The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a step in the right direction when it comes to including persons with disabilities in international development cooperation. But still, the group is often invisible in development discourse. During the seminar, panellists highlight the importance of making disability a cross cutting development issue and argue, for example, that there are lessons to be learnt from the LGBTI community.
People with disabilities are often forgotten when planning development projects, despite the fact that approximately one billion of the world’s population have some form of disability. Furthermore, 80 percent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries (1). Whilst the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) made no specific reference to this group – and hence contributed to the exclusion of persons with disabilities in MDG projects – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are described as an opening for a change in the field.
– This is a paradigm shift. The SDGs are much more inclusive and takes a much broader view of the challenges, says Kajsa B. Olofsgård, the Swedish ambassador for Agenda 2030.
Since the UN reached out to and included many different stakeholders in the development of the goals, including people with disabilities in the SDGs became natural. Charlotte V. McClain Nhlapo, advisor on disability for the World Bank Group, explains that while some organisations and individuals wished to see a separate goal for people with disabilities, she had a different opinion.
– If you can find ways of mainstreaming the issue into existing goals there is a chance of better traction, McClain Nhlapo argues.
Elvira Kivi, International Officer at the Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired (Synskadades Riksförbund), also emphasises the need for mainstreaming disability issues during the panel discussion.
– I would like to see that disability becomes a cross cutting issue that all organisations have to consider, just like you have to answer to how you as an organisation are dealing with gender equality, climate change or HIV, says Kivi.
There is a general consensus in the panel that people with disabilities often become invisible in the development discourse. Lisa Sjöblom, Secretary General of Forum Syd, says that organisations working with development generally fail to address the rights of people with disabilities. The panelists also agree that it is important to remember that a disability is just one side to a person. Moreover, a person can experience marginalisation on the basis of ability, but also as a woman or as a member of an ethnic minority group, and so on. Sjöblom therefore stresses the importance of acknowledging that power structures can also exist within marginalised groups.
– Sometimes you are so focused on your own marginalisation that you do not see the structure within that group, Sjöblom reasons.
When asked if the disability movement could learn something from the LGBTI community, most of the panelists agree that there are lessons to be learnt. Malin Ekman Aldén, Acting Director General of the Agency for Participation (Myndigheten för delaktighet), argues:
– If you look at the LGBTI movement as such, they have strong leaders in all parts of society; in politics, enterprises, civil society, etc. We need more advocates, but maybe the reason we do not have more advocates is due to discrimination (2).
Regarding the fact that Sweden considers itself to be a champion for persons with disabilities, Ekman Aldén does not think this self-image is entirely accurate. Rather, she thinks that Sweden has fallen behind.
– The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (3) has led to a major shift. Other countries are now employing a rights based perspective, while Sweden still applies a social perspective.
Another issue being raised during the seminar is that of perception. Peter Anomah-Kordieh, Programme Officer at the African Union of the Blind, explains that when pushing for the above-mentioned convention, one of the key challenges was changing decision makers’ perceptions of people with disabilities, thereby opening up for discussions about their rights. On the same note, Elvira Kivi’s concludes:
– Nothing about us without us. It is not about supporting a weak group – the group is strong. It is within the support system that the weakness lies.
Summary by Karin Klerby
1. WHO and The World Bank Group, 2011: World report on disability. Malta.
2. Referring to inaccessibility, writer’s remark.
3. All states that ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); a UN body of independent experts which monitors implementation of the Convention. The CRPD examines each report and makes suggestions and general recommendations to the state in question.