My Reflections on Disability and the UN Panel's Post-2015 Report

31/05/2013 18:04 BST | Updated 31/07/2013 10:12 BST

Yesterday, the UN High Level Panel (HLP) on post-2015, the committee that was appointed to create a 'development vision' for when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in just two and a half years' time, published their final report, the results of months of deep thought for them, and the UN team which has supported their work.

Nobody could accuse the HLP process of rushing, nor of being limited to ivory towers and closed rooms in New York offices, one of the criticisms of the process that led to the current MDGs. The panel's report gives a detailed analysis of the consultation process over the last few months, and the inputs from various stakeholders, within the first chapter.

So, how positive a start to the official process is the report? There will be countless opinions on what's good and bad. Some of them (on both sides) are mine.

But for a real change and for one day only, I'm going to focus entirely on the good. Why? Because to be honest, it marks an immense step forward in a critical area for Sightsavers and our partners, the inclusion of the world's one billion people with disabilities. And that deserves recognition.

The report includes disability in five critical ways - universality, human rights, participation, monitoring and as a cross-cutting theme.

  1. Universality. The opening section on the five transformational change areas needed includes the clear recommendation to leave no one behind. It says: "the next development agenda must ensure that in the future neither income nor gender, nor ethnicity, nor disability, nor geography, will determine whether people live or die, whether a mother can give birth safely, or whether her child has a fair chance in life". These are powerful words, which should cover all countries and which lay the foundations for what follows - a report that pushes for no equivocation on the inclusion of people with disabilities. In fact, the report states that no target should be considered met, unless it's been achieved for all groups of people, including those with disabilities.
  2. Human rights. The report recognises the importance of a universal human rights approach in ensuring that "no person - regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status, is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities". This would include implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  3. Participation. The report recognises that the voices of people with disabilities need to be heard and that they have an active role as part of civil society in "designing, realising and monitoring this new agenda." Importantly, people with disabilities are described as active citizens, rather than as the passive recipients of aid (or even, the passive non-recipients).
  4. Monitoring. The report argues for a data revolution. It states that unlike the MDGs, it isn't acceptable to merely set zero or % reduction goals and then only collect data and measure progress in absolute terms. There is clear recognition of the need to measure progress for specific groups, including people with disabilities. The revolution includes ensuring the data gathered is, "disaggregated by gender, geography, income, disability, and other categories, to make sure that no group is being left behind".
  5. A cross-cutting theme. Within the illustrative goals themselves, it would have been good to see more specific references to disability, particularly in Goal 2 on gender equality, Goal 3 on education and Goal 4 on health. But actually, the cross-cutting approach to monitoring progress mentioned above, in addition to the focus on universality, is the right way. This is because it recognises that people with disabilities don't only deserve inclusion in particular areas, such as education, health or employment. They are (unsurprisingly) just like everyone else, and need to be included across the framework.

So this is the point where normally I would go on to say - But. And then give a list of all the things the panel hasn't delivered, the clear areas where negotiation has meant watering down, and the groups missed out. But I'll stick to my promise at the start and not do that.

What I will do is recognise the massive efforts by disabled people, representative organisations and the panel itself over the last few months in order to get us to this point. But it is only 2013 and there are more than two years ahead of inter-governmental debates and discussions before the post-2015 framework is finalised and approved.

Let's very much hope that this report, at least in terms of its findings on disability, is the beginning of the end of the struggle to ensure development policy is inclusive of people with disabilities. Anything else would be a tragic waste of deep thought.