Global Civil Society as Megaphone or Echo Chamber?

Formalizing Voice in the International Disability Rights Movement.

Article appearing in International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society. Volume 27. Issue 4.

The passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 was hailed by the international disability rights movement as “giving voice” to millions of persons with disabilities around the world. The Convention institutionalizes a role for Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) in monitoring their rights. As such, international disability NGOs, networks, and funders have initiated capacity building projects that organize persons with disabilities for advocacy in local communities around the world. A central tension, however, has emerged. While the international disability movement is interested in mobilizing grassroots groups, it is also interested in ensuring that those DPOs reflectglobal priorities. Using qualitative data drawn from fieldwork with grassroots disability associations in Northern Nicaragua, this article shows that international and national organizations have utilized a number of methods, including providing advocacy training, establishing new organizations, and formalizing reporting procedures, to bring DPOs together around a human rights advocacy agenda. Program implementation, however, revealed a narrow concern with political empowerment that did not resonate with a local focus on addressing material needs and the instillation of a strict hierarchy and bureaucratic procedures that did not allow local DPOs to deviate from predetermined, top-down agendas. This case study provides insight into the way global civil society legitimates itself through outreach directed at the grassroots, yet does not allow their full participation in interpreting and implementing their human rights.