The Department of Social Affairs and Gender of the ECOWAS Commission commemorated the 2020 International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), with a two-day events on, Thursday, 18th and Friday, 19th March 2021, in Abuja, Nigeria. The theme of the event was ‘FROM COVID-19 TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE AND RESILIENT ECOWAS FOR ALL PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES; LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND’. The global theme for the IDPD 2020 was “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 World”.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed annually on the 3rd of December in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution 47/3 which seeks to promote a better understanding of disability issues, and aims to mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. The purpose of the resolution is also to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.
The ECOWAS Commission hosted the event in collaboration with the Deaf Women’s Association of Nigeria to remind everyone of the plight of the persistent stigma and discrimination faced by persons with disabilities, and the challenges they encounter in accessing basic social services and economic opportunities. These barriers have further increased due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, the ECOWAS Commission in commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities has called for more action to ensure the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities and their inclusion in all aspects of society and development within the region. In particular, the Commission urges policymakers and stakeholders in West Africa to prioritize support for the dignity, rights and the well-being of persons with disabilities in the context of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commissioner, Social Affairs and Gender, ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne, in her opening remarks at the virtual dialogue amongst policymakers and stakeholders buttressed the importance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities by recalling the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres statement that “societies will never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without the full participation of everyone, including people with disabilities. Upholding the rights of people with disabilities is a moral imperative”.’
She reiterated the ECOWAS Commission’s commitment to a more inclusive community and urged all ECOWAS stakeholders and partners to elaborate policies and to implement actions in all areas of their work, to reflect the current realities of the persons with disabilities, which will contribute to effective participation and integration into the society.
Dr. Jagne stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities and has highlighted gaps that need to be addressed to enable persons with disabilities exercise their rights. She therfore called for more efforts to be made to improve access to essential services such as health services, shopping centres, public transport, personal communication, and access to information services that would enable persons with different disabilities to enjoy their human rights the same way as persons without disabilities.
In her concluding remarks, she said that in line with the strategic role of the ECOWAS Commission in promoting social inclusion of all persons in the region, the Department has initiated a regional study on disability inclusion with a view to develop Regional Action Plan to serve as a framework to promote disability mainstreaming.
Mr. Lefhoko Kesamang, representative of the African Union Commission, in his remarks stated that there will be no sustainable development in ECOWAS unless all vulnerable persons especially persons with disabilities are taken on board. He recalled that the Heads of State and Government of the African Union, in the realization of the importance of the inclusion of Persons with Disabilities adopted the AU Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples‘ Rights on the Rights of Persons of Disabilities in Africa. The Protocol has so far been signed by seven countries in Africa and he urged the ECOWAS Members States to ratify the Protocol, which will address the issues of disability and contribute to the Africa we want and to the ECOWAS of the People.
Deaconess Adedoyin Beyioku-Alase, President, Deaf Women‘s Association of Nigeria said that the deaf community is in a very vulnerable state, which has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the prevention measures and protocols have made things very difficult for them. She however called for legislation that would ensure more inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.
Mr. James Lalu, the Secretary-General, National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD), said that women are the most affected amongst Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) and therefore commended the ECOWAS Commission for its collaboration with the Deaf Women’s Association of Nigeria. The National Commission is ready to collaborate with ECOWAS Commission in all aspects to improve the livelihoods of PLWDs across the sub region he concluded.
The Director, Humanitarian and Social Affairs, Dr. Sintiki Tarfa Ugbe chaired the media briefing on the the second day of the event and the discussion with the media focused on disability-inclusive recovery from COVID-19, and in particular how to ensure effective and timely access to COVID-19 vacines. The importance of the media and how they can play an important role in amplifying the voices of the person with disabilities was stressed at the briefing.
The two-day event climaxed with the distribution of palliatives of rice, vegetable oil, and indomie noodles to 225 targetted Person Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) as a demonstration of ECOWAS commitment to contribute to the COVID recovery response. In compliance with the COVID-19 prevention measures and protocols, the ECOWAS Commission provided facemasks and hand sanitizers and ensured that distribution of the palliatives was done in batches to avoid overcrowding.