„MARCH FOR DISABLED WOMEN" III. CONFERENCE
Venue: CEU Conference Center
1106 Budapest, Kerepesi út 87.
Date and time: 27 March, 2008 from 10.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.
Dr. Zita Gurmai, Member of the European Parliament
Zsolt Gömöri, President of the Hungarian Paralympic Committee
Gordon Bajnai, Minister of Local Government and Regional Development
Vodafone Operations Centre Hungary
Association for Women's Career Development in Hungary:
Andrea Ferenczi, president (mobile: +36 30 9827093)
THE CONFERENCE IN SERVICE OF HUNGARY'S DEVELOPMENT
The main aim of the Association for Women's Career Development in Hungary, established in 2003, is to strive for equal opportunities for women in the work force, to help their career development, and to promote the interests of women. In order to achieve this, the Association considers it its duty to foster an ongoing, lively dialogue between the public, private, scientific, and non-profit spheres.
The chief objective of the "March for Disabled Women III" Conference was to present those aspects of the New Hungary Development Plan that may contribute to the flourishing of civic-governmental-business cooperation in new and unprecedented ways, opening up possibilities for the creation of mutual projects in the following fields:
- integration of the disabled into the labour market
- atypical forms of employment
- collection, management, and dissemination of best practices in the area of equal opportunities
- planning, preparation, and review of social policy initiatives
- methodological developments.
THE CONFERENCE'S MOTTO
The European community is well aware by now that the employment of qualified and ambitious people will boost its economic development. We in Hungary can also increase our national income and build a better future only on condition that every social group will take part in this process.
One such group consists of disabled women, who are at a double disadvantage due partly to their gender and partly to their limited opportunities. It is a truly magnificent mission to lead them back to the labour market, for their self-confidence and self-esteem is much lower than that of their fellows. We have come to realize that one highly effective way to help them under the circumstances is by presenting them with role models to show them that it is indeed possible to realize their dreams. We also realize that it is in the world of sports that achievement can be most readily and dramatically seen and recognized not only by them, but by society as well. The life paths and spectacular successes of our Paralympic champions can therefore be a source of inspiration to the disabled to have the courage to take action to improve their lives, and to society, to realize that it is worth helping them.
Provided that the necessary work conditions are more widely guaranteed, we are confident that the majority of disabled women in Hungary will make "championlike" efforts to lead productive and more satisfactory lives.
THE AIM OF THE CONFERENCE
Our aim with this initiative launched in March 2006 is to direct public and political attention to women with disabilities as a group especially exposed to discrimination and social exclusion. In 2008, the year of the Paralympic Games in Beijing, the main objective of the conference was to promote the media coverage of paralympic championships. Our aim is to highlight those values that can place the achievements of disabled sportsmen and sportswomen in a new interpretational frame, thereby encouraging those who shape the media agenda to further augment their value transmitter role in society.
We have invited disabled women who are highly successful both in sports and in their chosen profession, whose life paths and battles constitute a source of valuable experience, and whose successes may inspire women who share a similar fate. These outstanding examples can most certainly be a source of inspiration for people without disabilities as well.
The third annual "March for Disabled Women" conference was opened with a welcoming speech by Andrea Ferenczi, president of the Association for Women's Career Development in Hungary (AWCDH) and the conference's Session Chair. Her introductory remarks drew attention to the fact that the month of March is not only the month of women in general, but the month of disabled women in particular. Ms. Ferenczi emphasized that the conference is dedicated to the Paralympic Games in Beijing, since one of its main goals is to direct public and media attention to this significant event. "We are very fortunate today to meet disabled women of incredible talent, who are successful both in their professional lives and in a specific sports field," the president of AWCDH said.
Andrea Ferenczi's welcome speech was followed by a talk given by Paralympic champion and fencing champion Gyöngyi Dani, also a member of AWCDH, who works as a professional career consultant and is thus highly competent in matters concerning the employment of the disabled. She summed up her mission with the following words: "I do not want to overemphasize the handicaps I have; rather, I simply do the things I have to do and make my life a living example of how you can live in this state."
