The Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) is a programme of the World Council of Churches in the broad Programme area on Unity, Mission and Ecumenical Relations. It is situated within the work on Mission with particular focus on the marginalised alongside with work on indigenous people and migration. EDAN is a WCC sustainable structure to ensure that disability concern remains in the Agenda of the work with churches. Its main purpose is to improve the well being of persons with disabilities both in the church and society and in this endeavour, it carries forward WCC vision of a just and inclusive society with a specific focus on work with persons with disabilities. It exists to provide a model of being church through advocacy for participation, inclusion and active involvement of persons with disabilities in all aspects of spiritual, social and development life of the Church and society.
The existence of EDAN is a reflection of the fact that the World Council of Churches (WCC) identifies the disability concerns as an important agenda for the Christian Church. EDAN is considered an appropriate vehicle through which the churches and society should continue to be called to account for their actions and helped to see people with disabilities as indispensable stakeholders in their work and life. Established in 1998 by the 8th Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe as a WCC structure, EDAN draws its mandate from the WCC Assemblies and has since its inception sought to pursue the place of persons with disabilities in a just society which the World Council of Churches seeks in its World wide vision. The 9th WCC General Assembly in 2006 in Porto Alegre in Brazil recommended that WCC work with representatives of EDAN to articulate in an even more bold and creative way, consistent with Christian theology, ways to make the churches fully inclusive communities and the Ecumenical movement a more open space for persons with disabilities. This call was reiterated by the 10th WCC General Assembly in Busan, Korea in 2013 which affirmed the continuation of EDAN work as part of WCC programmes. It is this affirmation of work and specific recommendations that have given EDAN a resilience to continue.
EDAN At the international level is a program of the World Council of Churches which is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement. It is situated within the broad programme area of Unity, Mission and Ecumenical Relations at the World Council of Churches in Geneva but it is managed as a decentralized operation with a Governance board and a Secretariat hosted by the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) in Nairobi, Kenya. The work is carried out at both regional and international levels. At the International level, EDAN is officially the Disability Desk of WCC and reports to the Associate General Secretary Responsible for the Broad Programme area on Unity, Mission and Ecumenical Relations. At the regional level, EDAN Coordinators work closely with the Regional Ecumenical Organisations in all the eight regions of WCC. In the Africa region in particular, the work is implemented jointly with and on behalf of the All Africa Conference of Churches who consider this as their work. EDAN is led by a Program Executive, Dr. Samuel Kabue, who is assisted by a small Reference Group which helps to envision and continuously evaluate the work. The work is backed up by eight volunteer regional representatives drawn from each of the eight WCC regions, namely: Europe, North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. The eight regional coordinators initiate and coordinate networks responsible for detailed operations regionally, nationally and locally. Their work responds to concerns specific to the particular situations in their regions. The programme maintains an active network of persons with disabilities through the volunteer Regional Coordinators who continually liaise with the various structures in the society in pursuit of networking to achieve the objectives of EDAN. The aim of the Programme as a network is to improve the situation of persons with Disabilities through providing the space for their contributions and gifts to the ecumenical movement, the churches and the society.
The work of EDAN builds on the aspirations of WCC in seeking to encourage member churches and the societies in which they exist to become more just and inclusive communities. This aim is expressed in efforts to express visible unity, develop shared understandings of mission and evangelism and document ‘best practices’ of the churches and partners in terms of building healing and reconciling communities on the basis of justice and inclusivity. The programme therefore seeks the full inclusion of persons with disabilities all over the world in the Society and churches life, work and decision-making.
SUMMARY OF THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
1. Enhancing disability discourse in the World Council of Churches and its member churches.
EDAN’s ecumenical approach to disability discourses is an important approach in promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities in church life. The need for this approach is based on the interim theological statement ‘A church of all and for all’ which provides a basis for discourse, reflection and action on disability. Working with WCC and the Churches, EDAN has managed to have persons with disabilities included and taking part in various Commissions and Working groups like the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, Faith and Order Plenary, Commission on Church and International Affairs, Education and Ecumenical Formation Commission, Working Group on Economic Justice and Working group on Just and inclusive Communities. They have participated in many international events organized by WCC Worldwide. The Churches which we have been able to reach with our discourse and the use of the document “A church of All and for all” have began to respond positively to the need for equal participation in their Spiritual and social life. For instance, for the first time, ten persons with disabilities were named as official delegates of their churches to the 10th General Assembly in Busan, South Korea in November 2013. This means that they were eligible to participate in the official business of the Assembly and were eligible to be elected to governing organs of WCC during the Assembly. Three of them were elected to the Central Committee and one to the most powerful and influencial Executive Committee. A good number have since been named in various working Commisions and groups as was the case in between the two Assemblies. We believe that this reflects acceptance of the gifts that they can bring to make the church complete.
