This month world leaders will agree on a new set of development goals that will shape the lives of everyone around the world over the next 15 years. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have the potential to lift people out of poverty, ensure the inclusion of previously excluded people, and do all of this in a sustainable way. But the adoption of the SDGs in September is just the first step.
Fifteen years ago world leaders agreed on an ambitious development framework consisting of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Unfortunately, the MDGs didn’t address the significant burden that disability place on communities in the developing world.
The SDGs present a new opportunity to make sure that another generation of people with disabilities is not left behind.
The leaders and groups that are currently finalizing these new goals have reached a consensus that disability must be incorporated into the mainstream of international development policy. Crucially, this consensus will give people with disabilities a tool to advocate for their inclusion in country-level policies.
While this is a massive step forward and a wake-up call to the international community that including people with disabilities is a core principle of sustainable development – not an afterthought – it is only the first hurdle. The next challenge will be to ensure that what is being promised by the goals will be delivered once this process goes from a global conversation to an agenda that must be implemented by countries at the national level. Funders, nonprofits, and other groups need to maintain pressure on governments to include people with disabilities in their development plans, even when inclusion is challenging or costly.
Why is this so important right now? Because around one billion people – or 15 per cent of the world’s population – have a disability, and 80 percent live in developing countries. On average, one household in every four in the poorest communities has a member with a disability, which means at least two billion people live with the impact of disability on a daily basis.
In many countries those with disabilities are the most excluded and hardest to reach of all groups in their community. They are less likely to have access to healthcare and education, and in turn find earning a living and lifting themselves out of poverty that much more difficult, if not impossible.
Last week I met an inspiring group of people in India who came together to form a disabled people’s organization. They have identified the drivers of their exclusion and have come together to call for accessible transportation, fair access to financial services, and for their voices to be heard by political decision-makers.
In a way, community groups like this are already pushing governments to meet the SDG commitments, before they have been put into action. And when the Indian Government – like the other 192 member states of the UN – puts pen to paper at the UN General Assembly this month, they will have just promised the one billion people with disabilities that they will be included. That’s another weapon in the arsenal of those fighting day-in and day-out to have their voices heard.
The SDGs are a huge opportunity to address some of the most urgent challenges of inequality, to take a step forward in support of human rights, and to protect our shared global environment.
Now we need to see the governments of the world agree to this ambitious text at the UN’s General Assembly in September and ensure that what gets agreed gets implemented.