Call issued for involving persons with disabilities in social protection policymaking in Lebanon

The call was made by Lebanese organizations for persons with disabilities in partnership with the ILO, at a joint event which presented a working model for disability inclusion in social protection policymaking and programming.

Press release | 06 July 2023
BEIRUT (ILO News) - Eight Organizations of People with Disabilities (OPDs) in Lebanon, in partnership with the ILO, joined forces to call on national and international, governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to proactively involve OPDs in policymaking and programming related to Social Protection.

This resounding call came at an event held in Beirut, at which the OPDs delivered four lively panel discussions to an audience representing 45 institutions. The event was held under the framework of the ILO and UNICEF programme on ‘Addressing lifecycle vulnerabilities through Social Grants’ funded by the European Union, and the partnership programme PROSPECTS, funded by the Government of the Netherlands.

Ibrahim Abdallah, a disability expert for United Nations and international organizations and vice-president of the Lebanese Universities League for the Blind (LULB), delivered an inspiring welcome address characterizing the collaboration with the ILO as a “strategic and full partnership”. Amidst the great challenges facing the country today and individuals with disabilities, Abdallah expressed his unwavering optimism citing recent milestones and achievements, such as Lebanon’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with DIsabilities earlier this year.

Luca Pellerano, the ILO’s Senior Social Protection Specialist for Arab States, emphasized the importance of building towards a disability-inclusive social protection system in Lebanon. He underscored the key role of partnerships with sister UN agencies and Civil Society in achieving this role: “We view this engagement with OPDs not as voluntary partnership, but as a necessity in designing and implementing policies that protect everyone and truly leave no one behind.”

In the first session, Rania Eghnatios, Social Protection Officer at the ILO and manager of the Social Grants programme, provided an insightful overview of this collaboration and its progression in recent years. The collaboration between the OPDs and the ILO Social Protection team in Lebanon has its roots in early 2020 when UNICEF and ILO began extensive consultations on the National Social Protection Strategy. Active involvement of these eight OPDs continued and consistently increased, throughout the early phases of conceptualization and design of the National Disability Allowance. This fruitful collaboration reached a milestone in November 2022 when the ILO formalized a partnership with the OPDs solidifying the success of their joint efforts.

Through this partnership, the OPDs are publicly advocating - and empowering their constituencies to advocate - for disability-inclusive social protection in Lebanon.

The event included a presentation of a position paper on engaging and consulting with OPDs, written and endorsed by all eight organizations, where they demonstrate the importance of consulting with OPDs and offered a series of actionable recommendations to all social protection practitioners, drawn from their successful experience with the ILO.

“We are not demanding the impossible. What you see here in front of you, this partnership between OPDs and the ILO, is a real-life example of the ‘close consultation, active involvement, and full participation’ which the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities calls for,” said Amer Makarem, manager of the Youth Association of the Blind.

Panellists also presented two ILO studies providing an overview of the insufficient coverage of people with disabilities in social protection schemes in Lebanon: “Living with disabilities in Lebanon: a snapshot assessment of basic needs, social protection and employment gaps” written by disability experts Ibrahim Abdallah and Doha Yahfoufi, and “Disability inclusiveness of social protection schemes in Lebanon” prepared by disability and social protection expert Elayn Sammon, the Consultation and Research Institute (CRI) and the Lebanese Union for People with Physical Disabilities (LUPD).

The event concluded with a panel on the recently launched National Disability Allowance (NDA). Dr. Nawaf Kabbara, president of the National Association for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (NARD) – one of the organizers of the event, presented a position paper on the NDA endorsed by the organizers.

Panellist and advisor to the Minister of Social Affairs, Pierre Baz, confirmed MoSA’s commitment to the success of the NDA, calling on all partners to double their efforts to ensure its sustainability. Baz stressed that “we all have a responsibility to sustain this initiative so it can become part of a social protection system capable of providing adequate support to everyone who needs it. HE Minister Hector Hajjar is proposing to incorporate the NDA as part of the Ministry’s submitted budget for the upcoming 2024 government budget. The amount proposed is estimated at around 300 billion LBP and will need to be complemented through international assistance.”

Among the notable attendees present at the event was Alexandra Irani, Social Development Adviser at the British Embassy in Beirut, who stated that “The event was a testament to the years of hard work and close engagement with OPDs on disability inclusion in social protection. The UK supports building a rights-based and inclusive social protection system in Lebanon and the recently launched National Disability Allowance is an important step forward."

Intent on ensuring and demonstrating effective inclusion, the event organizers provided sign language interpretation throughout the day and shared all materials in accessible format through a QR code linking to a shared folder which contained the position papers and research reports referenced in the panels.

Attending with her daughter Mia, Fadia Farah, founder of the Lebanese Association for Self-Advocacy (LASA), explained: “Inclusion is not only about inviting people with disabilities to attend. I have been discussing this event for three days with my daughter Mia who has Down Syndrome, to make sure she understands what will be discussed. She did. She would like to show you this drawing she made to represent social protection.”

Concluding remarks were delivered by both ILO and LUPD. During the event, Eghnatios, on behalf of the ILO, reiterated the organization’s commitment to work on disability-inclusive social protection. She stated: “So far, it has been a valuable learning experience for all of us. We still have a long way to go before claiming full inclusion in meetings, processes, programmes, and policies, but the commitment to strive in that direction remains.”

Samar Tfaily from LUPD reinforced this shared commitment stressing that “Launching initiatives in itself is not enough if we are launching them separately, in parallel. For the sake of sustainability, we need the people concerned [people with disabilities] to be systematically and methodically included throughout the preparation, design, and implementation of the initiative.” She added “Real inclusion is a journey we keep learning from, and not a fixed end result.”
The event was organized by: Youth Association of the Blind YAB; Lebanese Union for People with Physical Disabilities LUPD; Lebanese Association for Self-Advocacy LASA; Lebanese Universities League for the Blind LULB; Learning Center for the Deaf LCD; Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network EDAN; Friends of the Disabled Association FDA; Forum for the Rights of Persons with Disability FRPD – Mountada.