Disability is back on the global development agenda. Hopefully, rights of people with disabilities will now enter national development plans of developing and emerging countries. This hope stems from a major initiative being undertaken by the British Government through its overseas aid agency, the Government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance. Disability activists around the world are set to gather in London on July 24 for the Global Disability Summit.
Disability has unfortunately never been the main focus in the overall developmental agenda. Even though experts acknowledge it as important, it has always been considered an “add on”, secondary or in worst cases, not given any attention.
The Summit, with a Civil Society Forum taking place a day earlier, is an opportunity to reset the global development agenda, so that rights of people with disabilities are given priority in the sustainable development agenda. It will be cohosted by an interesting triad: a government development agency from the North, a government of the South representing an emerging region like eastern Africa and the global alliance of networks and agencies focused on disabilities.
Nepal will be represented by the Minister for Women, Children & Social Welfare and a group of select activists. They were instrumental last year in ensuring the enactment of the new Disability Rights Act, a groundbreaking document that aligns the country to the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and makes Nepal a progressive nation on social inclusion, at least on paper.
In preparation of the global summit, a stakeholder summit was recently organized in Kathmandu. Dozens of activists showcased their achievements and shared their stories. Rarely has such an event been organized in Nepal where social inclusion and disability activists meet. As Shudarson Subedi, the President of the National Federation of Disabled Nepal, highlighted in his opening speech, disability agenda is rarely linked to overall national development agenda. There are positive changes in terms of social inclusion in Nepal but disability issues are still neglected. Mainstreaming complex issues like social inclusion of marginalized groups, including people with disabilities, is hard.
Independent, full-fledged programs focusing on disability rights are rare. Even though explanation of such misery is found in the “mainstreaming” principle, it is hard to justify it from a practical point of view especially if nothing else happens for the cause.
The national event in Nepal made it clear that there is an incredible group of activists and experts, with tremendous passion and determination working to bring positive changes.
Other positive things are happening too. The Ministry of Education with the support of external development partners are working on a more inclusive education system. This long term plan, if implemented properly, will allow children with disabilities in integrated schools.
However, more effort is required to make Nepal an inclusive and open society for the disabled. Resources are required to scale up and bold partnerships called for to promote best practices and innovative approaches. Organizations working for the cause of disability must be able to work together, sharing practices and promoting joint initiatives.
Thematic clusters on single issues related to disability and social inclusion could be rolled together to create more synergies and achieve scale. It should also promote sustainable initiatives to break the usual dependency trap.
If businesses and citizens consider improving lives of the disabled as a personal responsibility, it would play a crucial role in making Nepal a better place for all. External development partners could play an important role in supporting such an eco-system, rewarding actors who bring tangible results.
The state at all levels have the duty to act and promote the implementation of the new Act, starting with a massive capacity building of local bodies. Elected officers must be considerate of people with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups. They must be responsive and accountable to them, as they constitute a considerable voting bloc. Helping the disabled should always be a part of the broader agenda of developing Nepal, where marginalized and vulnerable groups also have a role to play.
Hopefully the Global Disability Summit will help create momentum both internationally and locally.
The author is co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities.