On 11-12 April 2017, ESCWA held an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on its forthcoming publication entitled 'Disability in the Arab Region 2017: Strengthening Social Protection for Persons with Disabilities' at the UN House in Beirut, Lebanon. The publication will provide an update to first ESCWA flagship report on Disability in the Arab Region, published with the League of Arab States in 2014 (https://www.unescwa.org/our-work/7786/resources, https://www.unescwa.org/ar/our-work/7786/resources).
The meeting was attended by government officials from Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Participants also included representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as representatives of regional and international Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and independent experts.
The meeting focused on three subject areas covered in the report: how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development supports persons with disabilities and intersects with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); the situation of persons with disabilities in the Arab Region as it relates to data collection on disability; and disability-inclusive social protection in the Arab region. Participants looked at different kinds of social protection schemes in the Arab region, legal and institutional frameworks, eligibility and targeting, and key elements of disability-inclusive social protection. They also discussed some of the challenges related implementing social protection programmes in Arab countries.
Regarding the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, the meeting emphasized that even though there are goals and targets that specifically mention persons with disabilities - an important difference from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - the Agenda is universal in scope. Improving conditions for persons with disabilities will benefit society as a whole, and vice versa. Moreover, all the goals are cross cutting, so countries should do their best to implement it holistically. The CRDP, which is still the most comprehensive framework for protecting, promoting and advancing disability rights internationally, should be used as a guidance tool on how to implement the SDGs in relation to disability.
On the issue of data collection, the participants agreed that there are many challenges across the region on collecting and improving disability-related statistics. It will be important that data collection methods on disability are expanded and standardized in order to have more accurate and comparable data, which will benefit all countries.
On the issue of social protection for persons with disabilities in the Arab region, participants highlighted that there have been many advances in the Arab region expanding social protection for persons with disabilities, but also noted many remaining challenges. Some of these include problems related to the varying definitions of disability, targeting, access and adequacy of services and employment opportunities, and raising awareness of disability issues among government officials and national populations.
ESCWA appreciated the collaboration and rich discussion of the meeting participants on disability issues and social protection for persons with disabilities and will continue to work on strengthening its cooperation with its Member States on this subject.