Projects in Eastern Europe Empower Persons with Disabilities
by Gayane Grigoryan*
Disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) from five Eastern European countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – are implementing advocacy projects to engage people with disabilities in political life. In December 2017, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the “Agate” Rights Defense Center for Women with Disabilities trained DPOs on effective political advocacy skills and shared comparative regional experiences, with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In Armenia, Agate is exploring intersectionality through research on barriers to inclusion of women with disabilities in political processes. Agate conducted focus group research to enable stakeholders to provide in-depth, complex responses. Six focus groups gathered data from men and women with and without disabilities from different urban and rural areas of Armenia.
“We planned our focus group's participants, composition and discussion very carefully and, as a result, created a nonthreatening environment in which people were free to talk openly. Based on the views and quotes of our focus group participants, we will be able to develop a very good and strong report on the political participation of women with disabilities, which is unique in its kind in Armenia.”
– Gayane Grigoryan, Agate project coordinator
This research investigates the perceptions, motives, obstacles and opportunities women with disabilities face when they participate politically. Focus group discussions, which used IFES’ Intersectionality Assessment Framework, provided richer data through brainstorming in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Responses were not provided in a pre-constructed format but open to the unique opinions and experiences of each participant.
“All our focus groups were not only well-structured and directed, but also expressive; we could yield a lot of information in a relatively short time. Group members were actively encouraged to express their opinions. Discussions went very well and were effective; all participants were very much involved and interested in the topic. Some discussions even lasted longer than initially scheduled, as participants were eager to speak, share information, express their ideas and viewpoints.” – Armine Sahakyan, trainer
The research will provide important, unique data in Armenia that will promote the political participation of women with disabilities. The recommendations and solutions made and offered by focus group participants will be shared with local and national authorities and corresponding bodies to promote equal access and equal opportunity to political processes for all citizens, including through the creation of inclusive and accessible legal and regulatory frameworks. The final report of the research will be made available in English and Armenian.
“For our research I tried to combine both methods, collecting opinions from groups and from individuals. Apart from our focus group discussions, I interviewed some disability leaders in Armenia, mostly active women with different types of disabilities, both from urban and rural communities. All their views and recommendations are very important and essential for our report.” – Armine Khananyan, project sociologist
The Georgian Coalition for Independent Living (CIL) project, “Youth for Inclusive Society and Democracy-Building,” includes ten seminars at universities in Tbilisi with students of the school of law, public administration, political science, and more. Through these seminars, CIL intends to educate the students about disability and the importance of participation of people with disabilities in political and public life.
“During the seminars, law students were exceptionally active. Students showed interest toward different specific topics of disability: participation of people with disabilities in elections, existing challenges in legislation and principles of convention. Each seminar was interactive and followed by active discussions between the trainer and the participants.” – Ann Tsitsagi, CIL
As a result of the seminars, approximately 150-200 students increased their awareness of disability issues and the importance of disability-inclusive political participation.
MOTIVATIE, a Moldovan DPO, is implementing a project to enable people with intellectual disabilities to participate actively in the electoral process.
“It is very difficult for a person with intellectual disabilities to understand all the electoral processes, because there is lot of information that people without any intellectual disabilities are not always able to understand. In order to solve this problem, in our country, in the Republic of Moldova, we proposed to develop several activities that would take place in the capital, Chisinau, in other towns, like Hîncești, that is about 37 km from Chisinau, and in Cahul city.” – Juliana Tabacari, MOTIVATIE
“People have an obligation to participate in election processes, including us, even though some of us have special needs.” – Maria, 35-year-old focus group participant
MOTIVITIE project activities informed people with intellectual disabilities about the electoral processes in an accessible format. During the trainings and seminars, people with intellectual disabilities provided feedback on the ”easy-to-read” voter’s guide. The guide will be published on the website of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Moldova so that during the next election people with intellectual disabilities will be more informed.
”Parliamentary elections will take place in Moldova in November 2018 and during this period we will be able to monitor how the participation of people with intellectual disabilities has changed in the electoral processes.” – Alexandru Cater, MOTIVATIE
The project team developed and elaborated a guidebook consisting of texts in an ”easy-to-read” format; organized three focus groups in different regions; drafted images and presented the guidebook for approval to the CEC; and developed a curriculum for trainers to conduct a training for people with intellectual disabilities to use the guide.
“After this meeting for sure I'm going to vote, until now I was afraid I would not be able to vote.” – Ana, 25-year-old focus group participant with an intellectual disability
*Gayane Grigoryan is a project coordinator with the “Agate” Rights Defense Center for Women with Disabilities.