Global Disability Summit: How the aid sector should take seriously the needs of people living with disabilities across the world

by 24th Jul 2018
 Valentine (centre) attends a CARE women’s space in Rwanda which encourages the inclusion of people with disabilities and offers support. Valentine (centre) attends a CARE women’s space in Rwanda which encourages the inclusion of people with disabilities and offers support.

This week, the British and Kenyan Governments, together with the International Disability Alliance, co-host a Global Disability Summit. Over 700 delegates from governments, donors, private sector organisations, charities and organisations of persons with disabilities come together to launch a Charter for Change outlining ten pledges to transform global efforts on disability. When governments convene high-level Summits like this the question on everyone’s lips is always, what difference will this make the day after?

There are one billion disabled people in the world, and most of them live in poorer countries. This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: people living in poverty are more likely to become disabled, and disabled people are more likely to have their opportunities and freedoms limited and so live in poverty.

For this reason, the Summit has an ambitious agenda aimed at addressing the inter-sectional barriers to people with disabilities accessing their rights. The Charter’s commitments span issues like supporting people with disabilities to become leaders, tackling stigma, economic empowerment and most importantly ensuring that persons with disabilities are “front and centre of change.”

For development and humanitarian organisations, this isn’t about running one special programme for disabled people. It is about including and thinking about disabled people in the most important and biggest things we do.

To ensure the Commitments translate into real change on the ground, then political leadership and accountability are of critical importance. This week’s summit is co-hosted by the Department for International Development and the Kenyan Government – and the latter recently hosted a satellite summit to build on commitments which they will present this week. The momentum generated by the Summit has also connected to efforts by other governments in the global south, including Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

CARE International has already been working with Kenyan government officials on social protection linked to our work on Village Savings & Loans Associations. In Kenya, the government is exploring how to mobilise people with disabilities into savings groups with the purpose of developing a savings culture, to access formal banking services and to receive other government support including small scale enterprise development. It is fantastic to see that these officials will be present at the Summit.

Reflecting on the Summit’s commitment to economically empower people with disabilities, we believe that governments and donors should promote more and better integration of savings groups into national social safety net programmes which target the vulnerable, so that people with disabilities have a fair opportunity to profit economically and benefit from group solidarity in the same way that Olive did, and 20 million other savings group members are across 75 countries.

At the agency I work for, CARE International, we are focusing our commitments at the Summit on the specific rights and needs of people with disabilities in terms of gender equality and life-saving humanitarian action. Forthcoming research by CARE in Malawi and Vanuatu shows how local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are frequently marginalised from the wider humanitarian response, and – conversely – how women living with disability face a double discrimination; marginalised due to gender norms and their disability.

So at the Summit, we pledge to work with DPOs to explore how to better factor disability into the implementation of ‘Rapid Gender Analysis’ – a new toolkit that CARE has designed and is now integrated into the new UN global guidelines on Gender in Humanitarian Action.

To open up the space for local DPOs in the UN-NGO humanitarian coordination, CARE will work with others to facilitate the participation of DPOs in the Global Protection Cluster. Specifically, we will look to involve DPOs in a new Task Team focused on promoting meaningful engagement of local civil society organisations within the Gender Based Violence Area of Responsibility under the Global Protection Cluster.

To conclude, I don’t think I can put it any better than a female representative of a local disabled people’s organisations speaking to CARE in Vanuatu about the Cyclone Pam response:

“Disability is an issue that everyone should be thinking about, it should not only fall on the disability activists just in the same way that gender is everyone’s responsibility”.

Let’s all remember that this is our collective responsibility and in equal measure we can all do something about it.

Laurie Lee

I joined CARE in August 2014, because I believe strongly in our focus on economic development, gender equality and people holding governments accountable. My focus at CARE is on ensuring we have the best people to do the job we do, to support our teams on the ground in over 70 developing countries, and to ensure we continuously improve our ability to monitor the impact of our work, and learn how to do it even better.  

Prior to CARE I worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for seven years, advising them on development policy issues in Europe and Africa. Before that I worked for the British government. I managed British development programmes in South Africa and Afghanistan. He worked in 10 Downing Street to prepare the G8 Gleneagles Summit on Africa in 2005. And I ran the DFID Trade Policy Unit until 2008.

One good thing I've read

One of CARE’s goals is to help the 2 billion people – including 1.1 billion women – without access to financial services, to get them. This great and easy book, Portfolios of the poor: How the world's poor live on $2 a day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven, explains why there’s no such thing as living 'hand to mouth'. The poorer you are, the more you need financial management tools.


Twitter: @lauriejlee