocols duly observed, I greet you all with respect.

Dear Chairperson, I am delighted to receive you all here this morning to validate this draft disability bill. This session is going to focus on the wellbeing and needs ofpersons withdisabilities who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. For many years, the Gambia Federation of the Disabled has worked in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare to support the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities, but today is a historic event as we review the draft Disability Bill.

The Gambia Federation of the Disabled has been working closely with the Department of Social Welfare, our line department, for many years now, as we work towards the domestication of section 31 of the Constitution of the Gambia, ending discrimination against people with disabilities in this country. Back in 2009, the Department of Social Welfare and the Gambia Federation of the Disabled worked on the Disability Policy, which is now waiting for adoption by the Government.

The Gambia is one of the few countries on the African continent not to have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Today, we continue to work with Government, across different ministries, asking for consideration of persons with disabilities in programming. We applaud those Ministries that are already ahead; the Special Needs Unit within the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education is implementing their Special Needs Educational Policy, and the National Employment Policy and Plan talks about affirmative action for people with disabilities in the area of employment. However, this Bill is to support over-arching legislation, so that the rights of people with disabilities are not just captured in some areas, but in every area.

People with disabilities make up between 10 – 15% of any population, and that figure rises in a developing country, in a country with malaria and with road traffic accidents. That means that almost 1 in 5 people in the Gambia has a disability; we each have someone in our family, or a friend, a work colleague or people in our community with a disability, and we have a duty to them today, to protect and promote their rights.

We need to work to prevent disability by making our roads safer, by making childbirth safer and by reducing levels of malnutrition. We also need to support people who become disabled, particularly children and older people, who are more vulnerable.

We all know that life in the Gambia is very difficult for people with disabilities. Facing stigma and discrimination, many children with disabilities are not sent to school by their families, and therefore have limited access to training or employment opportunities later in life. Last month, one of GFD’s members carried out research up-country and found cases of children with epilepsy who were asked to leave the school by their teacher. The teacher thought that they would infect their classmates. We know that epilepsy is not an infectious disease, but these children were still being denied their right to education. In healthcare, we surveyed 228 staff across the country; 93% of them requested training in the area of disability so that they could improve services given to their patients.

It is a common misunderstanding that including people with disabilities costs money. And that can be used as an excuse not to take action. However, does it cost more to build a ramp than to build steps? No. Does it cost more to make a toilet door wider, so that a wheelchair user can go in? No.

Just last month Trust Bank re-built their Bakau branch building. They did not include a ramp. We wrote to them asking for fair access to the building for people with disabilities, and are very happy to see that construction on a ramp started on Saturday. Trust Bank can see the importance of people with disabilities using their services; people with disabilities can have bank accounts, be students, run businesses and be successful employees, if society enables them to do so. Often this only requires some small planning in advance.

However, dear Chairperson, as I said earlier, today marks a historic day in the life of persons with disabilities in the Gambia as this bill we have in front of us here today, is the first ever drafted bill on the rights of persons with disabilities in this country.  It is the beginning of a journey, a journey in which we promote the rights of persons with disabilities, and lift them up from being amongst some of the most vulnerable in society. There may be big challenges along the way, but I would like to thank you for being here with us today to keep the rock rolling.

I would not like to conclude my speech without re-acknowledging the presence and support of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare through Her Excellency the Honorable Minister, the Department of Social Welfare, our line department, through whose request and guidance this bill has been developed. We are saying a big thank you to UNDP particularly for joining us on the journey to promote and regain our rightsand also thank you to the participants for answering our calls. I welcome you all to this important gathering and wish you a fruitful session. We look forward to working in partnership with you all in the months and years to come.