The UN Is Taking A Big Step For Human Rights, But Ignoring These 1 Billion People

Posted on June 25, 2015 in GlobeScope, Health and Life, Society

By Parul Ghosh:

There are 1 billion people living with disability in the world.
The United Nations recognizes only 9 Major Groups.
Disability is not one of them.
If 1 billion is not a major group, then what is?

In September 2000, world leaders congregated at the United Nations to adopt the ‘Millennium Declaration’ and its eight key goals that would work towards universal eradication of poverty. These 8 goals, commonly referred to, as the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) were to be achieved by the year 2015.

Image Credit: Dominik Golenia

It is a common fact that poverty and disability are two sides of the same coin. Rough estimates say that 800 million of the world’s 1 billion people with disabilities live in the countries of the global south. People with disabilities comprise of 20 percent of the world’s poorest. It is rational to assume then that people with disabilities, especially in the developing world, owing to lack of access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities would end up being more vulnerable to poverty.

So while the MDGs along with their 21 targets and 60 indicators were designed particularly to address the needs of the world’s “poorest and marginalized citizens”, it is ironic that they failed to address the one group that is most susceptible– people with disability.

Disability did not even get mentioned in the Millennium Declaration of 2000.

While the MDGs provided governments a reference point on which they could focus their policies to end poverty, they have also been criticized for being too narrow and for not focusing on the element of human rights in their design. Although the MDGs were goals to be achieved globally, in reality they were more for the poorer countries to accomplish with overseas aid.

The world then began to talk about what would happen once the MDGs would expire. The Post-2015 is a process designed to help define a future global development framework that would succeed the MDGs, with a target date of 2030. It was in 2010, at a United Nations summit called by the UN Secretary General to review the progress of the MDGs and also to think of a future course of action beyond 2015, that the idea of a Post-2015 agenda was born.

In 2012, during a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), Member States agreed to launch a process to develop the next set of goals- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Subsequently, in 2013 an Open Working Group assigned by the UN Secretary General was assigned the task of preparing a proposal on these goals, which was completed in July 2014, and was presented in the General Assembly.

Since then multiple consultations have taken place globally, both online and on the ground. Many civil society organizations have come together to participate in the process and contribute to the development of the new agenda.

As of this year, in September 2015, the MDGs will expire and the General Assembly will adopt the 17 SDGs. While the magnitude of involvement of the disability movement in this process is much higher than what it was during the MDGs, the results speak otherwise.

Groups working around the issue seem to celebrate the fact that disability has mentions in the new framework, but what is ironic once again, is that Goals 1 and 3 on ‘Eradication of Poverty’ and ‘Ensuring Healthy Lives’ have no references to disability – neither in the goals, nor in the targets. When one talks of health, if there is one group of people that needs health care services and are vulnerable, it is people with disabilities.

During a recent visit to the UN Headquarters in New York as part of a disability group delegation, I learnt many new, hard-hitting things. We lobbied with Permanent Missions to make some noise about the exclusion of disability. But it seemed it was too late. The Goals and targets will remain as they stand. The only few strands of hope were that disability was to be included in the provision for disaggregated data, but this may or may not remain once the indicators of these goals are finalized.

Another insightful learning was that the G-77 countries were adamant against any change in the Goals and targets. Their reason, which I personally empathize with, was that they have worked very hard to get certain targets and groups included in the process and these might get taken away if the so-called Pandora ’s Box is opened. Other marginalized and ignored groups may also then begin to question the process vis-à-vis their own inclusion (or exclusion), which then risks this becoming a never-ending battle.

As things stand now, the world of disability hopes for a miracle when the Indicators and the Political Declaration are adopted. Only time will tell.

The UN Secretary General called for ‘Leaving no one behind’ in the Post-2015 development agenda. But the way I see it, history might just be repeating itself.

With the Disabled Left behind, yet again.

Parul Ghosh has worked with a global disability rights organization for over three years and these are her personal views. While she writes about the Global development process, she also questions the direct impact of the agenda, if any, on the grassroots.