SDGs, partnerships, and persons with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region

I was able to participate in the engaging “SDG Week” that was held from 28 November to 2 December at the United Nations ESCAP in Bangkok that was dedicated to understanding key challenges for effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The week provided a unique opportunity to bring together stakeholders from government, academia, the international community, civil society and the private sector to share knowledge, engage in discussions around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to provide feedback on national and regional implementation. Discussions centered on how to ensure that follow-up and review efforts strengthen implementation, not just add additional reporting requirements, and to adhere to the principles of follow-up and review as stipulated in the Agenda in terms of how it is carried out (country-driven, inclusive, participatory, transparent, gender-sensitive) and in terms of its focus (the poorest, most marginalized, and those furthest behind). In addition, the notion of partnerships to carry out the implementation of the Agenda was a key theme throughout the week.

Positively, persons with disabilities were well included throughout the week with multiple explicit references, including in the opening session by H.E. Saida Muna Tasneem, Bangladesh Ambassador to Thailand and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN ESCAP. She highlighted the work that Bangladesh is doing on the inclusion of persons with disabilities at the national level. Additionally, Ms. Saowalak Thongkuay from Disabled Peoples’ International Asia-Pacific intervened during the partnership session calling for harmony between the legally binding Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the SDGS in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Representatives from Indigenous Peoples, women’s groups, other civil society organizations, and statisticians also included persons with disabilities in their statements.

Alt="Saowalak Thongkuay from Disabled Peoples' International Asia-Pacific presenting at UN ESCAP"

Saowalak Thongkuay from Disabled Peoples’ International Asia-Pacific presenting at UN ESCAP

The Asia-Pacific region, the SDGs, and persons with disabilities

The SDGs are very important for the Asia-Pacific region because 53 per cent of the population is impoverished, there is a large ageing population, and at the same time a youth bulge. All of these aforementioned groups include persons with disabilities and in fact one in every six persons in Asia and the Pacific (650 million people) has some form of disability (UN ESCAP Disability, 2016). The number is expected to rise over the next decades due to population ageing, natural disasters, chronic health conditions, road traffic injuries, poor working conditions and other factors. Despite the large and constant increasing number, persons with disabilities are all too often left behind and not counted.

The region boasts the regional disability-specific Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific (Incheon Strategy) promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the region. The Incheon Strategy builds on principles and contents of the CRPD, comprising 10 specific time-bound development goals, 27 targets and 62 indicators. The Strategy also further promotes the realization of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development with the references to persons with disabilities in the SDGs being linked to the 10 Incheon Strategy Goals. Furthermore, the ESCAP Guide on Disability Indicators for the Incheon Strategy aims to guide data collection and generation by ESCAP member States through providing them with relevant methodologies and tools to construct and use the 62 indicators of the Incheon Strategy, in order to monitor the achievement of the 10 disability-inclusive development goals.

Partnerships and persons with disabilities

Partnerships are critical for persons with disabilities and their representative organizations because this is the best way to ensure that persons with disabilities have representation and that the challenges faced by persons with disabilities are accounted for and met in SDG implementation. Persons with disabilities must therefore take a direct role in these partnerships to ensure that their interests are part of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs for the coming years.

Findings from a survey carried out by the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) found that there were various challenges regarding the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the national consultations preparing for the HLPF 2016 voluntary national reviews. While participation took place in many countries, on the whole, persons with disabilities were largely left out of the national-level consultations. Even when wider civil society was invited to participate in consultations, often meetings and documents were not accessible for many persons with disabilities (e.g., lack of sign language interpreters), thus excluding them from these preparatory processes.

Reflection

Why was this week important? It created the space to have discussions and clarity on the monitoring, review, and follow-up processes of the 2030 Agenda at all levels – national (government and community led), regional (regional bodies and commissions), and global (High-level Political Forum and Voluntary National Reviews). What emerged is that there is still lack of clarity on the process, but we need to create interlinkages between processes, strengthen partnerships, engage all stakeholders, and ensure that no one is left behind. Indeed, having diverse and inclusive engagement and participation, including people who are the most marginalized, was one of the most important elements of the group discussions. Also, provocative and important questions were raised in the discussions, such as Netithorn (Mao) Praditsarn (Global Compact Network Thailand and former diplomat) who asked “When do you unpack the UN? It’s like an explosive Christmas tree.”

During the week persons with disabilities were emphasized as a group that particularly needs to be included in these processes and must not be left behind. It is imperative that we all ensure the meaningful participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations as a key aspect of the inclusive, transparent, and participatory 2030 Agenda reflective of its main tenet “leave no one behind.”

International Day of People with Disability: towards a barrier free reality

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), also known as World Disability Day is annually observed on 3 December each year. This Day aims to promote an awareness of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

The blog piece below is attributed to CBM Australia.

