Farewell Q&A with Yetnerbersh Nigussie
Q. We can’t start without mentioning the very worrying situation with Covid-19. Yetnerbersh Nigussie, can you tell us how the virus is affecting people with disabilities in Africa and around the world?
A. People with disabilities are often struggling to get vital information about how to protect themselves and their loved ones. Isolation can be really dangerous if you rely on others for care and support.
Also, hygiene and sanitation is a challenge, just think of the refugee populations in South Sudan – it is beyond difficult. I fear that those who already were largely ignored will be even more forgotten during this pandemic.
What measures is Light for the World calling for to protect them?
Light for the World urges governments, organisations and health systems to ensure the protection and inclusion of people with disabilities in the crisis response.
This must include accessible information, access to care, testing, management of support needs and access to basic rights.
Tell us about the work going on in Ethiopia in partnership with Disabled People’s Organisations.
We’re proud of the work going on in Ethiopia by DPOs in partnership with organisations including Light for the World, ADF, FENAPD, CBM and others. They are campaigning to ensure people with disabilities are not forgotten in the Covid-19 response.
For example: sanitizers are being distributed to the public by pharmacies in Ethiopia. But disabled people were not able to access these given the long queues! Now, with the group’s encouragement, the City Mayor of Addis Ababa is redistributing supplies for people with disabilities to make sure they can protect themselves too.
EthioTelecom had sent out a great voice note to all its subscribers. But people who are hard of hearing and deaf could not access this. With our encouragement, EthioTelecom is now starting a daily text message reach more people!
The Ethiopian government has also agreed to ensure all official messages are accompanied by Ethiopian Sign Language. This is a huge success and testimony to the fact that together we are stronger.”
Looking at the last four years, what are you most proud of about your time with Light for the World?
I am very proud of what we’ve achieved together. Disability is higher on the agenda than ever before.
I addressed disability inclusion at the World Economic Forum in front of global leaders last year, imagine that!
The Her Abilities Award is another milestone for me. I initiated this prize as the first global award for women with disabilities. I’m so grateful for the recognition I get because it means I can bring other amazing women with disabilities and their actions into the spotlight.
Tell us what impact receiving the Right Livelihood Award has had on your work.
The Award definitely opened many new doors both for me and the disability inclusion agenda. It is so empowering to be part of this network of change makers who make this world a better place. I’m in solidarity with my fellow Laureates and know that I can rely on them too.
Can you share more about how you decided to invest the prize money?
I decided to invest the prize money in two issues close to my heart.
Education is the first one because it is the number one rescuer from poverty and inequality. I established a scholarship for girls with disabilities linked to the Light for the World Programme in Ethiopia and used part of the prize money to support girls who were not allowed to go to school because of the stigma attached to them.
The second issue is justice. I have co-founded the Ethiopian Lawyers with Disabilities Association (ELDA). ELDA will apply the legal expertise of lawyers with disabilities to defend the rights of the voiceless.
You’ve contributed lots to the cause of inclusive education during your time with Light for the World. Why is education – especially for girls with disabilities – an issue which is so close to your heart?
You know, without education you can’t break the cycle between poverty and disability.
Investing in the education of girls of all abilities is right and makes absolute sense from an economic, social and justice lens!
What does leadership mean to you? And what does the Her Abilities Award mean?
To be a leader you need a clear vision that guides your journey and you need communication full of clarity, consistence and truth, so that others are inspired to join you.
The Her Abilities Award is about leadership and inspiration too! It recognizes and portrays women with disabilities with amazing leadership qualities who solve problems, change systems, come up with solutions and fight for rights and justice.
Tell us about your new role at IDA! We are going to miss you!
I will miss my Light for the World family too, but you will never really lose me!
At the International Disability Alliance (IDA) I will manage a unique platform called GLAD – Global Action on Disability. It was established in 2015 bringing together development partners and the disability movement to work for disability inclusive development and to coordinate efforts. It’s an exciting mix of bilateral, multilateral and private donors, including the World Bank, UN Agencies, foundations and governments.
I am excited about this opportunity because it means that I will work with people and organisations who are or want to become inclusive. That will definitely maximize the impact of my advocacy work globally.
Finally, what’s coming next in the global disability rights fight?
The global disability movement shares the same roadmap as all world citizens. This decade needs action, implementation and constant evaluation around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Without applying the lens of the CRPD – the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – to these efforts, however, they will never be complete.
The disability rights movement has to ensure our space at the table, being fully involved in decision making and showing the way in walking the talk of inclusion