The pandemic has “really laid bare some inequalities” facing those with disabilities, says USIP’s Elizabeth Murray. But last week’s Global Disability Summit offered “an opportunity for disability inclusion to be integrated across U.S. foreign policy,” particularly when it comes to peacebuilding programs.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Julie Mason 
Elizabeth Murray is senior program officer in the Africa program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. She recently attended virtually the World Disability Summit. She's here to talk about it. Hi, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Murray 
Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Julie Mason 
Really great to have you. This is such an interesting topic, because it always seems like wow, we've made so much progress, but then the more you dig around in this issue, you see how much there is still to be done.

Elizabeth Murray 
Absolutely, there's so much more to be done. And I think particularly on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis, if we can even say that we're on the heels of it, we can see that the past two years have really laid bare some inequalities that were always there and surfaced some new ones. So this was one of the themes of the Global Disability Summit that was held last week, as you said: How to build back in an inclusive manner. A number of inequalities were discussed. One that really stood out to me was around the area of education. So prior to the pandemic, there were millions of children with disabilities who were outside of school. After the pandemic, we see that that proportion has increased significantly. So those virtual schooling opportunities were not serving students with disabilities in the same way as other students.

Julie Mason 
That's depressing. Did any commitments come out of the summit?

Elizabeth Murray 
Tons of commitments came out of the summit. It was incredibly well attended, co-sponsored by the governments of Ghana and Norway and the International Disability Alliance, a lot of high-level participation. And hundreds of commitments have come in, including from the United States. So this was exciting. This was the first time that we made commitments. We made 23 commitments. Yeah, it's really exciting. These range from deepening our efforts on inclusive education, which we just discussed, supporting the engagement of people with disabilities in civic and political life, making disability inclusion a cross cutting theme throughout humanitarian assistance, which is so important, and 20 others. So, I really felt like this was an opportunity for disability inclusion to be integrated across US foreign policy. We can see that this is a priority for the administration: President Biden nominated Sara Minkara as the special advisor on International Disability Rights last November. As you likely know, this position had been vacant for several years. So I think we're really seeing with the appointment of Special Advisor Minkara, with all of these commitments, we're really seeing the administration focusing on this, which is wonderful to see.

Julie Mason 
Well, it's very interesting that at the last Global Disability Summit in 2018, the U.S. made no commitments. Why is that?

Elizabeth Murray 
It's hard to say. I think disability wasn't as much of a priority for the previous administration.

Julie Mason 
Ah, for the Trump administration, you don't think? We laugh because it's sad, but you know, you're right.

Elizabeth Murray 
But I actually also think that the success of the previous summit in 2018 really led people to mobilize around this one. So we're seeing more commitments rolling in. The first summit in 2018 really helped to set the tone for disability inclusion over the past several years. And with such success, more and more stakeholders mobilized to this summit to make more commitments to really shape the next several years, and to deepen international commitment towards the implementation of the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is the cornerstone of international disability law.

Julie Mason 
How is the global movement on addressing disabilities?

Elizabeth Murray 
The global movement on addressing disabilities is incredibly vibrant. Yet people with disabilities remain systematically excluded in many domains, including in peacebuilding. We see that, in spite of the fact that people with disabilities are more likely to be affected during conflict, more likely to have a hard time accessing humanitarian aid, they are nearly entirely excluded from peacebuilding. They're not often present at formal peace processes, and of equal importance, they're not often included in the thousands and thousands of peacebuilding programs that are underway at any given moment, across the world. So we really have a ways to go. When I look at the peacebuilding field I see that it's now a matter of practice to include women and youth in peacebuilding. And we certainly do not do that perfectly, but it's something that's taken under consideration as something that we try to do. But it's still somehow acceptable in a lot of circles to just leave people with disabilities out of peacebuilding. And if we're not making a deliberate effort to be inclusive, we're probably being exclusive.

Julie Mason 
Really, really interesting. Elizabeth Murray is senior program officer in the Africa program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, joining us with a report on World Disability Summit. And before I let you go, is there demonstrable difference in the progress on disability inclusion when we compare like industrialized modern countries with those countries that are still coming up?

Elizabeth Murray 
That's a great question. I think we see that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it's been ratified by more than 180 countries. So I think there's broad consensus around the need for inclusion in all areas, including peacebuilding. But what we see is that on the ground, this hasn't really become a reality for people with disabilities. So I think there's agreement, broadly, but the action really hasn't followed. And I think the key here is partnering with organizations of people with disabilities and putting people with disabilities in the lead. People with disabilities know how to advance their own rights. They're experts not only on their own rights, they are experts more broadly. So putting people with disabilities as experts, as leaders, is really central to advancing this agenda. And the disability movement is vibrant, it's stepping up to take this leadership role, and I'm really hopeful that last week is going to really motivate action on their inclusion more broadly, especially in the field of peacebuilding.

Julie Mason 
Elizabeth Murray is Senior Program Officer in the Africa program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Elizabeth, thank you.

Elizabeth Murray 
Thank you.

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