Enray, poverty and the sustainable development goals.

Enray, poverty and the sustainable development goals.

June 13, 2015

Enray is a young girl in a developing country who needs crutches. Her parents earn one dollar a day.

The crutches cost $15.  It costs to go to town to get them; it costs in time away from work. Her mother asks:   should I go without food for 3 days to pay for the crutches? Or should I not buy the crutches? 

A speaker from Asia tells this real life anecdote of a family he works with to The Annual UN Disability Convention conference. Sadly, as a disabled girl in a developing country, Enray’s life expectancy isn’t long.  This fact in itself helps make the disability poverty statistics, over 100 million worldwide, look less significant.

The key theme for 2015 is to take steps to ensure disability is included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). These goals are the main framework for development and poverty reduction worldwide for the next 15 years. 

A theme across the 17 goals is to “Leave no one behind”. But I ask myself are these goals including and understanding the plight of disabled people?  

Disabled people are specifically mentioned in a few of the UN goals such as education, but not in poverty reduction. Millions of disabled people around the world are hungry, homeless or deprived of the necessities for survival.    

I co-chair a session in the main conference room at the UN on “forging Partnerships” and got to sum up the panel representing the World Bank, UNICEF, NGO’s, and African governments. I pretend not to be intimidated by the occasion but a shaking finger struggles even more than usual to find its way through the forest of Braille dots.

But this is what we are here for: to take the opportunity to be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves and to rally, encourage and support those who can.  

The World Bank struggles to ensure disabled people are included and benefiting from its projects. But partnerships are the only way to realise the aspirations of “no one left behind” and the disability convention. Respectful partnerships between donors and developing countries, between global players and between coupled individuals. Partnerships between anybody who’s ever cared and anybody who’s ever needed care.

Stories like Enray’s are numerous.  Most don’t have a happy ending. Disabled people’s poverty is degrees worse and more life threatening than for others. Disabled women and girls are most at risk of violence.

As mentioned in previous blogs, faced with these choices many families hand their child over to an institution removing them from the bonds of love, belonging, and identity most of us take for granted.

As I leave the UN building and walk the glitzy streets of Manhattan One World Centre towering in the distance, the rattling cans of beggars, many of whom are visibly disabled, are framed by shop front windows displaying the most opulent of wealth. 

A street cart selling T shirts and scarves is run by a man who has a disability.  I am engulfed by a wave of optimism. I am inspired by JK Rowling’, the Lumos foundation, and the many others like CBM who have taken the necessary steps and developed the practical means to reduce poverty and save lives. 

I am inspired by Robert Martin’s calls to action for governments to close institutions, and to you and me to listen to the voices of people like him. There is enough magic here to change a world in desperate need of change.

While paying for dinner I am again jolted back to reality by the thought that the bill would get Enray her crutches twice over. I am revitalised to become more resolute in building partnerships between people like you and me with resources and people without.

Dig Deeper:

Read Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson's other blogs from the UN Disability Convention Conference:

Disability Rights Commisioner Paul Gibson

Paul Gibson took up his position as Commissioner with responsibilities for disability issues on 26 September 2011, the day New Zealand ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

Mr Gibson is a former president of the Disabled People’s Assembly and was involved in the work of international NGOs advocating for the United Nations to adopt a Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Mr Gibson is partially blind and uses Braille and assistive technology.

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