Recently, representatives of U.N. member states from across the globe began negotiations around the declaration that will encapsulate the bold and ambitious vision of a new development framework to be agreed this September. As the content of the declaration was debated, the “leave no one behind” vision that has become a rallying call for civil society — notably for the action/2015 movement of which our organizations are members — was very present in the room.
In particular, those representing groups that are often marginalized from society continued to “lobby” with the aim of getting those omitted from the Millennium Development Goals specifically referenced. For example, Esther Caroline Mkamori from the Wundanyi Disabled Persons Organization in Kenya along with Maria Isabel Rivera from HelpAge International in Latin America participated in the negotiations to try and ensure the voices of those with disabilities and older people were heard.
Among the elements being debated was whether or not to include the phrase “no target should be considered met unless it is met for all social and economic groups.” These 16 words, if they are included in the final documents, could have a profound effect on billions of people around the globe.
It could mean a world of difference for blind children who could attend mainstream school and get quality education, or the elderly having a reliable income while raising their orphaned grandchildren.
It is therefore heartening to see that these words, along with the ideal of "leave no one behind,” are in the discussion document produced last week. We urge those responsible for penning the final versions to keep these so that those who are among the most marginalized in society have a chance to benefit from the next development framework, after the MDGs failed them.
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We live in an unequal world, and in some areas inequality has grown worse rather than better. Evidence suggests that highly unequal societies tend to grow more slowly, are less successful in sustaining growth and recover more slowly from economic crises.
High levels of inequality also reduce the impact of growth on reductions in poverty. By focusing on the easiest to reach groups in efforts to achieve targets, it now seems likely that the MDGs have diverted attention away from some of the poorest groups, especially those disadvantaged by discrimination, including persons with disabilities and aging populations.
Why should these groups be taken into account? Despite representing more than 1 billion people worldwide, the economic and social potential of persons with disabilities to make significant contributions toward reducing poverty has so far been lost. A report from the U.N. indicates that as a result, living standards for people with disabilities have more than likely declined in relative terms, creating a widening gulf between those who live with a disability and their families and those who do not.
Furthermore, population aging is no longer a “rich country” phenomenon. There are currently 868 million older people in the world today. In a few short decades, the number of older people is set to increase to 2 billion, 80 percent of whom will be living in lower and middle-income countries. Despite these astonishing facts, neither group was included explicitly in the MDGs.
The need for including marginalized people within the SDGs is reflected in the life of 16-year-old Hamza from Mifumi village in Uganda. Although Uganda has universal free education, nearly half of all children with disabilities aren’t in school because there just isn’t the equipment and staffing needed to support them. For Hamza, who was born blind, this was exactly the case. He had to leave Bishop Willis primary school despite being very happy there.
Hamza’s local school can’t support him, because they don’t have the equipment he needs, so his only option is to board at Bishop Willis, but the costs are far beyond his family’s means.
“I do nothing now,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and sit. I only think about one thing, that one day I will wake and I’ll be back in school.”
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, older people are frequently denied access to microcredit loans on the basis of their age alone. When such support is available, it can transform the lives of older people and the families that depend on them.
After undergoing surgery at the age of 63, Bebul was no longer able to continue laboring on a farm to support her family. However, when Bebul was able to get a loan through a community fund, she bought goats, which completely changed how she makes her living.
“Raising goats is one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life,” she said. “It takes less effort to make good money. Now, I will save to buy a cow and make more profit and contribute more to my family’s earnings.”
Bebul has met all the repayments to date and is on track to pay back the full amount soon. Not only this, she’s now able to save and provide money for her grandchildren.
Governments and civil society need to be clear about what they mean by inclusion, equality and leaving no one behind. One of the best ways to do this could be to use strong rights-based language like that which is used in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Already we can see references to inequality and developing inclusive societies in the draft declaration. The framework needs to move beyond these words and give them power and meaning by ensuring civil society really can engage over the next six months and beyond as the new goals are put into practice in each country across the globe.
This will ensure that not just those representing the marginalized groups, but also those who are actually from those groups, including the elderly and people with disabilities, have a voice in the measurement and design of the development programs that are to benefit them. By giving them the opportunity to participate we can ensure that targets have the best chance of reaching all social and economic groups so that truly no one is left behind.
How can we ensure the next development framework will truly “leave no one behind”? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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