Scaling the summit for women’s rights

Finding your voice and identity for many women in South Asia, including Nepal, is like climbing Mt. Everest the highest peak in the world – not an easy task with deeply embedded patriarchal values and gender norms. Violence against women particularly domestic violence is the biggest deterrent to women’s advancement and development.  However, with a vibrant women’s movement and civil society activism scaling this mountainous hurdle can be possible. It is a shared collective vision of inclusive development that is required to make gender equality a reality.

Inclusive empowerment and equality must be at the heart of all efforts to ensure sustainable development. The talk featured valuable examples of bottom-up movement building, breaking the culture of silence, harnessing the potential of the media and enhancing critical and collaborative partnership for transforming the roadmap to inclusive development. It highlighted experiences of linking efforts from local to global and global to local for scaling the hurdles of rising inequalities. The journey continues – to achieving transformative change that is fair and sustainable and building a future where no rights are trampled and no one is left behind. 

This lecture was hosted by the University of Luxembourg and Aide à l’Enfance de l’Inde et du Népal (AEIN). 

Leadership, education and global social impact

Esther Benjamin has been a global executive in the private, government, and social impact sectors for over 25 years. She has led business partnerships, as well as education, engagement, health, and economic development programs in over 100 countries. In this KAPTalks, she reflected on her own professional and personal journey; insights and lessons learned; and how education and leadership by young people remains key to driving engagement, inclusion, and social impact worldwide.

Leaving no one behind in education – a focus on children with disabilities

An estimated 93-150 million children live with a disability. 40% of these children are out of school at the primary level and 55% at the secondary level. When they go to school, they are often educated in segregated schools, with poor quality of education.

There is a huge gender disparity. 50 percent of males completed to 41.7 percent of females complete primary education. Being a woman or a girl with a disability means double discrimination. Some girls with disabilities may not go to school because their parents fear bullying or sexual violence. Traditionally, in low and middle income countries, girls are assigned to domestic work or unpaid care (including girls with disabilities). Even though families may not send them to school because of the lower value placed on girls, they still use them for domestic work and for unpaid care. Also, some girls do not attend school due to inaccessible sanitation facilities.

Inclusive education is about an education system that includes all learners, welcomes and supports them to learn irrespective of their identities and abilities. It is a school where all children learn together, without discrimination. Inclusive education entails not only accessibility of the school, but also teachers’ preparation, adapted curricula, and participation of the learner to achieve his or her potentials.

Many people are skeptical about inclusive education. Some parents are afraid that children with disabilities are going to slow down the learning of other children. But this is not true: when children learn together, they actually learn better, because most of the strategies used in inclusive education classrooms are strategies that allow all children to learn better.

Furthermore, inclusive education fosters inclusive societies and equity. Children with disabilities have the right to education, as set in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sustainable Development Goal Number 4 sets the commitment to achieve inclusive and quality education.

Barriers and challenges to education exist at multiple levels: stigma and discrimination in families, communities and in schools; households living in poverty; lack of assistive devices; lack of teachers’ training and preparation; inaccessible transportation.

A crucial challenge is the lack of disability data: in many countries, the education information system does not disaggregate data by disability. Decision-makers lack statistics and information to plan for the inclusion of children with disabilities in school. This reflects in poorly inclusive polices and in inadequate funding for education.

In the recent COVID pandemic, children with disabilities were largely affected, as many of them did not have the opportunity to access remote learning like their peers without disabilities. In addition, services available through schools (social protection, nutrition, health, etc.) were put on hold during the pandemic, making it very difficult for a child with a disability to cope under these conditions.

There is huge need for a multi-sectoral approach to achieve inclusive education of children with disabilities. At the governmental level, this means ensuring that ministerial agencies collaborate and that frameworks are established for monitoring inclusive education of children with disabilities. Good solutions include teacher training, disaggregation of data by disability and gender, adequate policies, stigma reduction strategies, and making assistive available.

Questions and Answers to the Guest Speaker

How did you overcome your own challenges related to mobility?

