Participation, Legal Capacity, and Gender: Reflections from the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Project in Serbia
2. The UNPRPD Project and the Serbian Context
2.1. The First Pillar: Legal Capacity
2.2. The Second Pillar: Women and Girls with Disabilities
3. Background, Materials, and Methods
3.1. Situating the Study
3.2. Materials and Methods
4.1. Coalition Building
First we found out who was working on the draft and the minister appointed to work together, which at that point did not include civil society. There was no indication that they wanted to amend the part about legal capacity because the main agency working was on children’s rights—the train had already started leaving the station, so we recognised the momentum. Then we insisted to bring to the table other stakeholders in the area: the Ombudsman of protection, DPOs (OPDs), CSO, and mental disability rights initiative.
We worked on one big closed event to only discuss the legal capacity part, which turned out… more than 20 stakeholders and other institutions from the province and republic level. So, I think that was the point where the leader of the working group and the leader of the ministry realised how important it was to so many groups and felt the pressure from civil society—and (they) made a public commitment to address it. Then we had another meeting to actually draft it. Now we are waiting for the final draft to go up (for) public discussion—the last step before the law will be adopted.
(The) most vivid example in my mind was fights we had at the first meeting between civil society representatives and national employment services. They were fighting, contradicting, doing damage to persons with disabilities (saying things like) ’they do nothing’, things like that. And now, I see them without our involvement, they have cooperation on other different projects. So, they respect each other now as partners, and they work together and contact each other.
(We had) several meetings and forums since inceptions, various steering committees, working group meetings, and some events organised by other projects. We had a conference at the beginning of the project marking 10 years of CRPD, and 70 years of human rights. And these different occasions to discuss these issues, all the time, we based our activities and leadership on the CRPD. And we were trying to convince them that this is the road that we should follow. And convince them that we have to work together, and now we are somewhere in the middle, but they have to work together to make real change and make it sustainable.
4.1.1. Inception Event
The launch of the project (was a) large expansive conference with head of UN, heads of OPDs, heads of CSO, the Ombudsman office, governments; 250 people from all parts of the project. This was our inception event this was the only way. First of all, we needed to celebrate the 10 years of CRPD. We needed to review the CRPD in the country and reflect to see if it has been implement(ed). We need to motivate and bring on board (the) Ministry of Labour. We need approval from the line ministry—we needed them to say, ‘it’s ok for you to do that’. I would say it wasn’t an illustration of change, but it was very interesting.
(This event was) the first ever—I can testify to this—discussion among all stakeholders about legal capacity reform. The UN was the convening party. (It was the) first time the Ministry of Labor actually came into the panel to present their vision…and what has been drafted to this point. Then all experts, academic, UN, CSO and DPOs (OPDs) were all there representing all disabilities. It was, for me, for someone doing legal capacity work for 7 or 8 years. This was the first time in Serbia that legal capacity was tackled, but in a participatory, inclusive and transparent way. (The event) lasted for several hours, and everyone left happy… The advisor to the minister, he said ‘I am shocked’, because he did not envision legal capacity at all. He said, ‘you shock me. Please put it on paper.’
Everyone felt they were a part of something that was never in Serbia before. (The) UN kept track of everything that was said. Everybody was there. And everyone congratulated the UN for keeping the story alive. This story would not have been kept alive. It might have been done in a closed office in the ministry without anyone knowing and perform some public discussion with no impact. And we compiled the inputs and notes, and made a policy document and sent it to the ministry. Then we kept talking with them. For me it was such a big step forward, because it had never happened before. There was no interest in changing the law, and even smaller chance that it would align with the CRPD, and then communicating it with other stakeholders (social care, representative of judges—everyone was there). That has never happened before. I was proud because it would never have happened without us. I felt it was our obligation. No one else was doing it, and no one else could have convened all the partners. So, for me, that was one moment I would circle as an illustration of what we are able to do with joint forces, with focus and expertise.
We (initially) reacted to a lot of negative reactions from the country… And we are now involved in drafting the national disability strategy. 3 years ago, a new National Disability Strategy was drafted, and it was the baseline for the new PRPD project, but (it) never got adopted. But we got the project. In the course of the project, we could build the connections with all the partners to help facilitate the new National Disability Strategy. UN is leading the way and securing the participation of civil society, and new national anti-discrimination strategy has a huge disability part. We are hoping to change the law in a matter of a month, then a strategy in the year.
4.2. Multiple Partners
They were asking really practical questions. What should I do if an old lady wants to marry my son and take his house? We then talk about what alternatives are there. The CRPD has this, but you have to put it in every specific question they ask. Which can be difficult. … People have a lot of fears that are not completely grounded. Sometimes you offer them… what is already present, because deprivation of legal capacity is not protecting them … We go through the academic papers and these processes, and that takes significant time.
She asked the girl with autism if she would like to vote, and she said ’yes’. (When we) asked for who, and she said the current president. When asked why, she said, ’well because he has a nice suit’. We talked about how that is not a worthwhile reason. And she (the person with autism) pointed out many people vote based on who is handsome and whatnot. (The personal reason behind the vote) is not that important, but it is important that they know about that right and that they want to vote.