It was sports that gave Gyöngyi Dani self-confidence and a meaning to life that is why she recommends pursuing sports both to handicapped and non-handicapped people. "Hopefully, when people see a Paralympic champion, they see a sportsman or a sportswoman in the first place, and not a handicapped person. At least that would be our aim," she said in connection with the upcoming Paralympic Games in Beijing. She pointed out how much the media can do to help change public perception in this respect thanks to its enormous influence on public opinion. As for the labour market, Gyöngyi Dani asserts there is still a long way to go: "We have to mobilize people living with various handicaps, since 75% of them are not in the labour market today," she pointed out. On the one hand, disabled people need good qualifications, and on the other, employers must give up their prejudices, since handicapped people can be excellent employees. "We are thus speaking of a shared responsibility," she said: the disabled have to continue their education, and employers have to provide opportunities for them through alternative forms of employment.
Dr. Zita Gurmai, MEP, underscored the importance of keeping up a two-way dialogue ("We have to speak and listen") to be able to fully integrate the disabled into society. She spoke about the paramount significance of tolerance and visibility in learning to live in harmony with the 50 million disabled people in Europe. She also pointed out their shockingly low presence in the labour market: "Although 40% of the disabled are able to work, only about 13-14% of them actually work," she said. In order to improve this situation we have to integrate disabled women into the labour market, whose double disadvantage puts them in an even worse position "And, finally, let me ask," she said, stating a rhetorical question, "what can we say about the free movement of labour when the handicapped are unable to use transportation or access buildings in many cases?"
Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, Gábor Simon's message was delivered by Hanna Páva, Head of Division for the Disabled who first reminded the audience that legislation concerning the disabled was passed by the Hungarian Parliament exactly 10 years ago, and though there have been achievements, there is still a lot to be done. We are behind Europe's more developed nations in the sense that while in those countries 40% of the disabled of working age have a job, in Hungary only 9% of them do. This is due to lack of adequate qualifications and to the double social exclusion that disabled women suffer, she said. Nevertheless, Hungary can be proud to have been second in the world to ratify the related UN treaty, of which an official Hungarian translation, as well as a sign language version and an easily comprehensible version have been made.
President of the Hungarian Paralympic Committee, Zsolt Gömöri, gave an inspiring talk on professional Paralympic champions and championships. He brought with him a short footage of the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, which clearly demonstrated that Paralympic champions go through the same phases of struggle and triumphant joy as other Olympic champions. The Paralympic games constitute the world's second largest sports championship, Mr. Gömöri said, in which participation is restricted to qualified champions who are members of their respective national team. The strength of Paralympic champions' willpower is well exemplified by the case of a Paralympic athlete who, after running the Olympic time record, has expressed a desire to take part in the Olympic games as well. "We do not see handicapped people, we only see champions whose wheelchairs are part of the game", Mr. Gömöri commented on the pictures. He also mentioned some data concerning the upcoming Paralympic games, which is undoubtedly going to be a media event of great magnitude: 4000 champions from 150 countries are going to participate compared to only 40 participating countries in 1980. 3,800 accredited media representatives are expected, the number of tele-viewers is expected to be around 2.3 billion, and 1.6 million tickets have been sold so far. Still, despite the magnitude of the Paralympic Games, related information does not reach everyone: in Hungary, where only 2.4% of the population is familiar with the games although 19% would be interested in them if they had enough information. Regarding the guiding principles of the Paralympic Games Zsolt Gömöri said: "The chance to participate is vital, not the chance to win". Finally, he commented on the possibility for Hungary to be the host country to the Olympic games in the future. But this can only be a realistic goal, he claimed, only if we make plans both about the Olympic and the Paralympic Games and implement a conscious communication strategy to inform the public.
