By Alice Dahle, Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

Gulzar Duishenova was living in Kyrgyzstan as a housewife and mother of two young children in 2002 when a car accident involving a drunk driver permanently changed her life. As a result of the crash, she lost movement in her legs, and she now requiresa wheelchair. The year following the accident, Gulzar’s husband died suddenly, leaving her the sole caretaker for her children.

Gulzar did not give up. She became an activist and human rights defender.

Like many other countries, Kyrgyzstan does not have the infrastructure necessary to allow people with disabilities to move about freely and independently. Schools, from kindergarten to university, are generally inaccessible to students with mobility challenges. Finding a job is difficult because few workplaces are accessible to wheelchairs. Even after a successful job hunt, getting to work is a daily challenge. Ruts and pot-holes in the roads and high curbs along the streets make it hard to get around in a wheelchair. Depending on others for a lift onto a bus or up and down stairways can be awkward and embarrassing. Even when ramps are available, they are not always well-designed and are often hard to use independently. Gulzar has made a short videoillustrating the amount of time, patience and physical effort it takes for her to get from her home to her dance class three times each week.

After meeting others who were living with disabilities, Gulzar recognized that she was not alone in facing barriers in day-to-day life. She began working with a community of people in the capital city of Bishkek who were organizing a movement aimed at enabling people with disabilities to move around freely and take part in everyday activities. She organized training for bus drivers and used social media to advocate for needed changes. She and other activists have visited university classes giving lectures and holding discussions about disability rights. They are now lobbying the Kyrgyz parliament to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD) to address discrimination and mandate access to jobs, transportation, healthcare and the communities where they live.

Gulzar was recently invited to attend the Human Rights Defenders’ World Summitin Paris, along with more than 150 other human rights defenders from around the world. She very much appreciated the opportunity to talk with so many others engaged in human rights work. But she was surprised that she was the only participant in a wheelchair, and there was no discussion of the rights of persons with disabilities on the agenda. Although the conference was generally accessible, no allowance was made for extra time for her to get from one event to another, which left her exhausted by the end of the first day and too tired to participate in the evening social events. However, she was glad to hear statements of intersectional solidarity between defenders of all kinds of human rights, and she returned home inspired to continue her work.

Gulzar deals with discrimination in a society where women are not encouraged to speak out and where people with disabilities do not enjoy respect for the full range of theirhuman rights. You can support Gulzar by signing a message to Kyrgyzstan’s parliament at this link.

This is the first in a series of blogs written as Amnesty International USA’s contribution to the annual global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. Each year the campaign extends from November 25 (International Day Against Violence Against Women) through December 10 (International Human Rights Day).

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