An estimated one billion people with disabilities that constitute 15 percent of the world's population may have something to be hopeful about with the launching of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN assembly recently. The SDGs chalk out the issues of development and rights of the persons with disabilities more elaborately than any other global development framework, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The issue of including 'disability' into the mainstream development agenda is finally gathering momentum.
The international community's efforts to bring disability to the global development landscape has been impressive: The International Year of Disabled Persons by the United Nations (1981), the World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons in 1982 by the UN General Assembly followed by proclamation of 1983–1992 the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons and the UN proclamation of December 3 to be the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. However, the most comprehensive and promising legal framework for protection and promotion of the rights of the persons with disabilities came in the form of an international human rights treaty under the auspices of the United Nations – UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). UNCRPD was adopted in 2006, but came into force in 2008 after ratification by 20 UN Member States.
Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs have touched upon the issues related to the rights and development of the persons with disabilities in a number of Goals and Targets, especially Goals 4, 8, 10, 11 and 17. Goal 4 deals with inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all, including the persons with disabilities. Goal 8 seeks to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all including persons with disabilities. Closely connected to Goal 8 is Goal 10 which aims to promote social, economic and political inclusion of persons with disabilities. While Goal 11 calls for providing universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for persons with disabilities, Goal 17 urges the Member States to ensure high-quality, timely and reliable data that is also disaggregated by disability.
It would be too optimistic to assume that the relevant parts of the SDGs that concern the persons with disabilities would be automatically achieved. The monitoring mechanisms devised to measure the achievement of the Goals and Targets need to include special tools to extract disability-segregated data, and engage experts who are also persons with disabilities. It is critical that the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have a monitoring and oversight role during the implementation of the concerned SDGs.
The disability inclusive Global Goals have much relevance for Bangladesh which has nearly 16 million people with disabilities. This number is larger than the combined population of Sweden and Denmark. Bangladesh needs to take advantage of the positive aura that has been created about the inclusion of disability in the SDGs, and translate that into concrete actions for advancement of its citizens with disabilities. A comprehensive, right-based instead of welfare-based, strategy is warranted to ensure that those parts of SDGs including their targets that are concerned with the persons with disabilities are achieved in time. This strategy should be aligned with the national strategy for implementing the SDGs. Some of the important features of this strategy are:
- The Government Ministries/Departments that deal with the programs concerning the persons with disabilities need to be represented in the national level body/entity that will be responsible for implementing the SDGs.
- Disability-related SDGs and their Targets must be included in the country's short-term and long-term development plans (annual, 5-year etc.).
- Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), especially organisations of and for the persons with disabilities must participate in any and all consultative and decision-making processes with regard to implementation of SDGs.
- Umbrella forums/networks of non-governmental organisations dealing with disability like, the National Forum of Organisations Working for the Disabled (NFOWD) and others should conduct periodic consultations and advocacy with relevant government departments and donor agencies for proper implementation of the disability-related SDGs.
- NGOs and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) should align their respective strategies and programs with the SDGs.
- National and local media including Community Radio should conduct public awareness programs highlighting the SDGs vis-à-vis Disability.
Thanks to the inclusion of disability in SDGs, the world will probably see an improvement in the quality of life of the persons with disability by 2030. But, what is even more important is that the causes of disability are prevented by taking a holistic approach for complete success of the SDGs in their entirety and for achievement of the associated targets.
The writer is a Founder Trustee of Impact Foundation Bangladesh and former Democracy & Governance Team Leader at USAID/Bangladesh. He can be reached at email@example.com.