2. Including disability discourse in theological institutions.
EDAN appreciates the significant role theological institutions plays in ministerial formation. EDAN therefore has been working closely with association of theological institutions at the regional and national levels to influence curriculum development to include disability concerns. Working with Associations of theological institutions, EDAN has during its existence been able to influence introduction of disability studies in theological institutions in various parts of the world. We have worked with South Pacific Association of theological seminaries, Association of theological Institutions in South East Asia, West Africa Associations of theological Institutions, Association of theological institutions in East Africa, Associations of Theological Institutions in Southern and Central Africa, Association of theological Institutions in Francophone West and Central Africa. WE have also done a lot of work in Latin America with specific institutions and have some work also going on in Middle East through our regional Coordinator for that region. EDAN has also worked with theological associations at National Level in a number of countries like India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Myanmar, South Korea and this work has at times been very rewarding. For instance, in India alone, EDAN disability studies curriculum has been introduced in fifty-two theological institutions. This project is aimed at influencing inclusion of persons with disabilities in these institutions both as students as well as faculty members but even more importantly, to prepare theological students for ministry with and among persons with disabilities as a way to improve the attitudes held by the churches and society on persons with disabilities. Intensive work has been carried out with some individual institutions like St Paul’s University in Kenya where the disability study course has been going on for many years and with the Protestant University of Congo where working with the entire University, a master’s degree course entitled Masters in Transformation has been introduced. The course brings together such disciplines as theology, law, economics and medicine from a disability perspective.
From this work, EDAN has been able to print and disseminate the following theological materials:
i. Embracing the Inclusive Community: A Disability Perspective, 2010
ii. Doing Theology from Disability Perspective, 2011
iii. First Latin American Consultation on Theology and Disability, 2011
iv. Disability, Society and Theology: Voices from Africa, 2011
v. Disability Discourse for Theological Institutions in Indonesia, 2011
vi. A Theological Resource Book on Disability: Is God Disabled? Teaching Theology from Disability Perspective, 2012
3. Human rights work.
EDAN has worked with the WCC UN office, various regional and national ecumenical bodies, other disability organizations as well as other interested stakeholders to campaign, advocate and lobby for the ratification and domestication of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities as well as enactment of national enabling laws by state parties. This work has also included awareness raising on other human rights instruments which protect human rights and how they relate to persons with disabilities. Working with the WCC UN office and the Kenya Government, EDAN was part of the official state delegates and participated in the UN Ad Hoc Committee deliberations that worked on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities over a period of four years of intensive lobbying and negotiation leading to its adoption by the UN General Assembly on 13th December 2006. Since then EDAN has joined up with other disability organizations and other interested stakeholders to lobby and advocate for its ratification and domestication by individual states. Recently, EDAN implmented a three years project on Human Rights with a specific focus on ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the East Africa sub-region. The project entailed among other things working with National Federations of persons with disabilities in the focus countries in advocacy for ratification, implementation and monitoring of the CRPD. Emphasis was made on cooperation with the government and preparation of parallel reports to the Convention Committee of Experts. We carried out a survey of the existing situation at the beginning of the project and published a book titled ”A Review of Legislative, Policy and Programmatic Change in East Africa: Four Years after the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD)”. Other activities undertaken by this project included training workshops as well as advocacy and exposure exchange visits in the focus countries. The project was implemented through a partnership with the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM). There is need to continue building on the work already accomplished in this Respect and to replicate the same elswhere. Alongside with the work on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities , EDAN has also been working to influence inclusive legislations and policies at various levels of Governance.
4. Inclusive development working with churches, national and regional ecumenical organizations and development agents in the field of social concerns.
