Leadership Towards the Advancement of Human Rights

Thi Nhat Le, Zahirah McNatt, GHLI Director, Leadership Education and Practice

As part of the Senior Leadership Program (SLP), I recently worked with delegates from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, and Viet Nam in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to address strengthening the enabling environments for persons with disabilities. Each team brought with them a national problem — high staff turnover, too few rehabilitation professionals, poor access to physical rehabilitation centers and limited knowledge among people with disabilities about their legal rights.

For this program, all written materials were translated into four languages and we had simultaneous interpretation during lectures and group activities. For five days, we explored problem solving, leadership and management, good governance and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The trip was an awe-inspiring opportunity to encourage collaboration among several stakeholders. We had representatives from national disabled people’s organizations, government ministries, parents, teachers and physical rehabilitation facilities. The diversity created dynamic teams and allowed for cross-country dialogue about better integrating disability rights efforts in Southeast Asia.

The SLP created a safe space for discussion on how to operationalize the aspirations of the UNCRPD. Many countries stall once ratifying such agreements and are unable to make the dreams reality. These five nations have the potential to implement practical solutions that increase accessibility and diminish discrimination against people with disabilities.

While there are many difficult stories about children who use wheelchairs being unable to get to school or people with visual impairment being denied the right to vote — I remain hopeful. I am personally motivated by the role models present in the Program itself — women and men with and without disabilities who have chosen to champion the rights of others. I left Phnom Penh struck by the power of our unified voices and further committed to encouraging and demanding justice and equality for all.