HR manager of Vodafone Operations Centre Hungary, Kitti Dobi, spoke about the mutual interests of employers and the disabled. "Let's take a step back so that we avoid becoming narrow-minded in our profession and so that we can have a better perspective on other social groups," she proposed. Kitti Dobi pointed out that sustainable development can be realized only if individuals belong to a community, something that companies also believe in, since it serves their interests, too, if every person does their job in a way that is beneficial to others as well. "The aim of this conference is to harmonize our goals and make a list of our resources, and then foster cooperation across Europe," she said. As a representative of a company and therefore a potential employer, she said: "We are not content with only hiring the disabled; we also want them to stay with the company and to provide them with further education". At the end of her talk, she made a proposal to the audience: "Let's meet here a year from now so that we can give account of how many disabled people we have been able to provide with education and jobs."
Before the start of the panel discussion, the audience had the chance to listen to a wonderful performance by Lídia Szluka, a blind singer who sang a few Hungarian folk songs and two excerpts from famous musicals. She was introduced on stage by the pianist Szilvia Kárászy, who became her patron after spotting her incredible talent. After the enthralling performance, Andrea Ferenczi told the audience that AWCDH has embarked on a mission to discover and support Hungarian women who have a special talent in the field of the arts.
The panel discussion's topic was the presence of disabled people in the labour market, in sports, and in the media. Moderator: Szilvia Krizsó, MTV (Hungarian Public Television)
Szilvia Kárászy, pianist
Andrea Lővei, press attaché, Budapest Information Office of the European Parliament
Dóra Pásztory and Krisztina Dóra Paralympic champions
Pál Szekeres Paralympic champion, President, Hungarian Sports Federation for the Disabled
Dr. Katalin Széles, Director, National Employment Public Foundation Public Benefit Company for Employment Promotion (OFA Kht)
Dr. Györgyi Szabó, Dr. Vidorné, President, Committee on Youth, Social and Family Affairs of the Hungarian Parliament
All the speakers shared the opinion that a disabled person can be at least as fortunate as someone without disabilities. As Dóra Pásztory put it: "I can only think of advantages when I think about my situation: I have become a Paralympic champion, and I have had opportunities that I'm sure I would not have had had I been born absolutely healthy." She claimed that besides talent and good fortune hard work and diligence are also indispensable in getting ahead. "If someone does not feel any intrinsic motivation, all outside help is pointless," she said. That is why she believes that every person who is just sitting at home waiting for a miracle should be mobilized, and not only motivated with good examples. Dóra Pásztory therefore advocated for an attitude change among the disabled, so that they should be able to accept themselves and find a profession that suits them. She also pointed out that a change of attitude is necessary for the non-disabled as well, which could be efficiently aided by tolerance trainings from an early age on. The media's role in helping these processes is twofold: representation of reality and presentation of good examples. After becoming a Paralympic champion in Athens, Dóra Pásztory, has taken up the mission of disseminating a positive message through the media.
Despite the fact that she is disabled, Krisztina Dóra, too, thinks of herself as a remarkably fortunate person. "I have children, I study, and I work, and my problems are unrelated to my being handicapped," she said. She also agreed with Dóra Pásztory about the responsibility of the disabled for their own lives. A sense of responsibility, however, is often missing due to wrong assumptions and norms: "We were socialised in the wrong way, and as a result have not dared to go out of our flat," she commented. She now works in the field of rehabilitation employment, helping disabled people to reach the point where they can enter the labour market one day.
Pál Szekeres spoke about the situation of the average disabled person, who cannot reach the level of self-realization, and to which group the majority of the disabled population belong. He added, however, that there are plenty of jobs for those disabled people as well who cannot go on to higher education. But whether they find these opportunities depends largely on how their parents raised them. As Pál Szekeres put it: "The problem is not having a diploma or not having one; rather, the problem arises when a bright disabled person does not attend regular educational institutions just because he/she is handicapped, since he/she feels that they cannot be fully integrated later on", he explained. In Pál Szekeres' view, the media's role lies in drawing the attention of the average viewer to matters of the disabled without making a sensation out of such matters.
