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.
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.
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.”