Fostering inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities in Turkmenistan
02 December 2022
People with disabilities often face social stigma, which can make them feel helpless, isolated and more vulnerable to the challenges of life.
To help tackle the issue of discrimination and social stigma against the disability community in Turkmenistan, the UN country team – including UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, OHCHR, UNDRR and UNODC, joined forces with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Sport and Youth Policy, disability organizations, as well as partners from the private sector to organize the country’s first ever Inclusive Sport Festival.
The festival, which was held under the theme of "We are strong, We are equal", aimed to engage and empower people with disabilities through the inclusive power of sports. When everyone is included in sports, it can be a transformative experience, not only for persons with disabilities but also for families, coaches and spectators.
“Inclusion only becomes inclusion when persons with disabilities are not just present but engaged in meaningful ways. Persons with disabilities need to be a part of all inclusion initiatives in and through sport”, stressed Dmitry Shlapachenko, UN Resident Coordinator in Turkmenistan at the opening ceremony of the Inclusive Sport Festival.
During the festival, over 150 people with disabilities and family members took part in a wide variety of adaptive sports, including blind football and chess, basketball and volleyball in wheelchairs, table tennis, and climbing.
“Often people with disabilities are excluded from social life. This Sport Festival gives them a chance to demonstrate that they are equal and strong along with the other people, it makes them to be visible and socially integrated.” - said Gulya Chorekliyeva, the head of the public organization Yenme.
The Inclusive Sport Festival took place in Ashgabat Olympic Village and was attended by representatives of the UN missions, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Sport and Youth, Diplomatic missions in Turkmenistan, public organizations, private sector, young SDG Ambassadors, volunteers, and the people of Ashgabat.
Elchin was one of the participants at the festival. He explains why sport is so important to him as a young man with disabilities.
“I began to practice bodybuilding in 2007 when my friends encouraged me to go to the gym with them. I was really excited about it and began to practice it. As time passed, I really liked and enjoyed it. Bodybuilding is now my hobby. It helps me to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. It gives me energy and a power, which in turn helps me to develop the skills of confidence and self-esteem, break general stereotypes of people with disabilities and show people that we are strong and ambitious individuals of our community, with full potential to make the world inclusive and a better place to live.”
Aynura, who is a keen swimmer, also took part in the festival.
“As a girl with disability, swimming helps me to stay healthy, active and supports my well-being. It helps me to relieve back pains that prevents me from moving easily. Moreover, I do regular exercises to keep my body fit and strong.”
For Atayev, a swimmer and chess player, the festival was an important way to challenge the stereotypes and common misperceptions of people with disabilities.
“Sport gives me power to lead a healthy lifestyle, achieve my goals and priorities and overcome hardships I face in my life. I do sports because I have a great desire to become a paralympic champion so I will be proud of myself and so that people know that people with disabilities are not weak and helpless people as it is commonly perceived, but we are strong and equal.”
By using the power of sport to promote disability inclusion, the festival has played a small part in accelerating the UN’s ‘whole-of-society’ approach to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities across Turkmenistan.
This story was originally published by the UN Country Team in Turkmenistan, and was adapted for the UNSDG site by the DCO editorial team.