EDAN principally exists to advocate and influence inclusion, participation and active involvement of persons with disabilities in all aspects of the church and society’s life. It has therefore sought to work with these bodies towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in development including addressing disability concerns in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and more recently the Post 2015 Development Framework process. EDAN has been involved in bringing up the concern to have persons with disabilities involved in both the discussion and practical involvement in work on economic globalization and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) since 2003. In that year EDAN organized a regional consultation on the effect of economic globalization on the lives of persons with disabilities In Johannesburg, South Africa and the recommendations of that consultation were forwarded to the relevant WCC department for follow up. In 2008, EDAN alongside other regional disability organizations brought together over one hundred representatives of the disability sector in a Regional conference in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss the place of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the MDG’s and the recommendations of that conference were forwarded to the UN summit organized in September that year. These recommendations featured in the UN discussions on how to make the MDG’s implementation more inclusive and responsive to disability.
Recently, EDAN and other partners among them the United Nation Millennium Campaign For Africa have taken the lead in mobilizing the disability sector to make contribution to the ongoing discussions on the Post 2015 Development Framework. It is the conviction of EDAN that to avoid being left out in the implementation of the new development framework, the voices of persons with disabilities need to be heard in the framework formulation process. We in this respect organized two National workshops in Kenya in 20013 to bring the voices of persons with disabilities together and the consequent recommendations were forwarded to the UN High Level Panel through the United Nation Development Programme. EDAN also participated in a Regional Conference on the Post 2015 Development Framework organized by the International Disability Alliance (IDA) in Conjunction with the International Disability and Development Consortium In Nairobi in 2014 and is following up on the recommendations of that conference. In Addition, EDAN is participating in two other initiatives on the Post 2015 Framework discussion. One of this is the Kenya National Civil Society Organization which has carried out two (2013 and 2014) National conferences in Conjunction with the relevant Kenya Government department and the steering UN Agents in Nairobi. The other initiative is the Africa Regional Faith Based initiative which brings the efforts of various main religions together in a common purpose.
5. Work with Women with Disabilities
Working with the women in EDAN leadership, the programme has carried out a series of workshops specific to issues of women with disabilities in Latin America, Caribbean and Africa regions. Central to this has been the subject of violence on women with disabilities, women with disabilities and HIV/AIDS as well as capacity building for self advocacy. The recommendations of the activities around these concerns will continue to shape the work of EDAN in regard to empowerment of women with disabilities in Church and Society.
Networking is both a strategy to achieve EDAN’s objectives as well as a programmatic approach to accomplishments. EDAN networks internally within WCC and externally with other agents involved in similar work. EDAN has in its existence managed to build and strengthen networks in each of the eight regions of WCC and these networks have been working to build awareness on disabilities in churches, theological institutions and other ecumenical organizations in their respective regions. These networks have been able to organize their own activities in their respective regions without the assistance of the Central coordinating office which is a good sign of sustainability. They have also continued to build the capacity of persons with disabilities for self advocacy and active involvement in the church life. At institutional level, EDAN takes part in all major events organized by WCC and other Ecumenical bodies in the regions and its Reference Group and Regional Coordinating team have met regularly to help envision the work, conduct self evaluation and forward planning.
Persons with disabilities through EDAN have been able to participate and take part in Regional and National Ecumenical Organisations’ Assemblies and meetings. They have also taken part in their denominational assemblies and meetings.
The programme continues to produce a regular newsletter which is an information sharing, awareness raising, and advocacy tool and a fellowship publication. It has a website: www.edan-wcc.org and a face book which is another means of Communication. The website provides a platform for sharing news, EDAN activities, various resource materials and reports as well as a link on information and activities for each of the eight regions where EDAN works. It also has a blog link where members can share ideas on various issues affecting persons with disabilities.
Thus, EDAN’s achievements in working with the WCC, the Churches and the wider disability sector since inception have been centered on sensitizing the society on inclusion and to help in providing ecumenical space and facilitating the churches, regional and national ecumenical bodies to become more responsive as beacons of hope, dignity and inspiration for persons with disabilities.
