(New York) – Mariana Lozano, a young activist from Colombia, is the 2023 recipient of the Human Rights Watch Marca Bristo Fellowship for Leadership in Disability Rights, Human Rights Watch announced today on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, celebrated on December 3.
Lozano has been an emerging advocate for the rights of young people with disabilities in Colombia. She has been a part of the organization Different Minds Multiactive Cooperative (Cooperativa Multiactiva Mentes Diferentes, Coopmente), which supports people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Her vision is to represent young people with disabilities and promote their autonomy, rights, and inclusion in society. As part of her university studies, Lozano has been learning about legal mechanisms crucial to protecting the rights of people with intellectual disabilities.
“I want to empower people with intellectual disabilities to have agency to make their own decisions,” Lozano said. “I want people with intellectual disabilities to be visible. We have rights, we have dreams, and we deserve to have opportunities for education, inclusion in work, and an independent and happy life.”
As a woman with an intellectual disability, Lozano has overcome stigma and exclusion and developed important life skills, such as financial literacy and personal safety, which have been central to her independence and autonomy.
“We are thrilled to be honoring Mariana Lozano, an aspiring young leader in the disability rights movement,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Her activism for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities is a testament to her vision of a society where people with disabilities are respected and included. As she told us, ‘If people know their rights, they can claim them.’”
Lozano’s activism comes at a time when human rights are challenged in the Americas, including through attacks on democratic institutions, challenges to judicial independence, continued institutionalization of people with disabilities, and threats against civil society. In this context, people with disabilities, including people with intellectual disabilities, are often among those experiencing social and economic marginalization, facing difficulties in accessing education and employment.
As part of her fellowship, Lozano will receive training in research, advocacy, communications, and fundraising from Human Rights Watch colleagues over the coming year. The fellowship will provide opportunities for Lozano to build and strengthen her networks with other organizations and advocates, particularly those working on the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, including their access to inclusive education, employment, and legal capacity.
Human Rights Watch established the fellowship in 2020 to honor disability rights icon Marca Bristo, founder of Access Living and inaugural chair of the Human Rights Watch disability rights advisory committee. Bristo played an influential role in the adoption of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and helped shape the Human Rights Watch disability rights strategy. She encouraged Human Rights Watch to actively involve people with disabilities in its work and to dedicate efforts to the development of emerging disability rights activists.
Lozano is the fourth Marca Bristo fellow. Previous Marca Bristo fellows Hauwa Ojeifo, Bryan Russell, and Benafsha Yaqoobi have continued to promote disability rights in close partnership with Human Rights Watch. Ojeifo, a mental health activist from Nigeria, delivered an opening statement at the 14th United Nations Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Russell, a young man with intellectual disability who ran for congressional office in Peru, traveled to Mexico to support a group of advocates with intellectual disabilities who were demanding inclusion in politics. Yaqoobi continues to be a leading voice highlighting the rights of people with disabilities in Afghanistan and in exile.
Daisy Feidt, executive vice president of Access Living, said: “Over the years, this fellowship has supported rising young leaders with disabilities. Lozano embodies the passion and purpose needed to advance disability rights for people with intellectual disabilities in the Americas and beyond, and we look forward to seeing the important impact her work will make this year and for years to come. Marca would be proud.”