Advancing disability rights in Sierra Leone
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize inclusion as a critical element in transforming the world and ending poverty for everyone. ‘Inclusion’ means making sure that change for the better is for everyone, including that often-marginalized groups – like persons with disabilities, young people or women – get to equally enjoy the benefits of the changes (such as jobs, or better education or healthcare).
Sierra Leone has made notable progress in promoting inclusive development. It brought the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into its own domestic Disability Act in 2011. Following this, Sierra Leone established the National Commission for Persons with Disability in 2012 to ensure that the Disability Act was put into practice.
But, the Disability Act of 2011 has been criticized for not being implemented well. In particular, the government did not have a strategy to make sure that people with a particular interest in the outcome of the Disability Act – especially persons with disabilities (PWDs) themselves – could make their views and priorities known before and after national elections. Even interested decision makers did not have the relevant information about and knowledge of disability issues to inform their plans for new pro-disability laws and policies.
Poor coordination between the relevant players in the disability sector in Sierra Leone made these challenges worse. Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) struggled to access, lobby, influence and engage members of the parliament on key public policy issues affecting PWDs. There was limited support to the disability umbrella body which struggled to effectively mobilise its membership to articulate their voices on critical issues affecting PWDs.
With support from UK Aid through the Standing Together for Democracy Consortium, WFD and the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI) partnered up to reach the PWDs community across Sierra Leone. WFD supported SLUDI to develop the PWDs National Agenda which was used to advocate for the inclusion and voice of PWDs in the electoral and political process of the 2018 elections and beyond. The PWD Agenda was the first document that articulated the priorities of PWDs to be used to engage political parties, parliament, electoral bodies, and Civil Society Organisations in making sure that inclusion became a priority issue in shaping the debate around the 2018 elections.
What is more, WFD trained 29 CSOs and DPOs and 14 political parties on how to use the PWD Agenda to develop inclusive manifestos for the 2018 elections. The PWD Agenda became a popular document among the disability community in engaging each of the political parties, and resulted in concrete disability priorities being integrated in the manifestos of the key political parties now in Parliament (SLPP, APC, NGC and CFC).
WFD also helped to link up SLUDI with the Human Rights and Social Services Committee in Parliament. SLUDI gave presentations to the committee, enhancing immediate support for Parliament to push the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs to release funds to support the National Commission for Persons with Disability. Disability issues were integrated into the induction of Members of Parliament and MPs became more aware of the issues and priorities of PWDs.
Through funds from the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D), WFD continued to support PWDs in Sierra Leone after the 2018 elections to advance disability issues in Parliament and local councils, through stakeholder awareness raising, coordination and South-South learning. CP4D support to Parliament resulted to the development of inclusive policies in Parliament, which has now committed funds to implement its first disability-specific policy for MPs and staff.
After the South-South learning from South Africa and Uganda, SLUDI has been able to overhaul and develop its organisational policies, has strengthened its internal coordination and voice among its DPO membership, and was able to use what it learned to improve its engagements with government, donors like World Bank and DFID, and other CSOs such as Christian Aid. The organisation now attracts direct funding and the government has been engaging it as a key player on national issues like the development of the Medium Term National Development Plan, the National Cohesion Conference, and the National Budgeting Process.
“After WFD’s support, we were proud to make our voices heard in all the district consultations on the national budgeting process.”
– Santigie Kargbo, President of SLUDI
Through CP4D, WFD also supported the placement of a coordination support facilitator at the Freetown City Council. This individual helps mobilise partners and facilitate communication for stronger coordination between Freetown City Council and organisations working on disability issues.
Similarly, WFD provides support to enhance the coordination between and among the Ministry of Social Welfare and its relevant partners. This support has enabled successful coordination on the writing of Sierra Leone’s first UNCRPD report on the status of disability in Sierra Leone, while also promoting joint action for supporting the disability component of the Freetown City Council.
All the local and city councils across Sierra Leone have been made more aware of emerging disability issues. What is more, councils have made commitments to address challenges related to better disability support, coordination and data generation and increasing the reach of council development programmes to more PWDs.