Wednesday October 14, 2020

People with disabilities are often in greater need of humanitarian assistance, but are less likely to receive it.

Islamic Relief protection and inclusion advisor Sherin AlShaikhAhmed examines what Islamic Relief is doing to make sure our humanitarian action serves everyone in need.

Last year alone Islamic Relief delivered over 150 emergency projects, providing lifesaving aid to millions of people in 31 countries. So we know all too well that people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by humanitarian crises.

As well as facing barriers preventing their full participation in their communities, they may be unable to access humanitarian assistance on an equal basis. Factors preventing their access include stigma and discrimination, negative attitudes and behaviours, and a one-size fits all approach to assistance.

People with disabilities represent an estimated 15% of the world’s population – this figure is often higher among populations affected by conflict. In Syria, for example, a recent survey found that 27% of people aged 12-years and over have a disability and, in some governorates, most households have at least one member with a disability.

It is clear then that humanitarian interventions may be missing many of those most in need of aid. And it’s critical that disability inclusion underpins humanitarian action, so Islamic Relief has welcomed key steps towards this in recent years.

We have backed the World Humanitarian Summit commitments to ‘leave no one behind’ and the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, which led to the IASC guidelines on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action – which we translated into Arabic in order to broaden their impact.

Another crucial step toward disability inclusion was the Global Disability Summit, which calls on humanitarian actors and other stakeholders to ensure people with disabilities are not left behind.

But more is needed.

Children with hearing impairments in the Chechen Republic receive sign-language lessons from Islamic Relief.

Meaningful participation and equal and just access to humanitarian assistance

As a leading humanitarian actor, Islamic Relief has pledged to guarantee meaningful participation and equal and just access to humanitarian assistance. Earlier this year, we carried out an internal review. This assessed progress towards these commitments and documented positive and challenging practices on disability-inclusive programming, to identify opportunities for learning.

Writing in the Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, I shared the lessons we learned from our integrated approach to mainstreaming protection and inclusion. Emphasising the need to collaborate with disabled people’s organisations, the article also outlined tactics to tackle disability-related stigma and discrimination.

I also underlined that it is vital to understand the intersection of gender and disability if we are to achieve disability-inclusive programming.

Intersectional factors make it harder to access assistance

It is this intersectional lens that shapes Islamic Relief’s protection and inclusion framework, which I discussed last week in a webinar hosted by the Humanitarian Practice Network on Strengthening Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action. To make sure people with disabilities are not left behind, the framework addresses 6 intersectional areas that exacerbate access to humanitarian assistance:

  1. Analysis of age, gender and diversity along with collection and disaggregation of data
  2. Adapted assistance
  3. Attention to negative effects
  4. Adequate participation
  5. Accountability
  6. Adequate capacity.

In my presentation I highlighted the need for humanitarian organisations to commit to organisational change to mainstream disability inclusion to ensure no one is left behind. At Islamic Relief we realise there are challenges and rising to them requires investment in building capacity, tools and resources.

Above all, we must forge stronger collaborative relationships with organisations representing people with disabilities. Improving disability data collection and disaggregation to inform inclusive programming is another area we will prioritise through rigour analysis, better project cycle management tools, systems and processes and a robust accountability framework.

Islamic Relief understands that disability inclusion is the business of all humanitarian organisations – and that sustainable change needs a holistic approach led by the affected population and their representatives. This approach should highlight the capabilities of people with disabilities to lead the positive change that is so desperately needed.

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