Disability Rights in The GambiaIn The Gambia, 7.9% of the population (or just over 208,000 people) suffer from some kind of disability or condition that makes everyday life, work and interaction with society difficult. Health care systems in The Gambia have also taken a significant toll due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that specialist treatment for disabled Gambians has been harder to find


Reports have also shown that health insurance coverage in The Gambia is extremely rare, both for those who are disabled and those who aren’t. Those with disabilities find themselves with less coverage than those without. Just 1.8% of disabled people have health insurance provided for them by their employer, and a mere 0.3% of those with disabilities have purchased private health insurance. 

The unemployment rate disproportionately affects disabled Gambians as well, especially young people. Currently, 68% of disabled Gambians between the ages of 15-24 are unemployed, compared to 50% for those who are not disabled, and half of disabled Gambians are also not in education, employment or training, compared to 34% of those without disabilities. 

Without a proper education or career prospects, people living with disabilities in The Gambia are unlikely to fully integrate into society or earn good wages, landing them at further risk of exclusion and poverty. Recently, there have been various developments that may make life easier for those living with disabilities in The Gambia, both from the Gambian government and from private companies. 

The Gunjur Inclusion Project

The Gunjur Inclusion Project (GIP) was formed in The Gambia in 2011 by its parent company, Disability Africa, and focuses specifically on helping children and young people with disabilities in the country. Based in the south-western coastal town of Gunjur, GIP has had a small, yet growing and meaningful impact on the lives of disabled youngsters in the town and across the country. 

The heart of GIP is in its playschemes, a series of activities targeted specifically at children that allow disabled children who have been previously excluded from childhood interactions to enjoy their childhood. These playschemes have been proven to reduce both the mental and physical isolation of disabled children while allowing them to integrate into society and learn essential social skills. They also guarantee that every child involved has a hot meal, reducing the risk of malnutrition among disabled children, a group that is particularly vulnerable. 

The GIP also has initiated its Finding 500 (F500) program, dedicated to locating disabled Gambian children who are isolated at home and supporting the inclusion of these children into GIP playschemes and local schools. With the F500 initiative, the GIP intends to destroy the stigma surrounding disabled children in education and society and has been working with Gambian teachers to better understand how to protect these vulnerable children. 

The Gambian Disability Bill

In August 2021, the most important piece of disability legislation in Gambian history entered into force following over a decade of support. The Persons with Disabilities Bill provides essential health care and social services for disabled people in The Gambia and was greatly welcomed by the Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD), whose chairperson praised the bill for allowing disabled Gambians to hold the government accountable where previously they had neglected the disabled community. 

By upholding the rights of disabled people in The Gambia, the act not only promotes the social inclusion of those who had previously felt isolated from wider society but also supports The Gambia’s international commitment to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The law provides the Gambian government with a crucial instrument that can be used for the advancement of disabled people in Gambian society, guaranteeing them the legal right to education, health care and work. 

– Tom Lowe
Photo: Flickr

Combat Poverty in RomaniaIn an effort to combat the nation’s longstanding battle with poverty, the Romanian Government passed 47 measures in 2015/16 to combat poverty in Romania through to 2020.

Poverty in Romania

At the time these measures passed into law, 40.2% of Romanian people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Furthermore, absolute poverty in Romania increased from 23.4% in 2008 to 27.7% in 2012. Low educational attainment, intergenerational transmission of poverty and lack of inter-regional mobility all contribute to the integral causes of poverty in Romania.

However, the Romanian government set a substantial and significant new precedent on how the nation combats poverty by adopting The National Strategy and Strategic Action Plan on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction for 2015-2020. These measures hope to reduce the many causes of poverty in Romania.

Key Measures:

  • Increasing employment rate through labor market activation programs
  • Increasing financial support for low-income individuals
  • Improving social inclusion of marginalized communities
  • Improving the functionality of social services
  • Reducing school drop-out rates
  • Scaling-up of national health programs
  • Integrating social assistance benefits with social services, employment services and other public services.

