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The challenges and solutions for a disability-inclusive COVID-19 recovery debated at IVth Bridging the Gap’s Stakeholder Conference

Screenshot of the event: ISL interpreter, Federico Martire, moderator of the event and the speaker MEP Soraya Ramos

The IVth Stakeholder Conference of Bridging the Gap “OPDs meet the EU: joining forces for inclusive development”, held on April 15th, joined representatives from the European Union (EU) and Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to analyze the challenges and solutions to make COVID-19 response and recovery efforts fully inclusive and accessible, as well as how to better involve grassroots organizations.

The Conference was introduced by the keynote speeches of Mónica Silvana González, Member of the European Parliament and Disability Intergroup Chair, and Peggy Martinello, Head of Unit Public Administration and Social Affairs at FIIAPP, and include participants from Ecuador and Paraguay alongside European speakers.

In the first panel, the speakers discussed new forms to influence changes in development cooperation and how to better involve grassroots organizations in COVID-19 response and recovery and shared ideas to contribute to the current debate on disability-inclusive development and COVID-19 recovery and response.

Then, the second panel explored how the new European Disability Strategy 2021-2030 can contribute to addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of inclusive recovery in development cooperation.

Both EU representatives and OPDs representatives stressed the importance of involving persons with disabilities in the mainstreaming of disability in EU external action’s programming phase leveraging on the content of the European Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “The Strategy will become a success when persons with disabilities are fully and actively involved in its implementation, monitoring and in all relevant EU policies”, stated An-Sofie Leenknecht, Human rights coordinator at European Disability Forum, emphasizing EU Commission’s Inmaculada Placencia Porrero’s word on the need of the EU Delegations to be “prepared to support the implementation of the Strategy”.

In this regard, according to MEP Mónica Silvana Gónzalez, “successful pilot programs such as Bridging the Gap have informed and nurtured the Union’s foreign policy definition ahead of next year’s review by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and may inspire the European cooperation in multiple countries during the programming exercise that happens this year”.

Organisations of Persons with Disabilities Forum

Besides concluding the cycle of the “Stakeholder Conferences” held on 15 April was the third session of the “OPD Forum”, a virtual initiative organized by Bridging the Gap to consolidate the results obtained under the project’s outcome 3 dedicated to the strengthening of the capacity of the OPDs in the five participating countries.

The first session, celebrated on April 13th, was a restricted workshop on “Exchanging results and good practices produced by Bridging the Gap in Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Paraguay, and Sudan” in which the representatives of the OPDs involved in BtG-II’s activities shared the work carried out at the local level, the opportunities and the challenges that emerged, and the strategies put in place to develop the right synergies to reinforce participation and advocacy.

The second session, on April 14th and again a restricted workshop, pivoted around “How the EU works and its development priorities” to facilitate the understanding of the EU mechanisms by external stakeholders from OPDs from the global south.

The OPD Forum was framed in the project’s Knowledge Management Strategy and is one of the project actions to support the empowerment of the OPDs by reinforcing their capacity to engage in and influence the policy development process. To know more about this work, check out the study ‘The Unsteady Path’ aiming to explore the concept of “meaningful participation” by OPDs in the project’s partner countries.