Saowalak Thongkuay, an advocate for persons with disabilities, is in New York this week for the fifth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Saowalak is Regional Development Officer for Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) Asia-Pacific Region, where she is collaborating with the Women’s Refugee Commission to raise awareness of the concerns of refugees and other displaced persons with disabilities. She sat down to speak with us about her experience and the disability movement.
WRC: How did you get involved with DPI?
Saowalak Thongkuay: When I became a person with a disability in 1993, I spent almost 10 years recovering—with physical and psychological rehabilitation. Because of my disability, I could not find a job. I did vocational training and learned English, but even with that, it’s very difficult for persons with disabilities to get work—even if you have the qualifications. To me, English was very meaningful; with English I could get work with an international development agency.
After learning English skills, I got my first job at Asia Pacific Center on Disability, as secretary for a Japanese expert. I learned a lot about the disability movement. I met a lot of leaders with disabilities in the region. In 2007, I moved to DPI, working as assistant to the regional development officer. He passed away that same year, after [I had been there] seven months. When he passed, I had to carry on and do so much. I took his place in this position. I was so young and learned by practice.
My direct experience can harmonize with the work, and I have found that persons with disabilities need to be empowered individually. If they come together they will be a strong voice to advocate for themselves. I found DPI the right platform for me and for persons with disabilities to claim our rights.
"Even if NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] don’t find the necessary support in the male community from the start, integrating them into programs to end GBV [gender-based violence] should receive priority over treating them as obstacles. In the end, true and sustainable emancipation has to be realized with the active support of men, not against them."
Read the second piece of our GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND LIVELIHOODS–HOW DO WE DO BETTER? blogger series, in partnership with AidSource. The blog is written by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, who reports on politics, security and development in Africa.
"By working closely with the community, women’s empowerment and development organizations can help women and girls understand and identify the risks that might result when attempting to pursue a specific type of economic activity. Organizations should work with beneficiaries to help them pursue the type of work they want, while mitigating potential risks."
Read the first piece of our GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND LIVELIHOODS–HOW DO WE DO BETTER? blogger series, in partnership with AidSource. The blog is written by Akhila Kolisetty, JD Candidate, Harvard Law School.
Walking to work today, I passed a group of young girls on their way to school—exuding energy, laughing and talking, backpacks full. My thoughts instantly flashed to a sobering statistic I just read in a new report from the Women’s Refugee Commission on the plight of Somali refugee girls in Ethiopia: in one camp, only 33 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school and a mere 15 percent are in secondary school.
If you have been following our Strong Girls, Powerful Women campaign and the story of Amina, you know that many refugee girls are not in school. They work and live in unsafe conditions and are at great risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Because humanitarian programs are rarely designed to meet the specific needs of refugee girls, they are often isolated and marginalized.
Zehra Rizvi, senior program manager of our livelihoods program, writes:
Do the economic empowerment programmes you design take into account risk that you could possibly be causing the women participating?...
We’ve asked some bloggers, journalists, practitioners to blog about this issue for us by taking a look at the tools we’ve produced but we would love to hear your perspective on the issue.
Read the blog here to learn more, including how to contribute to the AidSource blog.
On August 19, the international community marks World Humanitarian Day. Since 2008, this day has been set aside to remember those who provide humanitarian assistance to others, often at great personal cost. The day was designated by the United Nations to mark the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, which killed 22 NGO and UN humanitarian staff.
The theme of International Youth Day 2012, “Partnering with Youth,” is about governments and civil society organizations reaching out to youth groups and forging meaningful relationships with young people. In the humanitarian field, we talk a lot about this kind of participation by youth, but few of us build it into our programs.
July 11th was definitely momentous, but I don’t think the hundreds of thousands of women and girls that are displaced by conflict living in South Sudan’s villages heard the news. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the British government and other donors committed $2.6 billion dollars to give a projected 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries access to lifesaving contraception. This unprecedented effort could be a major milestone in global health, development and women’s rights. But we need to make sure this new funding and political commitment is followed by swift action—and change felt on the ground.
In the humanitarian settings where we work, we have found that few aid agencies and governments focus on family planning—even though it is a critical public health intervention that saves lives and has impact far beyond health. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, men and women fleeing their homes are not likely to be thinking about their contraceptives as a first priority, and neither is it a main concern of humanitarian aid agencies responding to these crises. Yet, experience has shown us that even in the earliest days and weeks of a humanitarian emergency, women and girls want to use contraception.
Read the full blog in the RH Reality Check website.
This is the second in a series of blogs based on a trip Women’s Refugee Commission staff made to meet Somali refugee girls in the Jijiga region of Ethiopia and to hear firsthand about the challenges they face. Read the first blog here.
We didn’t know how the group of Somali girls gathered to meet with us at the Sheder refugee camp would react. But, with the help of a local Ethiopian Somali woman, a graduate student at Jijiga University, my colleague Jennifer Schulte and I began to build their trust. To develop rapport with this curious but initially quiet group of adolescent girls, we started with a drawing exercise in which the girls depicted their communities and described their daily activities. The girls drew maps and told vivid stories that took place along the footpaths between home and school or the market, at water collection points, fetching firewood in the bush and in their tukuls (traditional Somali huts) at night. They shared their thoughts and their feelings, and we listened carefully.
In a legal battle that has focused national attention on the urgent need for immigration reform, a Missouri judge ruled last week against Encarnación Bail Romero, whose U.S.-born son Carlos was adopted by an American couple against her wishes. Carlos was an infant when his mother, a young woman from Guatemala, was arrested during an immigration raid in May 2007 at the poultry processing plant where she worked. Now almost six years old, he has been living with his adoptive parents, who renamed him Jamison, for most of his life. While Ms. Bail Romero’s lawyer has indicated that they will appeal Judge David Jones's decision, this case serves as yet another reminder of daily threats to family unity that our immigration and child welfare laws create.
Read the full blog on the New America Media website.