4.3. Rights Holders
4.3.1. Focus Groups
They were very excited and very interested to participate because it is a lot for them to get some more significant position in this society. So, they were in a position to be recognised in the same way as other citizens who are asked to tell something about themselves. It is a big, important thing for them to be invited somewhere to talk about themselves, personally. Not that they have somebody to talk for them. And they have something to say, obviously.
…it has already had some benefit for these women because they are very rarely asked to give their opinion. It was good they realised they have a right to share their thoughts—it has had some psychological impact. It was good for these women’s psychological senses, and we developed some cooperation with these organisations in different towns.
Without disclosing something private, the mentee and I had a very complex and difficult process…Many topics were brought up, and it was work to overcome several obstacles for their living and development. Their life. (I spent) time with them and conversation. It was hard. There were emotional moments. We were scared. We were thinking what could we do when we continue, and what they can get from us in such a complex situation. The best thing was the two of us were a team, and we supported each other, and that gave most of the results.
It was difficult to accept the line, the limit (of what a mentor can do). But when you manage to do that… they do not feel threatened and they do not have the feeling we (have) given up on them.Accepting the line’ as the participant said, was an important step toward optimising the potential of mentorship. Not all activities were intended to directly amend Family Law, but rather grow the capacity of local self-advocates in support of a sustainable social shift.
I think that sometimes in our everyday life and work, we are all the time ruled by regulations and structures and how things were previously done. I think the project actually showed us we shouldn’t knock on the doors that are closed. The reason why this stands out—it taught me some things cannot be done in one way…
I had an opportunity to meet people in institutions and (some parents). What was very striking to me was a mother who has a daughter (with IDD)… And the mother showed she really has to think outside the box. For example, when her child has the desire to be in love, but she is just imagining this love, and the mother has to let her just imagine and talk to her. For her intellectual experience, it is better to let her feel that love. It is very encouraging and brave of that mother.
Sometimes you have to find ways to talk about serious topics. If you organise a workshop on sexual and reproductive health or gender-based violence, no one shows up. We have to have innovating ways, and that is good because then you include more people, and no one feels you are targeting them. We didn’t approach this topic from the negative—what is not working. All these NGOs when they start talking about problems and what is not working in the country by people (we) all know. But this came from a positive tone—what can be strengthened.
Because of the budget, they found an app that can make things accessible so she is trying to make a post accessible to them… This really opened to many different angles of how you can improve everyday life. Again, it is a small thing, but you want to be open to new options.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
- How did you (the storyteller) first become involved with the UNPRPD, and what is your current involvement?
- How do you describe your organisation’s role in the project?
- From your point of view, describe a story that illustrates the most significant change that has resulted from the UNPRPD project in Serbia at this phase of implementation.
- How do you think this change (reiterate the change event) came to happen (the process)?
- Why was this story (use the specific change they stated) significant for you?
- How has the work of the UNPRPD and partnerships contributed to this significant change in the country (realising disability rights in Serbia)?
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|Partnership Entity||Notation||Specific Agency or Organisation|
|UN Agency (5)|
N = 6
|PUN#||OHCHR (leading agency), UNFPA, UN Women, UNDP, ILO|
|Government partners (4)|
N = 4
|PG#||Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Ombudsman, Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, National Employment Service|
|Civil Society (8) |
N = 14
|PCS#||Our house, FemPlatz, Serbian Association of Employers, Mental Disability Rights Initiative (MDRI), Iz Kruga, Center for Independent Living Serbia, Forum for Youth, National Organisation of Persons with Disabilities|
N = 4
|PO#||Consultants, persons with disabilities involved in project activities|
|Theme||Definition||UNPRPD ToC Key Factors|
|Coalition building||The UNPRPD programme aims to align previously siloed stakeholders, such as government ministries and OPDs, to a common goal through the UNPRPD project pillars.||Lever of change|
|Multiple partners||Project partnerships, including but not limited to the UNCT, government, and civil society.||Key actors|
|Rights holders||Persons with Disabilities and their representative organisations; CRPD Article 4.3||Key actors|
|Innovation||New theme, not included in the UNPRPD Toc but emergent from the data||NA|
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Wescott, H.; Ferri, D.; MacLachlan, M. Participation, Legal Capacity, and Gender: Reflections from the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Project in Serbia. Disabilities 2023, 3, 129-146. https://doi.org/10.3390/disabilities3010010
Wescott H, Ferri D, MacLachlan M. Participation, Legal Capacity, and Gender: Reflections from the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Project in Serbia. Disabilities. 2023; 3(1):129-146. https://doi.org/10.3390/disabilities3010010Chicago/Turabian Style
Wescott, Holly, Delia Ferri, and Malcolm MacLachlan. 2023. "Participation, Legal Capacity, and Gender: Reflections from the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Project in Serbia" Disabilities 3, no. 1: 129-146. https://doi.org/10.3390/disabilities3010010