These ambitious words were echoed during the United Nations High Level Panel meeting, on the 23rd September, regarding Disability and Development. The meeting acknowledged that the current international development framework had largely overlooked many marginalised groups, particularly disabled people and their families. The meeting highlighted the need for action to ensure this does not continue. The “post 2015” debate is now gathering momentum and allows an opportunity to look forward to a “new world order”.
How might this influence us in Wales? Our contribution to international development has focussed around a civic society movement of community and organisational Links between Wales and Africa. These have gained greater prominence since the Make Poverty History Campaign in 2005. The Welsh Government has no legal capacity to engage with international development, and indeed is compelled to only spend its money on activities which will benefit the people of Wales. Nevertheless, it does play an important role in funding and enabling these Links to foster cooperation and solidarity between Wales and Africa. Consequently, whilst not getting directly involved in grass root international development, the Welsh Government does have an interest and potential influence over how Wales Africa members spend their money.
With regards disability issues, the United Kingdom Government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Whilst much of the Convention discusses a Government’s responsibility to its disabled communities, it also includes Article 32 concerning international cooperation. The Welsh Government is obligated to the Convention by the United Kingdom’s acceptance. Therefore its needs to take account of this when discussing Wales Africa ethos and practice.
The World Report on Disability (2011) estimated that there are 1 billion disabled people, 15% of the global population. Africa is identified as having a 15.3 prevalence of moderate and severe disability and is consistently above the global average. The Bond Disability and Development Group, made up of 70 UK based organisations, reports that around 500 million disabled people live in the world’s poorest countries. However, the needs of disabled people were not mentioned in the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDG), indicators, or targets. Disability was seen as a standalone specialism. This ignored their direct application to each of the Goals and many other development targets. Many people are calling for Disability to be placed on a par with Gender, and the likes, as a cross cutting development issue.
Lynne Featherstone, the UK Parliamentary Secretary of State for International Development spoke, at the September meeting, of the need to establish reliable statistics to demonstrate the problem being faced. She highlighted access to education as key to liberating disabled people. She also emphasised the need to work together to ensure that disabled people don’t get left behind again.
Disabled people are frequently isolated, excluded from the mainstream activities, and regularly counted amongst the poorest of the poor. Intervention concerning disability is often seen as supporting the disabled person in the world as is, rather than developing a more equal society for them to operate in. If we seriously seek a world where no one is left behind, disability issues must be part of our agenda.
Any practical response to these challenges will come from Wales Africa activists and it is true that the capacity of the sector is very limited. However, it is also true that the biggest problem disabled people face is not what they can or cannot do, but rather other peoples attitude towards their situation. High technology and large budgets, as we relatively speaking have in Wales, may enable greater independence but, in themselves, will not buy inclusion. This requires the intent and desire of all concerned. Two questions that linking activists may want to ask is has the country, in which you work signed the UN Convention and what can we do to help implement it?
Fundamentally disabled people in Africa, and Wales, are asking to be included within everyday life activities. As people involved in development we, by our habit, look to the future. Does this future include disabled people as full, active, and participatory members? If so, how do our current activities reflect this vision?