These measures were an encouraging shift in political focus that revolved around social benefits and a more community-based and integrated approach that generated widespread support. The World Bank supports these measures, commenting that these measures will strongly contribute to narrowing poverty gaps in the country.

Impact of Poverty Reduction Strategy

Since the adoption of these measures, monthly income per person increased by 10% between 2016 and 2017 and by 16% between 2017 and 2018, in part due to the increases in public-sector wages and improved minimum wages and tax cuts. As a result, poverty rates fell from 28.4% in 2014 to 15.8% in 2017.

Currently, the employment rate at 68.8% is approaching the EU 2020 target and is just below the EU average of 72.2%. Additionally, the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU at 4.9%.

Implementation Delays Cause Concern

Although clear steps toward improving Romania’s struggle with poverty have emerged, these measures have received criticism as expectations have determined that many measures could have delayed or minimal results. These concerns were further exacerbated in 2017 when a change in government occurred. The political change delayed implementation and altered the original plan, putting full implementation in jeopardy.

In addition, more legislation is necessary to address the growing condition of the Roma minority group residing in Romania. A whole 78% of Roma are at risk of poverty compared to 35% for non-Roma citizens. Furthermore, 84% of Roma households do not have access to a water source, sewage or electricity. To successfully combat poverty in Romania, the Roma need to be prioritized.

Poverty Reduction Progress

While no single piece of legislation will be the end all be all to combat poverty in Romania, the anti-poverty measures passed in 2015/2016 have shown that a top-down, legislation-focused approach to fighting poverty can lead to progress, poverty reduction and improved social inclusion.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

radicalization in refugeesRefugees are a part of society in every country. Global interconnectivity has provided refugees more opportunities to escape the persecution they have experienced in their home countries. However, that same interconnectivity doesn’t always extend to the small communities where the refugees end up living. Isolation and poverty can sometimes lead to desperation and radicalization in refugees.

Social Cohesion

Social cohesion, as defined in BMC Medicine, “is the ability of a given society to be inclusive of all cultural and social groups, so that they work cooperatively.” A willingness to cooperate with one another has many benefits, including the promotion of healthier and more just communities with lower violent crime rates. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. In a world that is so politically, culturally and historically diverse, these differences can sometimes seem to build barriers.

Indeed, many factors exist that can undermine social cohesion, including both social and economic isolation as well as discrimination. Marginalized members of society, specifically refugees and immigrants, are most commonly impacted. These populations often arrive in their host countries not able to speak the language and with limited support systems.  Social isolation frequently leads to economic isolation, meaning that refugees and immigrants are at a higher risk of falling into poverty.

Moreover, discrimination often faced by marginalized communities can further undermine social cohesion and is commonly linked with poorer health and unemployment. The negative impacts not only hurt these members but prevent them from contributing to the economy, affecting the community as a whole. Overall, communities that prioritize social inclusion and cultural understanding breed healthier societies and citizens.

Radicalization in Refugees

According to the 2017 IEP’s Global Terrorism Index, terrorism cost the world an estimated $84 billion in 2016. In addition, 77 countries reported at least one death as a result of terrorism, and 106 countries reportedly suffered at least one terrorist attack. Overall, Europe and other developed countries have seen a spike in levels of violence. With an ever-evolving terrorism landscape, more home-grown terrorists are perpetrating attacks using new methods. The nature of this ever-evolving threat means that terrorism persists as a major global issue. For this reason, the identification of isolation and discrimination as risk factors for violent radicalization is especially important in preventing violence.

Youth populations are most vulnerable to succumbing to violent ideologies since adolescence is an extremely formative period for identity. Living in poor social conditions can weaken links with socially inclusive networks, making way for new spheres of influence. Ideologically driven groups associated with violent radicalization often monopolize on this opportunity to offer an alienated member of society the chance to belong. For this reason, terrorist groups often target younger populations for new recruits, as they are the most vulnerable.

