Thursday, April 24, 2008

Women with Disabilities Forum in Samoa

Women with disabilities often face double discrimination, because they are women and because they have disabilities. The first ever Women with Disabilities Forum took place in Apia, Samoa on 21 and 22 April 2008. As NZAID’s Megan McCoy reports, the forum provided an opportunity for women from across the Pacific to share their experiences and work together to bring about change.

Women at the forum shared what human rights mean to them - the right to go to school and participate just like any other child in school events, joining the youth group of their local church, making decisions about how they want to live their lives without their parents, being able to support themselves through employment, having a boyfriend, getting married and providing for a family.

They shared powerful stories about the discrimination they face, including how this can impact on their families. For some women, attending the meeting was the first time they had ever been out on their own without their families.

Discussions about human rights are even more pertinent today as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will finally come into force in the next week or two. This Convention draws on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants and spells out exactly what the rights within these instruments mean for persons with disabilities.

The meeting had a special focus on Women with Disabilities in Samoa. One of the goals of the meeting was to determine whether the local Disabled Persons Organisation, Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA) should form a Women with Disabilities Committee. On the afternoon of the final day, this goal was reached with the Samoan women voting in a committee of seven representatives and a special committee to represent the island of Savai'i.

Overall, the meeting was extremely inspiring. For an NZAID staff member based in Wellington, reading about the issues of disability for women can provide only some insight. It is hearing from the women themselves, being witness to their dedication and passion, that has provided motivation to continue the work that NZAID is doing in the Pacific.

The learning experience continues with the Annual General Meeting of the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) for the next two and a half days. NZAID, through the Pacific Regional Health Programme provides core funding to the PDF and this meeting will offer a valuable opportunity to see the PDF in action with their members.


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