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Parliamentary Assembly Session: 4 to 8 October 2010

Statement by Hayrünnisa GÜL, Patron of the Turkish “Education enables” campaign

7 October 2010

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

It is a great honor for me to deliver a speech in this Assembly, which is known as a school of democracy and human rights.

I would like to offer my thanks to you all for this invitation.

I would also like to note that I am very much familiar with the work you have been doing here.

For almost ten years during the 1990s, my husband sat in these chairs just like you and served the principles of this Council.

I used to come here with him and participate in the social and cultural activities of the committees.

We always remember those years with pride.

Distinguished Parliamentarians,

If you don’t mind, from now on, I will continue in my mother language, Turkish.

Distinguished Parliamentarians,

In terms of human rights, there is unfortunately still a lot that needs to be done for children and women in the world.

Discrimination against women, vulnerability of women and enrollment rates for girls remain as some of the most important issues with respect to the UN Millennium Development Goals.

We are all aware that the disadvantaged segments of society such as women, children and those with disabilities constitute an important dimension in achieving what is the raison d’être of the Council of Europe; namely, protecting and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The fact that the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly two decades ago is the most widely accepted human rights convention demonstrates a world-wide agreement on the rights of children.

Despite this agreement and positive progress in this regard, children continue to die from such preventable reasons as pneumonia, malaria, measles and malnutrition.

A great number of children in the world can never attend school, while millions of others are not protected against problems like violence, abuse, exploitation, discrimination and neglect.

It is essential to attach particular importance to the rights of girls as they are more likely to be exposed to such problems. Most of the children not attending primary school are girls and, in many regions, they do not have access even to basic health services.

Distinguished Members,

Another disadvantaged group of children are those with disabilities. The ratio of children with disabilities in our populations is in fact higher than we think because we do not see them often in society.

Those with disabilities do not live in isolation in far off islands in the ocean anymore, but we all know that they are still confined to the four walls of their homes in some countries, which is why we are sometimes not even aware of them.

Needs of people with disabilities are not considered when living standards are improved because everything is designed for those without disabilities. This can lead to great suffering and inequality.
We must remember that children are not disabled by choice. However, they have to live with their disability.

Furthermore, anyone may have a disability some day. Life is what happens to us as we make plans and anything can happen to anyone, including becoming disabled.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, says “In the end this is an ethical issue. A society which gives priority to its most vulnerable members and their rights, that society is a good society.”

Being a good society can be achieved by protecting children with disabilities, not leaving their parents alone to cope with them, by providing them with opportunities for education when they are young; thus making them active individuals in society.

We know that this is achievable. Some member countries of the Council have accomplished this. However, it is also true that there is a lot to do in some member countries and other parts of the world.

First of all, governments must prepare necessary legal and administrative regulations to implement the recommendations in international conventions on the rights of children and people with disabilities.

Secondly, we must urge all segments of society to make more contribution and sacrifice in this regard. We must also highlight the power of civil society in mobilizing and leading the general public. After all, we should not expect governments to do everything.

We must further raise awareness on how education can overcome all obstacles and we must work hard to achieve this. Only in this way can the general public take ownership of this issue.

Finally, we must raise awareness in families who have disabled children and others around them so that they will not isolate their children at home or be embarrassed by them; so that they do not place an obstacle of their own to children with disabilities. We have to prove to these parents that with the right and proper education, their children can be more successful than their peers in areas where they are talented.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Parliamentarians,

As a person who believes in equality for all, particularly for innocent children, equal treatment, respect and affection, I have devoted myself to some social responsibility projects seizing the opportunity of being a President’s spouse. One of them is the “Education Enables” Project.

Allow me to inform you about this project and briefly talk about what is being done in Turkey in this regard.

In parallel with the recent social, economic and cultural developments in Turkey, important progress has been made with regard to human rights and especially the rights of disadvantaged groups such as women, children and people with disabilities. The opportunities that the state provides to citizens with disabilities have been reviewed and institutionalized. Within the newly restructured social security system, special funds have been allocated for people with disabilities. The facilities provided by the state as well as municipalities and NGOs have been enhanced.

Our EU accession process has been as much an impetus in these efforts as the democratic vision toward deepening and extending the scope of fundamental rights in Turkey.

Moreover, recent amendments to the constitution enforce the right of positive discrimination to vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and people with disabilities in order for them to fully exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Distinguished Parliamentarians,

It is necessary to ensure that people with disabilities and their families in particular, but also teachers, local governments and society in general are aware that children with disabilities can be educated and be active in all fields of social life.

With this understanding, we have launched the “Education Enables” Project. The inaugural meeting of this project which is carried out in cooperation with state and civil society organizations and supported by volunteers from among artists, sports community, business people and the media was held at the Presidential Palace in April 2009.

Our project aims to raise public awareness about the fact that children with disabilities can receive education with others in the same environment at the same schools.

In this system called Integration Education, our children learn to accept each other as they are; they learn about tolerance and how to live together despite their differences.

As you all know, one of the biggest problems facing humanity today is discrimination. I believe that the Integration Education system is of great importance in terms of fighting against discrimination and extending democratic understanding.

As part of the Education Enables Project, Turkey’s 81 governors visited families with disabled children and informed them about the support provided by the state. It was explained to the families that they cannot protect their children by confining them to their home since this would render these children helpless when they have to be on their own.

In only one year, some 24.000 families have been visited. For instance, in Diyarbakır, the governor and his staff paid visits to more than 400 families in one year and persuaded families to send their children to school. Furthermore, seminars have been held in 2055 schools and teachers were also informed about the issue.

I gladly observe that public awareness with regard to the education of disabled people through the Education Enables Project has been growing. Another issue as significant as public awareness is to provide the necessary physical infrastructure and social environment to cater to the needs of those with disabilities. This constitutes another pillar of our project.

I would like to share with you the good news that 877 special classrooms were opened and 14 new special schools were constructed in one year’s time.

It is also a source of pride that most of these classrooms and schools were built by philanthropists in our country.

We have so far received positive feedback about the project. Ratio of children with disabilities receiving education in our country has risen almost by 30% in one year.

Numbers are no doubt important to demonstrate the success of the project, but I would like to emphasize that changing the life of even a single person with a disability for the better and providing him/her with a happy and honorable life are more valuable to me than anything else.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

People may be born with a disability or become disabled later in life. However, this is not a hindrance to success. The best example of this is Deputy Lokman Ayva whose report we just heard. His efforts towards extending the rights of people with disabilities deserve the highest praise and appreciation. I would like to, on behalf of all our citizens with disabilities, offer my thanks to him once again.

People with disabilities can reveal their potential and contribute to the development and cultural heritage of society if they are given a chance for better education. In this way, the world will be a much better place to live for all mankind.
I hereby call on Europe to implement all the measures mentioned by the Rapporteur in his report that will enable children with disabilities to receive education together with those without disabilities.

I am also of the opinion that the Council of Europe’s Disability Action Plan 2006-2015 is crucial in terms of safeguarding the right to education for people with disabilities and that the Action Plan should be implemented in all member countries.

Fighting against discrimination, including discrimination against people with disabilities, should be everyone’s priority. Only in this way can we ensure that the fundamental values of human rights, democracy and the principle of the rule of law prevail in our common European House and in the world.

In ending my speech, I would like to extend my thanks to President Çavuşoğlu for his kind invitation to be with you; to the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee; and to all the distinguished Parliamentarians.