At home, I was not discriminated and I had very supportive parents. I attended regular schools, which allows mixing with other children.

What can be done to change attitudes in terms of daily behaviors and interactions?

First of all we need to raise awareness at the community and at the household levels about disability. We also need to create more opportunities to interact with persons with disabilities.

How can development projects promote inclusion of persons with disabilities?

Development actors need to partner with organisations of persons with disabilities and organisations with expertise in this field.

How to address different factors of exclusion (disability, gender, etc.) simultaneously?

If we are able to collect data that is disaggregated by these factors, it would be easier to understand and tackle the vulnerabilities that come with these factors.

Why don’t you use the term “people with special needs”?

When we use that word special, it connotes that the rights of persons with disabilities is something out of ordinary. There is nothing special about the rights of persons with disabilities. In fact, disability rights are human rights.

How can we link inclusive education with the broader SDG agenda?

The Agenda 2030 is not a perfect document, but it marks a significant step in terms of inclusion, in comparison to the Millennium Development Goals. For example, inclusion comes in the picture demanding for accessible physical and virtual environments.

Panel discussion

In what ways is the organization you are representing taking actions for inclusive education?

Prof Léglu: At the University of Luxemburg we try to give all students the same opportunities and find ways to offer adjustments. In Luxembourg, special education is still very common, but we are starting training teachers to work with children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms.

Ms. McGeown: In the 27 countries where Humanity & Inclusion runs inclusive education projects, we have three main areas of activities: 1) awareness raising in communities, families, and schools to overcome stigma; 2) supporting education services, as well as services that impact on education, in particular health and social services; 3) accompanying governments to develop and implement inclusive policies and budgeting. At the core of our action is a multi-sectoral approach, well highlighted in the advocacy report that we launch today.

Mr. Lang: Education Cannot Wait is the first global fund for education in emergency. We have two main funding instruments: emergency response grants and multi-year resilience programs for protracted crises. We explicitly asked for these programs to be designed to reach the most marginalized groups, including children with disabilities (at least 10% of our beneficiaries).

What multi-sectoral actions need to be urgently prioritized?

Ms. McGeown: Seeing the SDGs as a blueprint and placing the child’s needs at the center are the pillars to implement a multi-sectoral response.

Mr. Lang: Conflict-affected children often lack previous schooling experience, or don’t have the mental or academic readiness for learning. Therefore, interventions on education need to be complemented with the provision of health, psychosocial services, nutrition, cash assistance and livelihood-related schemes. For this to happen, more funding is needed.

Prof. Léglu: We find transversal approaches across disciplines that aim to promote fundamental values and human rights.

What can be done to ensure a rights-based approach in inclusive education?

Mr Lang: Accessibility is key aspect to realise the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Accessibility to physical and virtual environments should be ensured by providing assistive technologies and devices to persons with disabilities, while upscaling universal design in all environments.

Prof. Léglu: Designing policies around the idea of inclusion needs to be accompanied by commitment to actually make it happen.

Ms. McGeown: Not every child learns the same way. Some children might need additional supports from people, from materials, from the style of teaching. There are different approaches that might be needed and reasonable accommodation that might be provided.

Dr. Aderemi-Ige: In relation to the financing needs, I want to point out that donors can play a big role in influencing governments to place more attention on inclusive education.

Questions and Answers

Can budgetary measures promote inclusive education?

Dr. Aderemi-Ige: Yes, to a good extent. Lack of funding is often used as a justification not to advance inclusive education. However, we also need to shift mind-set, in order for disabilityinclusion to become a priority.

Ms. McGeown: Donors can influence ministries, by coming together with large-scale commitments. This is what happened at the first ever Global Disability Summit, in 2018, where many commitments on inclusive education where made. Accountability against these commitments is essential.

Mr. Lang: at Education Cannot Wait we work with partners to set coordinated frameworks and we then align financing behind these multi-year frameworks. We work with flexible financing, thus allowing our partners with the expertise on the ground to be able to design and implement the programs.