Thus far, most counterterrorism efforts have put an emphasis on the criminal justice system. This means focusing almost exclusively on those who are already planning on committing a crime and not on prevention. Not only may this partial focus be inhibiting success, but in some cases, it has further encouraged radicalization in refugees by singling out specific religious groups. If behavioral sciences like psychology and sociology are used in public health programs to prevent violence, couldn’t counterterrorism efforts similarly follow this example? 

Preventing Radicalization in Refugees

A new-wave of counterterrorism efforts can offer a new perspective on how to prevent violent threats through better comprehension of human complexity. Focusing on understanding individuals’ demographics, stories and culture in order to better employ protective factors, like social support programs, would be monumental. Furthermore, crafting programs that promote trust and integration is key. By creating safe environments for all demographics and cultures, risk factors for violent radicalization in refugees can be reduced and, hopefully, eradicated.

France is one of the first countries to apply this approach. In 2017 alone, 100,755 people requested asylum in France. For this reason, President Emanuel Macron’s administration has taken steps to aide new refugees and immigrants to integrate into their new host country through a community service program called Volont’r.

The program, launched in January 2019, aims to teach young refugees (between the ages of 16 and 25) about French values, language and culture through immersion. Refugees are given the opportunity to earn a living and to learn French through government-sponsored classes. The program also plans to recruit 1,500 French citizens to help guide 500 refugees to set and meet personal goals and to build networks.

Volont’r is an example of successfully addressing key risk factors for radicalization in refugees by using a public health approach. New refugees are no longer left in isolation because of a language barrier and a lack of social connections. Falling into poverty is prevented by providing tools for employment.

Learning Social Cohesion

Vulnerable populations must be given the opportunity to learn the codes of their new society, promoting integration into an environment where they are heard and understood. In an ever more globally connected world, France believes that building relationships, not walls, is the key to making the world a healthier and safer place. This is an important lesson all countries could benefit from not only for the health and safety of its refugee population but also to reduce the instances of radicalization in refugees.

Natalie Abdou
Photo: Flickr

international youth day
On Aug. 12,  the U.N. hosted an International Youth Day event at its headquarters in New York City. The event focused on the importance of addressing the mental health concerns of youth around the world, thus making them less susceptible to homelessness, crime and conflict situations.

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day was “Mental Health Matters.” The half-day event in New York City brought together young people, youth organizations, U.N. Member State representatives, civil society and U.N. entities for a series of presentations including panelists and young artist performances.

This event marked the official launch of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs publication, Social Inclusion of Youth with Mental Health Conditions.

The report reveals “one-fifth of the young people around the world experience a mental health condition, with risks especially great during the transition from childhood to adulthood.”

The U.N. seeks to banish the stigma that plagues those suffering from mental illness. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in his opening remarks that failing to address access to mental health services makes affected youth “more vulnerable to poverty, violence, and social exclusion, and negatively impacting society as a whole.”

International Youth Day was marked overseas at a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where the mental health of the young is of particular concern. Somali youth face violence and crime on a daily basis, and many are forced to join military groups or survive on the streets.

A traumatic childhood, like that experienced by youth in Somalia, breeds mental illness. According to Philippe Lazzarini, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, “We must be clear that what we need is nothing less than a paradigm shift in policies and attitudes towards the role of youth in order to empower and place them at the core of the development agenda.”

The population of those 25 years of age or younger is growing in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where young people are 70 percent of the civilian body. It is especially important for countries like the DRC to focus on mental health because the youth “are not only the Congo of tomorrow, but also the Congo of today,” said a U.N. representative from the country.

The World Health Organization recommends a range of specific actions that should be integrated into national development plans in order to break the cycle of debilitating mental illness. These strategies include supporting access to school for children with mental disabilities, integrating mental health issues into broader health policies and creating employment for those suffering from mental illness.

