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

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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.

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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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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