Prof. Léglu: With the pandemic, we see how generous private funders were. In a small country like Luxembourg, it is relatively easy to coordinate with governmental branches.

What are the characteristics of an effective partnership for inclusive development?

Dr. Aderemi-Ige: An effective partnership is the one where each partner collaborates with the others, while providing its very own expertise.

Peace Education: Change Starts Here

Dawn Engle, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the The PeaceJam Foundation, shares her experience with encouraging young people from all over the world to work for their local communities.

Dawn Engle – a tireless peace campaigner – has created a network of 13 Nobel Peace Prize winners who now pass their spirit, skills, and wisdom to create young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities, and the world. More than 1.2 million young people from 40 countries have participated in the PeaceJam Program to date. 

Speaking at the University of Warsaw, Dawn tells the story of starting the „One Billion Acts of Peace” Campaign – an international global citizens’ movement designed to tackle the most important problems facing our planet. Her efforts inspired young leaders across the globe to perform 15 million (so far and still counting) “simple acts of peace” that include: improving access to clean water, tackling poverty, promoting women and children rights to name just a few.

The lecture focuses on presenting inspiring methods of youth education and creating sustainable, lasting global change through educational activities.

Education: fundamental to a country’s future

„The next century is already being built daily in today’s classrooms. However, it becomes more and more obvious that family, government, the media and civil society must be included in the transmission of cultural heritage and key values. To address current and future challenges to peace, prosperity, public health, environment, etc., especially in developing countries, educational systems can no longer be enclosed in traditional schooling patterns. The learning environment has to go beyond the classroom and must mobilize key actors from other sectors. We have to gradually take down the classroom walls. This will require the reengineering of curricula, of learning, financing, etc.” – said Nesmy Manigat, former education minister of Haiti ahead of his lecture.

Development blind spots: rethinking gender inequality

„Why it is considered reasonable to intervene when the Taliban in Afghanistan organizes to stop girls from attending school? And why do we hesitate when millions of girls are prevented from attending school by the private decision of millions of individual fathers who are spread over large areas?” – asks Deepa Narayan ahead of her lecture in Budapest.

How can we address gender inequalities that still persist in rich countries and in poor countries? In the USA, with an overall ranking of 20 on the Gender Gap index (World Economic Forum), the pay gap between men and women will take a century to close.  The United Nations may have already given up.  In the current UN efforts on developing Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality is about the only goal that is not time bound, a direction without commitment. It makes gender equality more difficult to achieve than climate change, which has time bound targets. Given these difficulties, how long then will it take India with more than 500 million girls and women, and an overall ranking of 114 on the gender gap index, to achieve gender equality?

Given this context, we need to fundamentally challenge existing development policy and practice to achieve greater gender equality more quickly.

Drawing on data from the USA and new research on India, a case is made to re-consider the primacy given to economics rather than culture, the public rather than private, and the external rather than internal in our policy thinking.

Human relations at heart of development

There remains a unshakeable assumption in the international policy community that development in one country can be switched on and off from central controls elsewhere in the global system. You see this logic with everything from Education for All to the MDGs. Whether it is cross-national tests of achievement or even the global rankings of universities, the kind of forces that drive change in schools and universities are largely enabled or inhibited by humans who inhabit these institutions.

The kinds of issues, moreover, that wreak havoc on societies and their systems of education are largely ignored in international policy scripts that privilege academic achievement in science, mathematics and literacy. This technicist and instrumentalist view of education has exposed developmental agendas to even greater threats, the unravelling of human relations that are so crucial to both people and performance across the world.

Prof. Jansen made these arguments real by presenting his research on race, intimacy and leadership at the University of the Free State in South Africa — and how many students made the transition from tolerance to embrace in segregated communities. According to prof. Jansen „Any analysis that begins and ends with condemnation, rather than pressing for an understanding of the underlying dilemmas of inequality, poverty, segregation and violence cannot begin to resolve the human challenges in specific territories without which development remains an elusive project.”

Education – a key driver for development