Dr. Györgyi Szabó, Dr. Vidorné, stressed the responsibility of politicians in insuring that the 600 thousand disabled people living in Hungary should not be pushed to the periphery of society. She also pointed out that although Hungary is proficient in drafting legislation, we have serious problems with implementation, which is well illustrated by the example of the building law. Dr. Györgyi Szabó spoke about the responsibility of parents, too, in connection with which she suggested that parents do not "hide away" their disabled children but let them live and learn together with their non-disabled peers. She called on representatives of the media to cover more issues concerning the disabled in greater detail and to show positive examples.
Andrea Lővei offered cooperation on behalf of the Budapest Information Office of the European Parliament to interested non-profit organizations in matters of equal opportunities and matters concerning the disabled. She said that last year, the Year of Equal Opportunities for All, the Information Office organized a series of seminars and compiled an international database of journalists specializing in the field, which can also be a useful source for non-profit organizations.
Dr. Katalin Széles provided the audience with information about the opportunities offered to disadvantaged groups by the National Employment Public Foundation Public Benefit Company for Employment Promotion (OFA Kht). The Public Benefit Company regularly announces new tenders and competitions, and since 2004 they have organized project fairs every year, where non-profit organizations can choose from various well-designed and useful projects. Katalin Széles said she supports the strengthening of the civil sphere, since she knows how important it is that the disabled be helped not only through government aid but through other channels as well.
Szilvia Kárászy spoke about individual responsibility and raised conscientiousness, two values that led her to found the Golden Bell Award, whose name was inspired by the heart-warming chime of the bells. The award is granted every year to talented handicapped youth who have shown outstanding achievements both from a human and an artistic perspective. The award ceremony, which is also a concert and a fundraiser, is held annually just before Christmas.
At the end of the conference the participants paid tribute to the memory of Tom Lantos, the Hungarian-born member of the American Congress and supporter of our Association, who has recently passed away, and who spent his entire life fighting for democracy, human rights, and equal opportunities. The attendants observed one minute's silence to express their compassion for Tom Lantos, and then listened to the wonderful performance of opera singer Charity Sunshine Tillemann-Dick, Mr. Lantos' granddaughter. After Judy Szöllősy's speech in praise of Mr. Lantos' life and deeds, in which she stressed that "Tom Lantos was quick to spring into action whenever democracy or human rights were endangered anywhere in the world," and that "when he spoke, the world listened." After the remembrance, Andrea Ferenczi officially announced that the Association for Women's Career Development in Hungary has founded the Tom Lantos Memorial Committee, whose main objective is to educate the Hungarian public about the intellectual heritage of the remarkable congressman.
At our third annual "March for the disabled women" conference the large number of participants approached the declared goals from various perspectives: from the point of view of the European Union, of the legislature and the civil service, of the Paralympic Games, and of the private sector.
They received information about how disabled women are twice as disadvantaged as disabled men in their everyday lives.
Although 10 years ago it was Hungary that first embraced the UN's related treaty in Europe, we now have to accomplish a lot to catch up with the practices of Europe's more developed countries.
The speakers emphasized that paying attention to disabled women is not only a social issue but can also be a precondition of the country's economic development since these women have the motivation to become valuable members of society through their work.
It was also stressed that we need many positive examples so as to change the existing negative stereotypes and to successfully implement a different attitude towards the disabled. Paralympic champions, who have greater self-confidence, may be powerful examples that other disabled people can follow.
The different kinds of media with their immense influence and example-setting potential may contribute both to the social integration of the disabled and to the wide coverage of the significant achievements of Paralympic champions.
It is only through the cooperation among the disabled, the Paralympic champions, those who support them, and the media that, by promoting the conference's aims, we may create a more cohesive society.
Some speakers pointed out that continuous education is crucial for the disabled because this is how they will have more opportunities in the labour market.
This conference is different from the previous two in one important respect, namely, that one of our main sponsors, Vodafone Operations Centre Hungary, proposed the launch of a dialogue and cooperation with the disabled, as a result of which tangible job opportunities may open up for them.
We would like every disabled person to feel after this conference that attention is being paid to them not only on a day like this but throughout the year as well.
Our association will do everything it possibly can, as it has done up to this day, to help and promote the rights of the disabled, and will publish a recommendation to all that are concerned on its website.
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