Friday, April 5, 2013 is an important day. From this day onwards, the world has 1000 days to meet the commitments it made with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There is a lot of buzz about the #MDGMomentum. This is a good time for people with disabilities to take stock.
At the turn of the century, the world discussed and deliberated on the MDGs. The 8 goals unified the world – governments, development agencies, civil society on key issues like poverty, education, health, gender, environment and so on. However, despite the fact that a substantial percentage of the world's population (almost 10 percent) was affected by disability, there was no mention of disability in the MDGs – not in the goals themselves, nor in the indicators. This was despite the well-established connection between disability and poverty; the fact that children with disabilities were the ones who got left behind; the fact that women with disabilities were even more marginalised and faced multiple discrimination and so on.
This was as much a reflection on the development world as it was on the disability movement itself.
Although, steps have been taken later on to ensure that disability was taken into consideration in the implementation of the MDGs, it would not be an exaggeration to say that progress has been much below the expectation of the disability movement worldwide.
In the past 2 years or so, talks about the MDGs missing the mark triggered discussions on the post-MDG framework. However, as more and more energy was spent on the post-2015 agenda, there was another school of thought that urged caution, that there was still some time to achieve significant progress. And from Friday, April 5, we still have 1000 days to do so.
Today, the World Health Organisation says that 1 billion people or 15 percent of the world's population are living with disability. Of this, 800 million or 80 percent live in the global South. People with disabilities comprise 20 percent of the world's poorest. In this scenario, it is not only imperative that disability is intrinsic to the processes for fulfilling the MDGs to the extent possible by 2015, but also to underline the fact that disability must be a significant part of the debates, discussions and outcomes of the post-2015 development agenda. To do so, it is important that the disability movement deliberate on the following:
Look South: As mentioned, 800 million people with disabilities live in the global South. The MDGs and the post-2015 frameworkmean and will mean the most for these 800 million. Yet, their voices are nowhere in the scene. This has been a disappointment in the larger civil society movement engaging with the MDGs and the post-2015 processes in general. The foreword of 'Shaping our Shared Futures Beyond 2015: Perspectives from the Global South' published by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan says: “Among the strongest critiques of the MDGs was that they were conceived in an arbitrary, non-transparent and non-inclusive manner in the global North, without real involvement or ownership from either the poor and excluded populations, civil societies or even national governments in the countries of the global South."
There is a definite surge in advocacy by organisations from the global South in the post MDG processes and there is no reason why this should not hold true for the disability movement as well. People with lived experiences of poverty, indignity and lack of basic facilities should be talking themselves and not have others talk on their behalf. This is difficult given that there needs to be funds available for leaders from the global South to travel to the meetings and deliberations.
Inclusion of disability in the UN High Level Panel on post-MDGs: Although very late in the day, since the panel is due to submit it report next month (May 2013), it is still essential that the disability movement continue to remind the eminent persons on the panel to not forget disability. However, the last High Level Panel meeting in Bali, where disability found no mention in the official communiqué, has created grave apprehensions.
Engaging with the larger civil society movement in MDGs and post-MDGs: The most common critique of the disability movement has been its alienation from the larger civil society movement, despite the fact that disability is a cross-cutting issue. Now that lessons have been learnt after the omission of disability in the MDGs, there is a huge responsibility on the disability movement to ensure that mainstream CSOs are including disability in their advocacy, so that gender organisations talk about women with disabilities; child rights advocates talk about children with disabilities; and so on.
High Level Meeting on Disability and Development: One of the most significant milestones in the disability movement worldwide will be the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on Disability and Development in New York on September 23, 2013. This meeting will hopefully set the tone for inclusion of disability in the remaining MDG processes and in the upcoming post-MDGs framework. This has been dubbed by many leaders as a'once in a lifetime' opportunity. Time is of the essence here and it is very important to ensure that the High Level Meeting does not get diluted and that governments take this meeting very seriously and send the highest level of delegation possible. The need to ensure a strong outcome document cannot be over-emphasised.
Connection between the High Level Meeting, Opening of the General Assembly Debate and the Special Event on MDGs: The High Level Meeting on Disability and Development is followed by the Opening of the General Assembly Debate on September 24, 2013 and the Special Event on MDGs on September 25, 2013. Leaders from the disability movement are now looking at the possibility to connect these three very important events. A strong demand that has arisen from some of the key voices in the global disability movement that the outcomes of the High Level Meeting should feature in the speeches and deliberations of the next 2 days.
Engaging with national governments: It is very essential to motivate national and local level disabled people's organisations to advocate with their governments to take disability issues with the seriousness they deserve. At the end of the day, when the MDG processes in the remaining two years and the post-2015 agenda are discussed, it will be the governments who will either support or oppose based on their country's priorities. Disability is a non-political issue, by and large. Therefore, chances of it being opposed are less. However, the probability of it not making to a majority of the countries'list of priorities is much higher. Therefore, advocacy at the national level becomes paramount.
Disability as a development issue: The fact that disability is a cross-cutting issue has by and large been well-established. But the new argument put forward by disability rights advocates is that it is not just a human rights issue but also a development issue. Therefore, it needs to be looked at from that lens as well. This is a relatively new thinking but one with tremendous merit. Leaders from the disability movement, especially from the developing world, should be motivated to imbibe this thought and incorporate it in their own advocacy.
Going to the grassroots: Javed Abidi, Chairperson of Disabled People's International (DPI) firmly believes that disability rights will have to be realised at the grassroots and not in New York and Geneva. This is a valid argument and throws a sense of caution at the sudden, seemingly top down disability agenda and related advocacy. Most disability rights advocates would prefer a mix of bottoms up and top down mechanism, favouring the bottoms up flow. This is where organisations like DPI have a huge role to play. DPI's strength lies in its unparalleled reach at the grassroots across 130 countries and 5 regions. Most of its members are drawn from the developing world and across disabilities. This also puts a huge responsibility on DPI's leadership and its members to actively engage in the MDG and post-MDG processes.
Dorodi Sharma is OSD to Chairperson, Disabled People's International.