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Will the 2022 Global Disability Summit result in a more equal world?

Hannah Loryman, March 2022

Before the Global Disability Summit, I wrote about what needed to happen to make it a success. Here’s what we know so far about what went well, and what needs to happen next.

The summit, which took place on 16 and 17 February, called on governments and global organisations to commit to upholding the rights of people with disabilities.

Participation

It was encouraging to see that a wide range of countries and actors stepped up and stated their commitment to disability inclusion at the summit.

There was some really high-level attendance, demonstrating that disability rights are now increasingly part of the development agenda. The United Nations Secretary-General and the Director-General of the World Health Organization both made passionate speeches about the need to include people with disabilities. Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown made an important call for international funding agencies to renew their efforts to ensure that all children with disabilities can receive a quality education. Ministers from many of the countries where Sightsavers works attended and stated their commitment to disability inclusion. This was a really positive step following on from concerted advocacy by many organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) that Sightsavers works with.

It was great to see countries taking part that weren’t involved with the summit last time, as well as mainstream civil society organisations and private sector organisations getting involved. We need this range of actors involved if we are to make progress. I hope those who attended the summit for the first time were left with a sense of the importance of doing more and how they can play a critical role.

Concrete commitments

There were some really positive commitments announced at the summit itself.

There were some countries that committed to strengthening their policies or legal frameworks on disability inclusion. The government of Malawi committed to ensuring that its revised Disability Act is taken to parliament by the end of this year. This is something that OPDs have been working on for years, and so to have this specific timeframe is really critical. The UK launched its new disability inclusion and rights strategy. Sightsavers, and many of our OPD partners, have worked closely with the UK on the development of its strategy and we look forward to working with them to ensure it’s implemented. One of the challenges of implementing strategies is the lack of funding, so it was interesting to see that the government of Norway has allocated specific funding for the implementation of its strategy, which it launched at the summit. This is something we hope the UK and others will follow suit on.

The Government of Ghana has committed to taking steps towards ratifying the African Disability Protocol. This is something our team and partners in Ghana have been advocating for and is a critical step towards the protocol becoming legally binding, which will only happen when it is ratified by 15 member states of the African Union.

Another interesting commitment was that the Ugandan government has committed to revising its in-service training for health professionals. This will help to address the health needs of people with disabilities by 2023, including considerations like making sure sign language is provided. The need for health professionals in Uganda to be trained on disability was raised by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016, so it’s a positive step forward that Uganda has made this commitment with a clear end date. Ahead of the summit, OPDs in Uganda asked for the government to commit to ensuring the provision of sign language interpreters in the health sector – it’s positive that this ask is reflected within the commitment too.

I was also pleased to see many governments committing to support the growth and development of OPDs, including Kenya where specific funding has been committed.

On the less positive side, I’m concerned that, overall, there aren’t enough commitments with concrete financing attached. Financing isn’t everything, but it is a critical component to drive inclusion forward. Now is the time for all actors to look at the commitments they’ve made, take a step back and put in place a plan for them to be implemented. Governments must put in place inclusive budgeting and planning processes to make sure that policy and legal commitments translate to real change.

I’m also disappointed that no donors seem to have stepped up to continue funding the Inclusive Education Initiative (a multi-donor education fund set up at the previous summit) and that there were no new shared initiatives of this type. Collaboration is critical if we are to overcome some of the major challenges faced in achieving inclusion and design shared solutions, and the summit is an opportunity for donors to come together in this way.

Prioritising the furthest behind

Among the general commitments that were made, it’s critical that we don’t forget about the inequalities that exist within the disability sector and the need to push for commitments to close these gaps.

Many of the consultations ahead of the summit included specific discussions around women and girls with disabilities and so we’re pleased to see that countries seem to have made commitments in this area. For example, Tanzania has made commitments around ensuring the leadership of women and girls with disabilities and access to sexual and reproductive health rights.

As we analyse the commitments we will be looking at the extent to which donors and governments are prioritising people who are often excluded from discussions and ensuring their voices are clear in the follow up.

What’s next?

Months and months of work happen behind the scenes for events like the Global Disability Summit, and once the event itself is over momentum can easily be lost. But we cannot stop here: it’s now time to take a step back and work out what’s next. We can’t let the global attention focused on disability inclusion during the summit fade away and risk the more than 1,300 commitments made becoming ineffective words on a page.

It’s great to see that the next summit has already been announced. This will take place in Germany in 2025, co-hosted by the governments of Germany and Jordan alongside the International Disability Alliance.

So with three years until the next summit, what needs to happen?

Action plans: Where commitments are not specific, governments and donors must follow up and set out how they will put them into practice.

Accountability: We need to take collective responsibility to make sure that the commitments made do not fall off the agenda. A strong and effective way of tracking and monitoring summit commitments must be put in place and properly resourced. This is an area where civil society organisations and disability campaigners need to keep demanding action from governments.

Momentum: With the third summit planned, the Global Disability Summit is becoming embedded in the disability movement. But we also need momentum outside of this.

The global decision-makers who came to the summit and made bold statements and commitments need to take that intention to act into the other forums and processes they are part of. For example, as chairs of the G7 this year, Germany needs to use its presidency to embed disability inclusion. All governments should ensure that through negotiation at the Commission on the Status of Women (discussions are happening at the moment ahead of the conference in March) they are embedding the participation of people with disabilities. Governments must talk about progress on disability inclusion in their voluntary national reviews at the UN High-Level Political Forum this July.

We can’t let disability rights only be discussed at the Global Disability Summit. We need to keep making the argument that all measures to address global inequality, whether relating to gender, climate change, conflict, displacement or any other issues, will never succeed unless disability inclusion is factored in and the voices of people with disabilities and their representative organisations are heard. For me, this is the overall change I want to see as a result of the Global Disability Summit – that by drawing global attention, it helps decision-makers realise that disability inclusion is essential in creating a more equal world.

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Hannah Loryman is Sightsavers’ head of policy.

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