Interview

Volume 9 Issue 8 - July 01, 2012

“The rest of the global D.P.O. community can learn a lot from the Indian disability movement”: Moosa Salie

Till not too long ago, it was difficult to think of a strong global voice for people with psychosocial disabilities. The World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (W.N.U.S.P.) was formed in 2001 and over the years, a slow but sure evolution of strong, grassroot self-advocates has started changing the picture even in countries where draconian mental health legislations exist. Moosa Salie, Chair of W.N.U.S.P. talks to Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. on issues ranging from legal capacity to the apparent divide between the North and South mental health movements.

D.N.I.S.: Where do you think the global disability movement is when it comes to the discourse on legal capacity? Have things moved substantially?

Moosa Salie: Legal capacity is a core article of concern when it comes to the respect of the rights of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. The World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (W.N.U.S.P.) has played a key role in developing and writing International Disability Alliance’s (I.D.A.’s) position papers on Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (C.R.P.D.) which spells out Equal Recognition before the Law (Legal Capacity) for all persons with disabilities.

W.N.U.S.P. has found that I.D.A. has a strong tradition of all its members being in support of the advocacy issues and approaches of individual members. Although the concerns on legal capacity as it pertains to psychosocial and intellectual disability have a different focus, we were able to engage in a dialogue, and in September 2010, Inclusion International and W.N.U.S.P. held a one day seminar in New York.

Domesticating C.R.P.D. in all countries will present significant challenges as State Parties to C.R.P.D. have to consult with all stakeholders, including persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, at the national level, and to find ways of making appropriate supports available to people with disabilities, should they need support in order to exercise and enjoy their full legal capacity.

D.N.I.S.: What is your take on the mental health movement in the global South? Has it been able to evolve over the past few years?

Moosa Salie: The use of the term mental health movement is a misnomer as it creates the impression of a broad grassroots and civil society movement in collaboration with other stakeholders, who have a consensus approach to human rights for people with psychosocial disabilities, and which is in accordance with the principles of C.R.P.D. Unfortunately that is not the case and persons with psychosocial disabilities still face underrepresentation, lack independent voice and our way of grassroot organization is still far from the organizing level of other disability groups.

In the global South countries in particular, there has traditionally been small mental health movements, represented by the few professionally trained people working closely with parent groups or N.G.O.s. The concerns of these groups have always been in advocating for better and more traditional mental health services and facilities and the core messages for these movements have been that ‘better’ does not mean more services in line with western models. These models often have very little respect for services being in accordance with international human rights standards and are based on patriarchal and paternalistic approaches which deny people with disabilities the right to full inclusion in society and in fact promote social isolation.

It is encouraging that a grassroots user/survivor movement has in recent years been developing in many global South countries.

D.N.I.S.: There seems to be an obvious absence of the global South in W.N.U.S.P. Do you feel this is a correct observation?

Moosa Salie: The movement originated in the global North, in particular North America and Europe in the early 1970s, in response to the often dehumanising effects of coerced and institutional psychiatric “care”. In the 1990s many of the leaders of these groups started meeting at international mental health conferences, which finally resulted in the establishment of W.N.U.S.P. in 2001. The movement in the global South emerged in Africa, Latin America and Asia a little later, and has always had a slightly different outlook to the activism of the global North.

The presence of W.N.U.S.P. in Africa started when Users and Survivors attending the 2004 global assembly in Denmark agreed to establish an African network, which was formally established in 2005. As yet, the Pan African Network of People with Psychosocial Disabilities has not fully extended into most of the continent, being only present in countries from southern and east Africa.

In Latin America, W.N.U.S.P. has member organisations in Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Argentina, and individual members in Paraguay, Costa Rica and Brazil. In Asia, we have member organisations in India, Nepal and Indonesia, with individual members in Philippines. In the Pacific, we have a member organisation in Japan and individual members in Australia and New Zealand. Therefore, we cannot say there is an absence of the global South in W.N.U.S.P. but there definitely is a room for improvement and spreading of the movement into areas where we still lack representation.

D.N.I.S.: Many countries in the world, especially the developing world are drafting new disability legislations/mental health legislations to conform to C.R.P.D. What is W.N.U.S.P.’s position on the role of the mental health movements in these processes?

Moosa Salie: W.N.U.S.P. sees the history of mental health legislation as located within the framework of coercion and denial of human rights and especially in the global South, it is associated within the framework of colonial mental health.

In many countries in the global South, there is almost no mental health legislation and if present, it often comes in the form of outdated lunacy acts. W.N.U.S.P. sees C.R.P.D. as the framework for ensuring the human rights of people with psychosocial disabilities, and as such is not in favour of the framework of mental health legislation if it means ensuring appropriate “care” and services for people with psychosocial disabilities in the way that makes coercion legal and fails to focus on human rights issues and promoting models of support to persons experiencing psychosocial crisis that would be respectful of our human dignity and physical and mental integrity.

It would also be preferred that all legislation providing care or services should be located within disability or health legislation which should use disability neutral and non-discriminatory standards. In some countries in the global South, activists and leaders of our groups have been enticed by the mental health profession to come on board in processes which could lead to the establishment of mental health legislation where none had existed before.

I believe that we need to guide and support our members on the pitfalls of too close collaboration with professionals and politicians, where their presence would often be used in a tokenistic way, and could lead to legislation being established which would go contrary to the standards of C.R.P.D.

In this regard, I would like to mention that it is long overdue that the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) puts out guidelines which are fully C.R.P.D. compliant to guide Governments when they are drafting legislation for providing services for people with psychosocial disabilities.

D.N.I.S.: This is your second trip to India. What has been your experience with the disability movement in general and the mental health sector in particular?

Moosa Salie: I am impressed with the achievements of N.A.A.J.M.I. and Bapu Trust as the leading group from our movement in Asia and the support it has been giving to the emerging movements in Philippines and Nepal. I am also very impressed with the dynamic disabled people’s network in India, their excellent advocacy work around representing people with disabilities and their concerns within the framework of the disability and mental health legislations being drafted by the Indian Government. I believe that the rest of the global D.P.O. community can learn a lot from the Indian disability movement.

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