Election Officials and Advocates Discuss ASEAN Enabling Masterplan at Regional Disability Rights Dialogue

Dialogue participants take part in an interactive session on intersectional barriers faced by persons with disabilities who are part of other marginalized groups.

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Dialogue participants take part in an interactive session on intersectional barriers faced by persons with disabilities who are part of other marginalized groups.

On January 28-29, 2019, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the General Election Network for Disability Access and the Union Election Commission of Myanmar (UEC) co-hosted the Fourth Regional Disability Rights Dialogue in Yangon, Myanmar. The dialogue centered on opportunities to integrate disability rights into national policies to implement the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) Enabling Masterplan 2025: Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In his opening remarks, Vice President of Myanmar U Henry Van Thio urged ASEAN countries to ensure people with disabilities in the region enjoy full access to their rights. The dialogue also featured remarks by UEC Chairman U Hla Thein, Charge d’ Affairs of the Australian Embassy in Myanmar Jeremy Kruse, IFES Vice President of Programs Michael Svetlik and Myanmar Independent Living Initiative (MILI) Executive Director Nay Lin Soe.

“Today's workshop is an excellent opportunity for regional [disabled people’s organizations] and [nongovernmental organizations] to get together to talk about the human rights of person with disability not only in ASEAN but also in whole Asia-Pacific and world arena.” – Lim Puay Tiak, Chairman, ASEAN Disability Forum

A panel discussion on “Putting Obligation into Action: Advancing Disability Rights Across ASEAN” included former ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights Representative Dr. Seree Nonthasoot, Chairman of the ASEAN Disability Forum Lim Puay Tiak, Myanmar Country Representative for the ASEAN Disability Forum U Thein Han Thu and United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee Member Risnawati Utami. IFES Chief of Party for Myanmar Paul Guerin moderated the session. Panelists provided an overview on the ASEAN masterplan and discussed how government and civil society stakeholders can hold ASEAN accountable to implement the policy by 2025. They described the goal to build a stronger partnership among regional stakeholders and create a barrier-free ASEAN.

“I hope that I can contribute more, especially to disabled women, and young blind women so that we can contribute back to the society.” – Alfa Nur Aini, National Council for the Blind Malaysia

The “Intersectional Approaches to Disability Inclusion Work” panel featured “Agate” Rights Defense Center for Women with Disabilities Director Karine Grigoryan, Lebanese Union for People with Physical Disabilities Project Manager Rona Dbeissi, Arus Pelangi Board Member Yuli Rustinawati and MILI Member Htet Htet Aung, and was moderated by IFES Inclusion Advisor Virginia Atkinson. Panelists discussed barriers to political participation faced by multiply marginalized persons. Working with allies, such as women’s groups and the LGBTI community, were a few of the examples given in how to further the masterplan objectives.

In working group sessions, participants focused on practical tools and skills for raising awareness, identifying inclusive legal frameworks, building networks and allies, and participating in political leadership. Participants discussed intersectional barriers to leadership, creating coalitions to implement the masterplan and using social media to raise awareness of disability rights.

“The next step for me is to use as an advocacy tool this masterplan to advocate with the government and also the society to acknowledge persons with disabilities, to involve [us] in the political [life] and also education and in the society, as well.” – Josheva, Disability Development Initiative Group, Chin State, Myanmar

Dialogue participants noted that they will raise awareness within their own countries about the ASEAN Enabling masterplan. Many advocates will use the masterplan as an advocacy tool to collaborate with government and will share knowledge from the dialogue with other disabled people’s organizations.