Assembly President John Ashe summed up the objective of this year’s International Youth Day, urging, “We should be especially focused on addressing the needs of youth with mental health conditions, many of whom experience discrimination on a daily basis. We must work together to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives.”

Grace Flaherty

Sources: World Health Organization, United Nations, UN DESA
Photo: Idealist Careers

The 44th General Assembly of the Organization of American States convened in Asunción, Paraguay at the beginning of June to discuss regional issues and development. The main themes throughout the Assembly were social inclusion and indigenous rights, which are deep issues that have long held Latin America back from healthy democratic, economic and social advancement.

Several countries are leading the march toward greater social inclusion, especially for indigenous populations. Indigenous rights, including self-determination, autonomy, territorial and natural resource rights and recognition of indigenous tongues and official languages, have been written into the Constitution of Bolivia.

Across the border in Paraguay where the OAS Assembly took place, the indigenous Guaraní language shares official status with Spanish. Paraguay is the only Latin American country where a majority of the population, 90 percent in this case, speaks a single indigenous language. This is a significant accomplishment considering indigenous peoples only make up about five percent of the population. Guaraní is treasured and spoken by street vendors, rural campesinos, businesspeople and government officials alike.

In countries like Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, indigenous groups are not only tolerated, but they play an integral part in the social fabric of the nation. Their rights are inscribed into law by the state and respected.

Yet the region still has great potential for improved social equality. “About a third of Latin America’s population lives in households with an income of between $4 and $10 dollars a day,” reports OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. “They have escaped the poverty that still afflicts more than 167 million Latin Americans, but to call them the ‘middle sector’ makes no sense. In truth, they are the millions of ‘not poor’ people, who occupy an income level that keeps them extremely vulnerable.”

Insulza points out that certain groups, including women, indigenous peoples, migrants, Afro-Americans, the poor and the disabled start from a disadvantaged position, which translates into unequal access to services, education and employment.

In order to continue producing the kind of growth praised by the OAS, the governments of Latin America must pursue policies that promote social inclusion over simply economic advancement.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Deutshe Welle, U.S. Department of State, The New York Times
Photo: OAS

Indian Budget Promotes Greater Social InclusionIn India, the effect of economic slowdown is not obvious. On the surface, economic activity is lively as businesses appear to be thriving and new ones are being created. This year, however, growth is predicted to be at around 5 percent.  Emphasizing a need to increase Indian growth to 8 percent, how it was prior to the global economic crisis, Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram presented the new Indian budget last Thursday. Chidambaram’s plan involved placing focus on greater social inclusion and a need to tax the super-rich of India.

Outlined in the presented Indian budget were plans to increase spending on education and vocational training, agriculture, and health by 17 percent, 22 percent and 24 percent respectively. An additional $1.8 billion was set aside for food subsidies as part of a plan to ensure food security and combat malnutrition, especially in remote rural areas. The Finance Minister’s recommendations also included improving the living situation of disenfranchised groups, including lower castes, minorities and women, for greater social inclusion and sustainable growth.

“There is a compelling moral case for equity but it is also necessary if there is to be sustained growth,” Chidambaram said.

Additional revenue to fund these programs would come in part from a 10 percent surcharge on 42,800 Indian taxpayers who reported a taxable income of more than 10 million rupees or $180,000 in the last year. Companies earning more than 5 million rupees would pay an additional 5 percent tax surcharge. This tax surcharge would be in effect for just one year. Chidambaram was optimistic that rich Indians would take well to this additional surcharge confident that they would pay “cheerfully.”

Since his appointment as Finance Minister in August, Chidambaram has worked to prevent a predicted fiscal deficit of 5.8 percent in GDP. Through forced expenditure cuts, he has managed to halt the fiscal deficit at 5.2 percent. Chidambaram pledges to lower the fiscal deficit for next year to 4.8 percent.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: CNN
Photo: Reuters