A few years ago I was in Kabul Afghanistan and spoke with some middle aged woman who worked as Afghani agronomists. I asked them how they got their training – given Afghanistan’s history of education for women. They said they were the right age for high school and university during the Soviet occupation of Kabul when women had the most rights they’d ever had in Afghanistan. Following the pull out of the Soviets, these women didn’t work, and their daughters couldn’t go to school. Now, under the watchful eye of the West, they are allowed to work again.
I thought about these women when I read an article from the New York Times dealing with the “rights” of women in Afghanistan. Sadly, the situation there has hardly improved since my trip just a couple years ago. Issues like a woman’s right to consent to marriage or a girl’s freedom to go school are still in jeopardy.
How do you embed someone’s rights – like women – in a place like Afghanistan? How do you educate and change an entire set of cultural norms of a nation to recognize others as their equals?
It’s a difficult mater to take on, and a problem that cannot be resolved overnight. Change will have to come from the inside out, and this takes time.
But what does this have to do with disability and cbm Canada?
One of our objectives is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities to education, health care, development aid, and the everyday activities that all of us enjoy. These are “rights”. What is unfortunate is that in order to extend these rights to people with disabilities it requires effort, resources, time, and a change in cultural norms.
It requires a new way of thinking – of society valuing all people the same. The goal should be to build communities that are willing to work together and look out for one another.
I was privileged to see a community just like this during a trip I took to Zimbabwe. I was visiting a rural village when I noticed some construction at the edge of the playing field. The headmaster of the school saw me taking interest in the projects, and he told me they were building a latrine. But this wasn’t a typical latrine like the many others the school had built. This one was being specifically constructed for two boys with a disability.
I asked the headmaster what made the school decide to take on such a project. I was expecting him to tell me that some NGO had provided the funding. I was surprised to learn that the villagers themselves had come to the school and said there were two children who couldn’t go to the school because there were no toilet facilities for them. The community came to the school and insisted that this barrier be removed.
The issue was as simple as a school bathroom, but the community took a stand for these children and helped create a facility that allowed them to get an education.
You know what? I don’t worry about the rights of children with disabilities in that village. They’ve demonstrated an attitude of inclusivity, and brought about change. And by doing so, they’ve embedded the rights of these two children into their community.