We can also make change

Fred Smith, November 2013
A teenage boy wearing dark glasses smiling and sitting a a desk in a classroom.

“If you have a strong livelihood or access to resources you are generally less vulnerable to the impacts of a hazard”

On Wednesday 6 November Fiona O’Donnell MP chaired an event in parliament with Sightsavers, HelpAge, ADD and Alzheimer’s Disease International.

The event showcased the We can also make change briefing from our collaborative research project – Voices of the Marginalised.

Speakers at the event included Lipi Rahman, a peer researcher from Resource Integration Centre; Mosharaff Hossain, Bangladesh Country Director for ADD; Danny Burns, lead researcher of the Participate project at the Institute of Development Studies; and David Hallam, UK envoy and director for post-2015 development goals.

It was a great evening with excellent speakers; below are my four main reflections on what was a fascinating series of presentations.

1. The power of participation

To truly understand poverty and marginalisation it is essential to include the poorest, most marginalised people. This value of participatory methods was highlighted by both Lipi and Danny; as Lipi explained, people felt able to speak openly with the peer researchers, as they were from the same community and often had similar lived experiences of disability and ageing. This allowed the peer researchers to identify priority areas –  addressing livelihoods and sexual violence – which have not always been identified in broader global surveys.

2. Addressing barriers

The stories told on the night and detailed in the briefing – many of them harrowing – do not stand alone. They are representative of many of the barriers people with disabilities face in accessing jobs and health care, and participating in their communities. Mosharaff Hossain spoke eloquently about how his own experience of growing up with a disability in Bangladesh – experiencing discrimination, being denied access to government jobs – echoed many identified in the research. That many people felt ignored and had not been asked about their experiences before highlights how people with disabilities are often neglected by policymakers.

Mosharaff has fought to overcome many barriers, and has helped influence the government of Bangladesh to introduce inclusive policies. Ensuring other people do not experience the same discrimination is one of the reasons why we are so passionate about working with people with disabilities and their organisations to build their capacity to advocate for their rights. It’s only by engaging with people with disabilities that the full extent of the barriers they face in society can be understood, and effective policies formed.

3. Encouraging signs

It was therefore encouraging to hear David Hallam, the prime minister’s envoy and director for post-2015 development goals, state that there is a ‘clear case’ that the next development agenda must address people with disabilities. David outlined three key ideas from the High Level Panel report: that nobody should be left behind; that data needs to be disaggregated and no target considered met until it is reached for all social groups; and that nothing short of a data revolution is required. None of these ideas will be effective unless they are inclusive – and it is great to hear that DFID believes the next framework must be constructed in a way that protects the rights of all people.

4. Huge challenges remain

Hearing David speak it is clear DFID will be strongly advocating for a framework that leaves no one behind. This is promising. But as Mosharaff raised in his presentation, the debate ensuring inclusive development is not just about developing countries; how much of the 0.7% of the budget ring-fenced for international development by the UK government is spent on people with disabilities? More needs to be done to implement, measure and evaluate inclusive programmes. We believe all DFID programmes should be inclusive, and would like to see the government introduce a stringent approach for ensuring this happens.

It is also clear that despite the efforts of civil society to influence the post-2015 framework, it will still all come down to the UN member states, each negotiating from a position of their own national interest. Mosharaff warned that despite the welcome prominence of disability in the High Level Panel report, there was little evidence of disability as a priority for many states at the UN General Assembly in September. Continuing to promote the voices of marginalised people ahead of the negotiation of a post-2015 framework is essential, and why this research in particular is so valuable.

The time is now…

Lipi ended her presentation by giving the example of a woman who, following their conversation, had asked “So, when will this change happen?”. This change needs to happen now. The Millennium Development Goals failed people with disabilities. We cannot let the international community fail again.

About the briefing

The briefing launched at the event outlines the findings of the pilot phase of the research, conducted in Bangladesh. The research is genuinely participatory – researchers from the Institute of Development Studies trained older people and people with disabilities living in two areas of Bangladesh to conduct the research in their own communities. Find out more about how the research was conducted.

By Fred Smith, Sightsavers’ Policy Advisor on Social Inclusion

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