Busy traffic, huge and uneven roadside kerbs up, and “heaps of enthusiastic hooting and tooting” from motorists are among Judy Small’s most vivid memories of her week in Mongolia.
Judy, the Council’s Disability Advisor (pictured, far right in this panel discussion photo), has safely returned from a whirlwind trip to one of the world’s most sparsely populated nations, where she spoke at the World Blind Union-Asia Pacific Regional Assembly Women’s Forum.
Although Judy is blind, she was able to make some fascinating observations of her week in the country, based in the capital Ulaanbaataar.
“Their traffic has no infrastructure, no traffic lights – and sometimes, seatbelts,” Judy says. “Footpaths varied from non-existent to average – and in some instances their kerbs are around 45cm.”
Judy left guidedog Que at home in Hamilton, using her cane to navigate Ulaanbaataar with support from local guides. Her use of a cane drew interest from the residents of Ulaanbaataar, where there are no guidedogs and the support for blind people from the Mongolian National Federation for the Blind has a strong rehabilitation focus – the blind in the nation often make excellent crafts and amazing traditional music.
Judy says Ulaanbaataar has very few birds or trees, and residents live in a diverse range of housing – from traditional yurts (portable tents) to high-rise apartment blocks. Cows wander around dirt roads in the city and graze at petrol stations.
She describes the yak’s milk as “interesting”, and says it’s sometimes served frothed in tea. The food was heavy on meat and gravy, but relatively cheap. The Mongolian currency has no coins, and with 20,000 Mongolian Togrog equivalent to about $NZ11, “a huge wad of cash was not a lot in reality”.
“There is a lot of work to be done, to empower blind women for their voices to be heard from around our region at service/community, political and governmental levels,”
As for the forum itself, the 180 attendees represented 18 different nations, with 40 attending a specific women’s forum.
The theme for the general assembly was “leaving no blind person behind – 10 years of the UNCRPD, what we have achieved so far and the next decade of advocacy”, while the Women’s Forum focussed on education, employment, social participation and inclusion.
Speakers for the Women’s Forum came from a range of countries, including Mongolia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and each talked about growing up, their education, employment and the influence of their family’s attitudes and how those have helped them get to where they are today.
Judy says the issues the speakers had encountered in their lives were diverse, and depended largely on the nation’s attitudes toward disability and women.
Some of the topics discussed included women’s rights, negative culture and political systems, violence, isolation, access to services, information, education employment, technology and financial independence. As each speaker noted the role of the family significantly influenced outcomes for women, Judy says.
“There is a lot of work to be done, to empower blind women for their voices to be heard from around our region at service/community, political and governmental levels,” Judy says. “I will begin by finding existing women’s committees in different countries, and then continue by linking them with what is happening at a social, political and global level or at a place that is relevant for their own circumstances.”