Creating an inclusive and equitable society for persons with disabilities

02 Dec 2016

 Performance of Epic group during the National Workshop on reflection of National Disability Strategic Plan

According to the 2014 Cambodia Demographic Health Survey, 9.5% of the Cambodian population experiences at least some degree of difficulty in performing basic functions while 2.1% experience major difficulties and cannot perform basic functions.

This figure is consistent with the World Health Organization’s World Report on Disability (15% of the world’s population are living with some form of disability with prevalence rates predicted to increase due to aging populations and increases in non-communicable disease).

Persons with disabilities face multiple challenges such as inequality and discrimination in access to education, healthcare services, social and economic social justice, political participation as well as being particularly vulnerable to violence and other violations.  With a predominantly Buddhist population, it is often thought that disability is seen as a result of a sin in a past life. There are however, other cultural norms that impact on people’s perception of disability.

Cambodian women with disabilities experience multiple disadvantages resulting from the interplay between gender, disability and poverty. They experience almost five times higher rates of emotional, physical and sexual violence by household members (other than partners). They are considered less valuable and more burdensome within the household and 2.5 times more likely to require permission from a partner to seek healthcare.[1]

People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment are particularly marginalized. It is estimated there are over 50,000 people who are deaf in Cambodia and 500,000 with hearing impairment; however, around 1,800 people who are deaf have been taught sign language.

Foreseeing this challenge, the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC’s) commitment to improve the lives of persons with disabilities through recognition of their rights was demonstrated by promoting the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the inclusive of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities and other national legal frameworks of disability rights including the Law on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Law) and the National Disability Strategic Plan 2014-2018 (NDSP).  The RGC also established the key disability rights mechanisms to provide technical advice and monitor the progress of these policy interventions to ensure persons with disabilities are not left behind.  

Cambodia has a vibrant disability movement led by the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO) as an umbrella disability organization with 63 members comprising of Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) including Women with Disabilities Forums (WWDFs) across the country. The CDPO’s main role is to represent DPOs/WWDFs nationally and advocates for rights and interests of persons with disabilities aimed at achieving improved quality of life. 

In 2013 in support to efforts of the RGC and civil society, UN agencies in Cambodia (UNDP, WHO and UNICEF), with financial support from the Australian Government, launched the Disability Rights Initiative Cambodia (DRIC), a UN joint programme aimed at improving the quality of life of Cambodian persons with disabilities through specific interventions such as supporting the RGC to effectively implement the UNCRPD and NDSP, increase the voice of participation, and promote rehabilitation and inclusive local governance.

To date 17 line ministries have established a disability action working group while 20 provinces have established the provincial Disability Action Councils (DAC). This mechanism aims to provide coordination, support and advisory mechanism on disability at line ministries at both national and sub national level. The mechanism plays a very important role in mobilizing resources, particularly in allocating national budget to improve public services for persons with disabilities such as access to health care, rehabilitation, education, vocational training and job employment, social assistance scheme, information, political participation and public physical infrastructures (buildings, parks, transportation and others). 

The capacities of DPOs/WWDFs in advocating the rights of people with disabilities have increased significantly and people with disabilities are now more actively involved in consultative process and policy formulation. This resulted in a higher level of respect of DPOs and people with disabilities in their communities and by the authorities.  Co-operation between government and civil society in the disability sector in Cambodia is a good example that other sectors should follow. 

Disability is a cross-cutting issue touching on every segment of life and it is up to the Cambodian society to work together against discrimination of people with disabilities and their full inclusion in their communities.

This is not an easy task. To achieve the realization of the rights of people with disabilities, a strong commitment of both human and financial resources from all stakeholders, particularly by the RGC, is needed. The significant increase in funding and staffing in the 2017 national budget announced by the government is an encouraging sign. In addition to this, RGC needs to continue to closely involve all types of persons with disabilities in decision-making process and policy formulation under the slogan — nothing about us without us!

[1] Jill Astbury, Fareen Walji, Triple Jeopardy: Gender-based violence and human rights

violations experienced by women with disabilities in Cambodia, AusAID Research Working Paper 1, January 2013, p.20, 29



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