'If you're not named, you're not counted'

Six-month-old Naba Mohamed, who has serious mobility problems in her legs and feet, receives a massage at the Sudanese Association for Disabled People in El Fasher, North Darfur. Disability is finally being considered in the “zero draft,” but its inclusion is not secured yet. Photo by: Albert Gonzalez Farran / United Nations / CC BY-NC-ND

Civil society came out in full force last week to tackle the post-2015 development framework at the 65th U.N. Department of Public Information for nongovernmental organizations in New York.

I was there as a U.N. Youth blogger, covering the meeting with seven other colleagues to report on the events, discussions and debates of civil society ahead of the 69th U.N. General Assembly later this month.

Given my role as a VSO U.K. volunteer working as an advocacy adviser for a disability civil society organization in Rwanda, I was particularly interested in the buzz around disability, inclusion, gender and volunteering.

With more than 2,000 delegates from 117 countries and 902 NGOs and CSOs present at all sorts of meetings from workshops to round tables to town hall discussions, this was civil society’s opportunity to say what they thought about the new “zero draft” of the future Sustainable Development Goals and how the targets were shaping up before the intergovernmental negotiations start. The conference culminated in a declaration outlining civil society’s aspirations and wishes for the next phase of development.

During her keynote address, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power turned to delegates and offered two pieces of advice. First, we should focus on narrow goals with concrete, measurable targets that are achievable and whose impact can be accountably assessed, stating that this was the most powerful way to effect change. Second, she argued in favor of universal development goals for peace and good governance, stating that they “go hand in hand” with development and are the best tool for eradicating poverty.

This is the crux of the issue for civil society and special interest groups going forward: How can they navigate the intergovernmental negotiations and keep their advocacies at the top of the agenda? Motivations for member state negotiations vary; poverty, peace, education and women seem to be the top four, but climate change is gaining traction. It was also encouraging that disability is finally being considered in the “zero draft.”

I sat down with Maryanne Diamond, chairwoman of the International Disability Alliance, to further discuss the issue. She told me that the disability movement is not complacent and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the post-2015 development agenda was not secured yet. She spoke of how targeted advocacy at member states was going to be a key tactic in ensuring inclusion remained in the SDGs.

Diamond explained that the main lesson learned from the Millennium Development Goals — which contained no mentions of disability — is: “If you’re not named, you’re not counted.”

As a VSO volunteer, the role of volunteerism in the post-2015 agenda was also very interesting for me. Two workshops focused on how volunteers can contribute to the implementation of the new goals, especially as there is no mention of volunteerism in the “zero draft.” As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on International Volunteer Day in 2011, “volunteering matters.” Delegates at the conference agreed and called for volunteerism to be more explicitly referenced in the SDGs.

Yet another key theme was gender. “Violence against women is a pandemic” was the phrase that really hit me during a round table on inequality. Empowering women and girls featured in wide-ranging discussions on health, wealth and social inequalities.

Now that the delegates have left, the banner stands packed up and the microphones switched off, it’s time to reflect on what happens next. How can civil society continue to influence the SDGs and ensure they include everyone, and are achievable and measurable? I’m sure a lot of tailored advocacy at member-state level will be an important tactic going forward — the next year is crunch time.

Aug. 18, 2014, marked the 500-day milestone until the target date to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Join Devex, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, to raise awareness of the progress made through the MDGs and to rally to continue the momentum. Check out our Storify page and tweet us using #MDGmomentum.

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About the author

  • Kate turner

    Kate Turner

    Kate Turner is a disability advocacy adviser for VSO, a U.K.-based international volunteering organization. After eight years in government and public affairs, she is now working to advance the rights of persons with disabilities in Rwanda. Turner was recently selected to be a U.N. Youth Blogger at the United Nations Department of Public Information and NGOs Conference in New York.