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Build Back Inclusively: Achieving Agenda 2030 through disability inclusive COVID-19 recovery

In the framework of its 2021 General Assembly Workshop, IDDC explored the theme of “Build Back Inclusively” in the course of 5 sessions, each looking at a different dimension.

COVID-19 has exposed inequalities in communities and societies across the world, deepening the existing discrimination and marginalisation experienced by persons with disabilities. Research by INGOs and OPDs during 2020 and 2021 has highlighted that the pandemic has shown up the systemic inequalities and discrimination that persons with disabilities face.  Everyday barriers such as physical accessibility, barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, affordability of healthcare, inaccessible health communications, limitations on access to health insurance have had direct negative impacts, and the discriminatory laws and stigma in many countries have proved to be life threatening for many persons with disabilities. Physical distancing measures led to a sharp decrease in assistance for daily activities, leading to confinement, isolation and loneliness which in turn affects mental wellbeing. 

The pandemic has also impacted the world’s economies and social infrastructure. For the first time since 1990, the World Bank expects the first increase in extreme poverty, with between 40-46 million more people surviving on less than $1.25 a day. Estimates now suggest that the COVID-19 outbreak will result in an increase in HIV, TB and malaria-related deaths over the next five years, as up to 80 million children may lose out on routine vaccines. Decades of progress in key areas related to development, for example, school attendance is under threat. In April 2020, 91% of the world’s children were forced out of the classroom to prevent the virus from spreading and these children are now at risk of falling behind in their education. Similarly livelihood and employment opportunities ceased for many.  All of these factors contribute to a significant challenge for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals which is in its final decade. COVID-19 recovery is at the top of political and civil society agendas, although countries are at different stages in their fight against COVID-19. Critical to recovery is the inclusion of persons with disabilities. The Sustainable Development Goals offer a way of building more resilient and sustainable economies and healthier societies, ensuring that nations are better able to deal with future economic, climate and health shocks and all of these efforts must be underpinned by a disability inclusive approach. An inclusive approach to Build Back Inclusively means pulling people out of poverty and ensuring sustainable livelihoods, it means including all communities, in particular the most marginalised and also tackling existential challenges such as climate change and protecting the environment. Only by addressing simultaneously social, environmental and economic factors can recovery plans build sustainable resilience to future shocks such as disease outbreaks.

Introductory session: Build Back Inclusively

Setting the scene of the workshop as a whole, the introduction session aimed at giving a broad picture of the current state of affairs regarding disability inclusion in development cooperation. Moderated by Mette Müller Kristensen, Vice-Chair of IDDC, the session welcomed as speakers:

  • Gerard Quinn, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
  • Dr. Bhargavi Davar, Director, Transforming Communities for Inclusion
  • John Wambua, United Disabled Persons of Kenya
  • Priscille Geiser, Programme Director, International Disability Alliance
  • Dom Haslam, Chair, IDDC

Thematic session #1: COVID-19 Recovery and Disability Rights

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have significant health and livelihood impacts to populations all around the world.  This session explored to what extent response and recovery phases have been disability inclusive so far, and the extent to which persons with disabilities had voice in the development of those phases and in the allocation and sufficiency of resources associated within them. The session also explored how to build back better, contributing to the development of more inclusive health and economic systems.  Moderated by Alessandra Aresu and Simon Brown, IDDC co-coordinators of respectively the Inclusive Health Task Group and the Livelihood Task Group, the session welcomed as speakers:

  • Alarcos Cieza, WHO Coordinator on Blindness and Deafness Prevention, Disability and Rehabilitation.
  • Yahaya Disu, Head, Risk Communication Division – Nigeria Centre for Disease Control
  • Christopher Agbega, Coordinator, COVID-19 initiatives – Ghana Federation of Disability organisations
  • Deborah Iyute, Project Officer at the National Union of Disabled persons of Uganda (NUDIPU);
  • Douglas Opio, Executive Director of the Federation of Ugandan Employers (FUE);
  • Jürgen Menze, Disability Inclusion Officer at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Thematic session #2: Climate Change and Disability

How can we be more proactive in the fight against climate change and ensure persons with disabilities are not left behind? More and more attention is focused by governments, donors and social justice movements on the impact of climate change on all the world’s people. Persons with disabilities make up 15% of the world’s population, yet visibility of disability inclusion in climate negotiations, policy and programmes is minimal. IDDC members in partnership with organisations of persons with disabilities can change this by becoming involved. Moderated by Mette Müller Kristensen, Vice-Chair of IDDC, and Mary Keogh, Disability Inclusion Director at CBM Global Disability Inclusion, the session welcomed as speakers:

  • Elham Youssefian, IDA’s Inclusive Humanitarian Action and Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor
  • Dr Yolanda Munoz, a co-investigator with the Disability-Inclusive Climate Action Research Program.

Thematic session #3: Access to digital learning education: Technology – pitfalls and opportunities.

Learners with disabilities are amongst the least likely to benefit from distance learning solutions – we will discuss up to date information about what action is being taken to deal with this issue. Technology is seen as the answer but what are the pitfalls and what are the opportunities? With COVID-related school closures, many countries have turned to online – hybrid / blended solutions to provide continuing education provision. This has meant that many learners with disabilities are left behind. Girls with disabilities have been particularly affected. There are solutions and good practice examples that we can learn from and discuss. However, we also need to be mindful of safeguarding learners during online learning as well as other considerations.  We will discuss the issues, the pitfalls and the opportunities. Moderated by Sian Tesni and Federica Settimi, IDDC co-coordinators of the Inclusive Education Task Group, as well as Lauren Watters, IDDC co-coordinator of the Inclusive Safeguarding Task Group , the session welcomed as speakers:

  • Deepti Samat Raja, Inclusive Education Initiative, World Bank
  • Will Clurman, CEO eKitabu
  • Zeynep Varoglu, UNESCO
  • Marie Njeri, Cerebral Palsy Advocate, Kenya

Thematic session #4: Civic Space and meaningful participation

Meaningful participation of civic space actors in political, economic, social, and cultural life in communities, in societies and in our world is essential for a better world for all of us. Threats to civic space are multiple and yet we persist. This session explored the disability movement’s engagement in civic space not only as a particular constituent group but in coalition with other civil society actors with a particular focus on engagement at the subnational and national levels. Through a facilitated discussion, diverse movement activists from low- and middle-income countries shared their experiences of coalition and reflections of engagement with local or national governments to affect the realisation of human rights and safeguarding civic space. Moderated by Jazz Shaban, Co-coordinator IDDC OPD Partnership Task Group, and Marieke Boersma, Co-coordinator IDDC Community-Based Inclusive Development Task Group, the session welcomed as speakers:

  • Pratima Gurung of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network (IPWDGN) and NIDWAN (Nepal). Pratima has actively built/contributed to civil society coalitions in the indigenous people’s movement and the gender movement with recent events focused on GBV during COVID times as an example.
  • Setareki Macanawai of the Pacific Disability Forum (based in Fiji). Setareki has actively engaged with the Pacific NGO network and undertakes joint advocacy and strategizing in a range of areas both humanitarian assistance and development.
  • Augustino Lado of the South Sudan Union of Persons with Disabilities/ disability activist from South Sudan, where OPDs based on ethnic groups have come together, engaged in the civic space with others. 
  • Debora Leao of CIVICUS based in South Africa. CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.