This week's blog comes from Mesfin Tekleab, our country coordinator for Ethiopia. Our partners in Ethiopia work in particular on issues of marginality, supporting rural communities, people with disabilities and women's groups to develop accountability relationships with their representatives. This blog is part of our series examining the Mwananchi theory of change in the different countries where we work. Next week, we'll hear from Zambia.
Despite being hampered by strict laws governing how civil society can operate in Ethiopia, civil society organisations are nonetheless a thriving agent for change in the country. Mwananchi Ethiopia, operating in Guraghe, a province in the central region of the country, is working with a diverse range of organisations, focusing on different issues affecting the population. Mwananchi Ethiopia has a particular focus on the marginalised, such as people with disabilities, women, children and the rural poor, and many of the groups have strong links with communities.
Despite the fact that these groups share a common bond in their marginality to power and accountability processes, it is sometimes difficult for organisations with diverse memberships and priorities – and very limited resources - to work together to facilitate empowerment. However, they can have much to learn from one another’s experiences and one of the main aims of Mwananchi Ethiopia is to facilitate idea-sharing and mutual capacity building between CSOs and other interlocutors. This enables them to more effectively change the rules of the game for poor people.
Sharing stories can help people realize how much they have in common. At a recent meeting of Mwananchi partner organisations, one woman’s story provided a spring board for organisations with different stakeholders to work together towards a common goal.
Speaking during a discussion on multi-sector governance issues, such as gender, poverty and disability, Meseret Getachew stood up to talk about her struggle to access appropriate education for her daughter, who is deaf.
Meseret’s daughter, Liyu, began her education aged 7, when her mother began to look for a school which could understand and accommodate her needs as a hearing-impaired student. There is no special school for people with disabilities in Guraghe zone, so even though mother and daughter lived in a town, they couldn’t access a school with teacher familiar with assisting deaf students or who knew sign language.
Liyu quickly left the local primary school when teachers couldn’t understand her and the other children mocked her efforts to communicate. At the second school she tried, teachers again failed to find ways to communicate with Liyu, or to facilitate her desire to learn. Meserat described how worried she was, thinking about what her daughter’s fate was likely to be with no opportunities to learn to read or write. Finally, with the support of the Women’s Association, Meserat went to meet the Department of Education for her zone, who told her to send her daughter to a specialist school in the next province, 250km away (for which she would have to bear the tuition and travel expenses). Meserat talked about how astonished she was at the scale of the problem facing disabled people in Ethiopia, where it is estimated that one in ten have a disability, to access even the most basic services such as primary education.
Meserat’s story ignited an ideas-sharing session at the event, where the idea emerged of working together to support the ‘margins of the marginalised’ – those who are the most needy and least able to access services or demand accountability, for example, disabled girl children in poor families, elderly disabled women, and disabled among the rural poor. The idea to form a network of organisations working with these communities, together with media organisations, local duty bearers and traditional leaders, emerged from this discussion. Having won support from the British Council Civil Society Support Programme, the network is being used to share evidence on marginalised communities, lobby government authorities and create opportunities for the least heard citizens to express their own views and wishes to their representatives.
By collecting evidence on the issues facing marginalised groups, sharing it and working on strategies to use the evidence to engage duty-bearers in the region. By sharing evidence and stories, the network will reach out to the media, enlist support in bringing the challenges facing disabled and other marginalised people forward.
Ethiopia’s laws on inclusion of disabled people and the country’s commitment to international human rights standards mean little to the marginalised of Guraghe, for whom even a basic education is out of reach if they cannot afford to long distances and pay school fees. Unable to reach duty-bearers or officials to find out about their rights and ask for assistance, few will be in the fortunate position of Liyu, who with the support of friends and relatives is now attending the specialist school in the neighbouring province.
By working together, the network of organisations focusing on the most marginalised hope to be able to provide people like Meserat and Liyu with a link to those who represent their interests, so that they can better seek accountability for their needs.
Do you have experiences in seeking accountability for the most marginalised? Let us know by commenting below!