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Time to make exclusion history: how inclusive development could bring global change

Dominic Haslam, December 2015
Hamza Kamuna, from Uganda, is blind and has been out of school for more than two years

“People described the questions on disability as an ‘open door’ which allowed them to talk about their lives.”

Yesterday was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

It was particularly relevant to mark it this year, because as Vladimir Çuk, the Executive Director of the International Disability Alliance put it (on a panel we shared in Berlin earlier this week), the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gives those of us fighting for inclusive development “a historic opportunity”.

It was also the day the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) published a review of its Disability Framework, which was launched this time last year.

The framework was a huge step forward in UK international development policy, a move Sightsavers called for in our Put Us in the Picture campaign. The publication of the framework has set the UK on an exciting, challenging and ambitious path to delivering disability-inclusive development. DFID has recognised that in order to leave no one behind in delivering the SDGs, inclusion of people with disabilities is a must.

What progress has been made?

We welcome the updated Disability Framework as it’s integral to achieving the UK’s promise of leaving no one behind. The framework continues to put people with disabilities at the heart of international development and we encourage DFID to act on the findings of the update, treating the framework as a ‘living document’, and to build evidence of how to make disability-inclusive development a reality.

DFID has demonstrated strong commitment to rolling out the framework across its diverse areas of work through policy commitments and topic guidance. It has shown strong leadership in a number of areas – including the importance of disability disaggregated data – and at a high level through the roles of the Disability Champion, ministers and Secretary of State. We urge DFID to maintain this level of commitment.

In the spirit of building the evidence of what’s working and what needs to change, we support the decision to again update the framework in 2018. In the meantime, what is critical is that DFID continues to translate the framework from policy into practice, particularly at country office level, so that it delivers meaningful change for people with disabilities. This should include building evidence of how to address complex areas such as stigma and discrimination; engaging with and ensuring active participation of people with disabilities in DFID priority countries; and promoting the connection between the SDGs and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities through a rights-based approach to inclusion. It should also include a subject close to my heart: continuing to show how disability disaggregated data can and should be collected, so that people with disabilities are no longer invisible in official statistics or records of progress, as they have been in development programmes traditionally.

The global change we seek

DFID cannot do this alone. This publication has brought the international community together for the inaugural Global Action for Disability meeting, in recognition that not only is disability-inclusive development essential, but it cannot be achieved without coordinated international efforts. This coordinated effort is necessary if we are to have the transformational impact required for the 800 million people with disabilities living in developing countries who face exclusion on a daily basis.

This includes people like Hamza Kamuna (pictured above) from Uganda, who is blind and has been out of school for more than two years. At just 16 he has already experienced what exclusion feels like: “It was too far to walk to every day; boarding is 250,000 Ugandan shillings [about £60] for one term, and I needed small things: soap, shoes and books. So I couldn’t afford to go. I feel bad not going to school – when other friends of mine are going I feel bad being left behind. I want to go back, I want to learn more. In the future I want to be a teacher.”

The continuing exclusion of young people, girls, adults of working age, farmers, lawyers, older people – in fact, all people with disabilities – is why Sightsavers is launching its second phase of Put Us in the Picture. We are calling on DFID’s multilateral partners to make people with disabilities a priority in all development programmes.

The Sustainable Development Goals have delivered a critical mandate for change. For the first time people with disabilities are explicitly included in a global development framework which represents a commitment towards inclusive action by the international community.

Removing barriers to participation and unlocking the vast potential of people with disabilities is critical to addressing global poverty reduction and empowering people to access their rights and actively participate in all aspects of society. We are still ambitious for change!

We hope that DFID’s partners have the same ambition and will follow its lead in applying the same principles of disability inclusion in their work. If this does not happen, people with disabilities will be excluded from development efforts. It really is that simple (no more data required). At a minimum, this requires a resourced policy and measurable targets in place.

Moving towards making history

The Millennium Development Goals are hailed as having lifted millions of people out of poverty. It is definitely true that from 2000-2015 a massive step forwards was taken in several key countries in extreme poverty eradication. It is also true that people with disabilities, where data is available, can be shown to have missed out from this progress.

In 2016 the era of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 will begin. The language of universality, equality and leaving no one behind, which has been at the heart of the debate around the SDGs framework, presents the development community with a chance to ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities across the globe. This is the world in 2030 that we at Sightsavers are imagining. It’s on days like the International Day of Persons with Disabilities that we look forward to working with DFID and its partners to make this a reality.

By Dominic Haslam, Director of Policy and Programme Strategy for Sightsavers

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