 

Globally, there are one billion people with disabilities, and 80 per cent live in developing countries. People with disabilities often face barriers to inclusion in many aspects of daily life and these barriers can stop them from achieving their full potential.

To mark International Day of People with Disability, CBM Australia has created a video to illustrate some of these barriers and to show that we all have a role to play in making a barrier free word a reality for everyone.

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Watch video: A Barrier Free Reality

Barriers come in many forms, including those relating to the physical environment; or negative attitudes and discrimination; or lack of suitable access to information; or those resulting from discriminatory legislation or policy.

These barriers can often stop people with disabilities from gaining education and employment opportunities; accessing vital rehabilitation and healthcare; or participating fully in their communities.

Let’s take a closer look at Orsula from Timor-Leste. She was born with an impairment that affects her legs, making mobility more difficult for her. Orsula has faced many barriers to inclusion throughout her life; barriers to: education, employment, health care, and participation in her community.

Orsula from Timor-Leste © CBM Australia

Orsula from Timor-Leste © CBM Australia

From childhood she was left out of school, not because she wasn’t more than capable of learning.

“When I was a child my dad dropped me out of school because he was embarrassed with my condition. I saw my friends go to school and asked my dad if I could go back to school, but because my dad was afraid and worried that people would make fun of me, he didn’t let me go back”

Being left out of school creates a long lasting impact. When children with disabilities don’t attend school, they are more likely to live in poverty as an adult.

Despite not having the opportunity to gain an education, Orsula learned how to sew and works as a tailor to contribute to her family’s income.

“Even though I have a disability, I work as a tailor. I love sewing. I do this to earn some money for my children’s food.”

But like many people with disabilities, she often earns less for her work.

“Some people are kind, they give me $5 when I fix their clothes, but some are not. They give me just $1 or 50 cents. I feel sad when they do that. I can’t force them to give me higher pay.”

However, Orsula’s most significant barrier was caused by negative attitudes of health care providers.

“It happened with my first-born child. They [midwives] were just shocked when they saw me, and spoke to each other saying that I won’t be able to give birth naturally; they said it will be hard for me to push with my condition and I can’t take a big breath.”

Many didn’t believe that she was capable of delivering her children naturally, and even worse, some said she shouldn’t have children at all.

“My third and fourth children were only one year apart. Because they were exactly a year apart, they [nurses and midwives] were shocked and start verbally abusing me by saying “why does she want to have children all the time while she has this condition”. It hurt me when they said that.”

“They didn’t know what I am capable of. I am strong.”

While there are many barriers, we can work together to help break them down. One powerful way to do that relates to this year’s International Day of People with Disability theme: Achieving 17 goals for the future we want.

The theme is in recognition of the Sustainable Development Goals, commonly known as the Global Goals, which were adopted by world leaders in September 2015. These 17 goals aspire to pave the way to a world in 2030 where poverty is a thing of the past and no one is left behind.

Including people with disabilities in all 17 goals – goals such as health care, education and employment – will bring us closer to achieving the future we want. A future where barriers no longer stop people with disabilities from achieving their full potential.

For Orsula, her vision for the future is a world where negative attitudes are changed so that no women with disabilities will have to face the same discrimination and treatment that she faced when having children.

“If I were to have another baby then I hope that it is more accessible for people with disability. I hope the nurse will be more understandable and patient with us people with disability. I hope they change their attitudes towards people with disability.”

We all have a role to play in making a fairer, more inclusive, and ultimately, barrier free world a reality for everyone. What will your role be?

Working together to break down barriers © CBM Australia

Working together to break down barriers © CBM Australia

Let’s “Shape the future” together

Katharina Pförtner, Global Advisor for Inclusive Education and Regional Advisor for Community Based Rehabilitation, based in Nicaragua writes about her experience while participating in the Inclusion International Conference ‘ Shape the Future’ held in Orlando USA in October 2016.

Partially visually impaired After-School Club Coordinator Chethankumar (2nd from right) leads 'Cheering Up', a highly inclusive exercise that gets the children enthusiastic about engaging with one another.

Partially visually impaired After-School Club Coordinator Chethankumar (2nd from right) leads ‘Cheering Up’, a highly inclusive exercise that gets the children enthusiastic about engaging with one another.

The Inclusion International Conference ‘Shape the future‘s’ main goal was to create a Global Resource to support Self Advocates with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Under the headline: “Nothing about us without us” around 900 participants from USA and around the globe came together (I met participants from over 24 countries!)

The discussion in the different workshops and presentations was intense and inclusive, Self-advocates were all around, demanding their rights and easy to understand communication. During the Self-Advocates´Summit 80 men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities met and elaborated their demands and goals to continue working in the future. The meetings were facilitated by 12 self-advocates from different countries. There was a large group of self-advocates who could not participate (mostly because of high costs for travelling, conference as well as logistics fees) and sent their comments and videos online to the coordinating office.