STRATEGY IN THE CURRENT PHASE OF WORK
In the period between the 10th and the next Assembly, the Busan Assembly mandated WCC to remain committed to fulfilling its purpose by embarking on a pilgrimage of justice and peace in which as a fellowship of churches it will strenthen its journey together, promoting justice and peace in the world as an expression of its faith in the Triune God. In order to accomplish this, it came up with five strategic objectives as follows:
1. Strengthening the fellowship
2. Engaging in Advocacy
3. Encouraging spirituality, reflection and formation
4. Representing churches in building trust and understanding
5. Communicating innovatively and successfully
In line with these objectives, EDAN plans to intensify efforts to provide ecumenical space for advocacy within the church, regional and national institutions for the inclusion of persons with disability in all spheres of development and to network with like minded organisations whether allied to the faith based organisations or civil society. EDAN will continue to work as a network in all the eight regions namely Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Caribbean, Europe, North America as far much as possible using existing WCC structures where they are present and active. The regional networks will remain a vehicle linking different partners allied to them within the regions on issues of persons with disabilities. Keen to be more effective and deeper on its addressed concerns, EDAN has affirmed it vision and mission and has narrowed down its broad strategic objectives to three into which all its operations are based as follows:
Vision and Mission
Vision: ‘A church of all and for all, an epitome of truly inclusive community’
Mission: To advocate for the inclusion, participation and active involvement of persons with disabilities in all spiritual, social, economic and structural life of the church and society.
Broad Strategic Objectives
i. Deepening Disability discourse in churches and theological institutions
ii. Promoting and protecting disability rights
iii. Fellowship and networking for social inclusion
These objectives are guided by current trends both in the work of the church and its affiliated institutions as well as contemporary issues in Disability advocacy. EDAN as a programme of the World Council of Churches has to be guided by the trend in the direction that the World Council of churches takes after each of the Assembly as these are the basis of envisioning the work. Delegates and participants in the ecumenical conversations on current trends in ecumenism during the Busan Assembly noted the current development in “World Christianity” with churches praying to the God of Life in the Context of religious plurality. This is characterized by new contextual expressions of the church and hence will require; the development of diversity inclusive churches and congregations; the search for new forms of genuine discipleship, preaching the gospel and preaching peace and justice in multi religious and secular contexts; and the need for leadership development in churches (from spiritual, theological, ecumenical and managerial perspective. EDAN’s role in providing an ecumenical space in its approach towards the disability inclusion in the church life and theological institutions is critical. It wil continue to draw its foundation from its vision “A church of all and for all” which provides the basis for discourse, reflection and action on disability as well as other theological resources to be developed. The appreciation of the significant role theological institutions play in ministerial formation enhances the need for EDAN to work closely with them at regional and national level in disability study development to enrich theologyical education.
The phase of the work is also developed within the context of the International discussions on the post 2015 development framework expected to take over from where the MDG’s will have left by 2015 which was the targeted date for their achievement. These discussions have clearly pointed out that despite the commitment of the United Nations to eradicate poverty through the MDG’s as a development platform, people with disabilities missed out specific mention in the MDGs, as well as in the 21 targets and 60 monitoring indicators that operationalized the MDGs. The whole idea of the MDG’s and the post 2015 Development Framework is improvement of the society’s life in which eradication of poverty is a major concern. A broad understanding of poverty today as seen from the perspectives of persons with disabilities is the lack of basic capabilities to live in dignity as seen in situations such as hunger, poor education, discrimination, vulnerability and social exclusion. The answer to the poverty of both material as well as relationship lies in inclusion in social and development life of the church and society. It is for this reason that EDAN perceives its purpose for existence as to influence the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all projects that are of benefit to the general society. Thus, it seeks to have the interests of persons with disabilities in programmes that address such concerns as poverty, education, health, disaster response etc.
The phase also comes at a time when EDAN has been in the process of influencing the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention marks a departure from ethos of Charity to rights based approach to disability work. The Post-MDG development framework needs to adopt this human-rights based approach, to contribute effectively to the implementation of the internationally agreed human rights treaties in international cooperation, including the CRPD.
As established by article 32 of the CRPD, all projects and programmes, whether mainstream or disability specific, need to be compliant with the CRPD, and promote the rights and full and effective participation for persons with disabilities, including by supporting the work of representative organizations of persons with disabilities. At National level, the broad perspective is that countries that join in the Convention (in full) engage themselves to develop and carry out policies, laws and administrative measures for securing the rights recognized in the Convention and abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination.
In ensuring pursuit of its objectives, EDAN will network both internally with other World Council of churches departments, All WCC allied institutions and organisations including the churches, National and regional ecumenical organisations, International and National none Governmental organisations engaged in disability work, Disabled people’s organisations at International and National levels as well as UN agencies that are in disability work.