On December 13, 2006, the United Nations adopted the first human rights treaty of the 21st century - the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Country after country rushed to ratify this Convention, and rightfully so. There was a sudden burst of nervous energy at the hubs of global policymaking--New York, Geneva, Brussels--for the effective implementation of the Convention. Organisations and alliances were created and it gave hope that CRPD was going to be a game changer for the one billion people with disabilities, 800 million of whom are from the poor and developing countries of the Global South.
And then, I found myself in the midst of grassroots leaders from a country in Africa who had travelled from their towns and villages to a meeting on disability and development. Many had heard of the CRPD. They, of course, knew all about the right to health, education, employment, accessibility, etc. I got excited and I asked them about inclusive education, about legal capacity, about access to justice, liberty and security of the person with the disability, and I drew only blank stares.
There was a disconnect.
For the 800 million disabled people in the Global South, the Convention will not be implemented in Geneva, New York, or Brussels alone. It will have to be implemented for that last person living in the remotest village in these countries. If national and local leaders are not advocating for these rights that CRPD enshrines, then mere ratification of the Convention will not amount to anything.
How would we be able to achieve this when 20 percent of the world's poorest are people with disabilities who have no access to information, services, and rights?
This is particularly troubling because the world is now embarking on the 2030 Agenda for Development or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the aim to eradicate extreme poverty. How would we be able to achieve this when 20 percent of the world's poorest are people with disabilities who have no access to information, services, and rights? Worse, their voices are not even heard in the hallowed corridors of New York and Geneva. The SDGs have also brought the focus to the national level, with countries now working on tiered framework of indicators and monitoring mechanisms. Are leaders at the grassroots in the Global South equipped to be part of this process? The answer to this is not very comforting.
A recent study done by the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) in association with Disabled Peoples International (DPI) finds that 78 percent of Global South countries do not collect any data on disability related to the SDGs. The study reflects that majority of the Global South countries are not prepared to implement, monitor, and report on key SDGs. Even India, where there is a reasonably strong and empowered disability rights movement, data is collected only for two SDG-related issues (education and employment) and even this data is neither reliable nor comparable.
[W]e see dichotomies like a global focus on accessible tourism when millions literally crawl in their own homes just to use a bathroom.
The gap between the grassroots and the global decision-making processes is further compounded by the fact that issues of people living with disability in the Global South are often unique. Most of these cultures have strong family and community involvement, which may not be the case for developed countries. But these nuances are missing in the global discourse because people with lived experiences are not advocating for themselves. Thus, we see dichotomies like a global focus on accessible tourism when millions literally crawl in their own homes just to use a bathroom. Accessible tourism is not unimportant but may not be relevant to the person who is struggling for the very basics.
The 9th World Assembly of DPI in India from April 11-13 is an attempt to tilt the discourse, even if slightly, towards these concerns. DPI's membership is genuinely representative of the 800 million people with disabilities in the Global South. And when these grassroots leaders from close to 70 countries gather for these three days, it will be to once again find a voice of their own that will have to be heard by the global disability policymakers and decision makers.
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