 
One of the central points appearing all over the discussions was: how can we conclusively translate the rights mentioned in the UNCRPD (like the right to participate in the community, vote, live independently, receive inclusive education etc) to something concrete on the ground? how do make sure that “No one with I/DD is left behind”?

 
To do so, first we have to create the following conditions:

  1. Strengthening self-advocates and their organisations around the world
  2. Challenge negative attitudes wherever they appear
  3. Raise the voices of persons with I/DD and publicise their achievements, demands, experiences, etc. and include them in  the international discussion
  4. Collect Data (disaggregated by gender, age, disability) with  regards to health, education, employment, social inclusion
  5. Analyze the situation in justice systems in different countries and publicize instances of  exclusion from justice for persons with I/DD
  6. Include self-advocates in decision-making units, for example Sara Pickard from Wales (a women with Down Syndrome) is part of the community council in Cardiff.

For this empowerment education plays an important role: Inclusion International plans to create “Catalysts for Inclusive Education”, trying to build alliances with other organizations working in this field and coordinate experts for publications and campaigns in order to oppose the latest negative movements calling for revision of the ideas of inclusive education. In my opinion publishing good practice examples is one of the most important steps for all of us ahead.

 
We should all connect our work on the rights of persons with disabilities, including the persons with I/DD, raise awareness in CBM, partners and alliances, initiate Self-Advocates groups and strengthen them in the different levels of our work. It is important to focus in our activities and discussions on this issue, to make sure that persons with profound I/DD are included in all spheres of life.

 
I would like to share a story which left an impression on me: Ethan Saylor was killed by police officers in a cinema because he did not want to leave; he wanted to watch the movie a second time. He had no ticket. The officers were not able to understand him, he was thrown to the floor and with the three men on his chest, he could not breathe any more. His mother started meetings and campaigning against this injustice which killed her son. She succeeded in initiating a commission where police, justice, self-advocates, parents, politicians discussed much needed changes. This resulted in a training which all police officers will be participating, where self-advocates are included as facilitators.

 
I leave you with some strong statements from participants at the conference:

  • “Normal is boring, who needs to be normal?” “Unboxing” is needed.
  • Independence means different things in different cultures, does not mean to be alone, but to have control about one´s life.
  • Make sure that people matter and their voices are heard. Self-advocacy starts at birth.
  • Legal capacity is not about mental capacity; it is about power over ones decisions, preferences and will.

 

Embracing leadership of persons with disabilities

Disability-inclusive DRR Network (DiDRRN), including CBM, at the culmination of AMCDRR 2016.

The team from Disability-inclusive DRR Network (DiDRRN), including CBM, at the culmination of AMCDRR 2016.

As the globe observed World Tsunami Awareness Day on 5th November to highlight a collective future and the need for acting together on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2016 (AMCDRR 2016) ended with a strong message and commitment to leave no one behind through an ‘all of society approach’.

The record-breaking air pollution in New Delhi which is the venue for the conference and smog persisted with many people seen wearing a mask. But the air within the imposing plenary hall of Vigyan Bhawan  was brimming with expectation, which gave way to optimism for the stakeholder groups who saw their hard work paying off with the drafting committee including framework and implementation level suggestions.

All of society approach   

The three-day conference that was preceded by pre-events, saw an open and consultative deliberations which impacted the commitments in the outcome documents:  Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) 2016 New Delhi Declaration – 2016 and Asia Regional Plan for Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

Recognising the need to bring all stakeholders together the AMCDRR process involved various stakeholder groups for developing action statements that have been appended with the Asia Regional Plan 2015-2030.

Over 4,000 participants from 41 countries took part in the conference in sessions that were open to all participants, allowing cross-sectoral discussions which found its way into different stakeholder action statements.

The summary sessions and speakers echoed the statement made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to embrace all of society.

Championing disability inclusion

The Disability Stakeholder Group had some anxious moments as the coalition of organisation recalled how the lack of specific mention to leadership and inclusion of persons with disabilities might lead to a setback in bringing inclusion to the centre stage.

The second day of the conference saw a technical session organised by the stakeholder group. As the session progressed, the room started filling up. The small but inspired contingent of disability organisations found renewed energy as the proceeding drew ministerial representatives and national institutions.

The ministerial representatives from Bangladesh emerged as the champions along with civil society participants from the country, when they pushed for the key priorities and commitments to be echoed in the New Delhi Declaration and the Asian Regional Plan 2015-2030. The tenacious wording and an assimilative approach by the drafting committee found its way into the outcome documents.

The SFDRR Asian Regional Plan 2015-2030 text mentions disability at six places in specific, apart from figuring in the New Delhi Declaration.

But the following mention in the text is particularly important:

“Adopting an inclusive approach – via multi-sector/stakeholder DRR platforms, both at national and local levels – is particularly important. It should embrace the leadership of persons with disability, women, children and youth and the significant contribution of the business sector.”