SDGs an opportunity to improve on social inclusion
Leroy Dzenga Correspondent—
When the world shifted from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals, there was a voice of approval from developing countries.This was backed by a feeling that previously, the industrialised north had undertaken the role of prescribing targets for African countries and were interfering at every level, undermining the sovereignty of each signatory state.
SDGs have been hailed by experts who feel that they allow each country the space to work on achieving the goals in an order they deem feasible.
One of the key themes in Agenda 2030 titled, “Leaving no one behind” has been welcomed by disability inclusion activists and people with disabilities.
Quite often people have spoken about social inclusion but have failed to unpack what it means for the minority groups.
According to the United Nations, the disabled constitute the largest minority group, adding up to about one billion people globally.
As is the case, those living with disabilities are happy that they are getting recognition in the guiding principles which will be used to steer development effort until 2030. For quite a long time, society has seen people with disabilities as charity cases in need of sympathy. A paradigm shift is long overdue.
Time is nigh for the populace, regardless of physical capabilities or lack thereof, to understand that with enabling infrastructure and a respectful attitude everyone can play a role in the development of the country.
Gone are the days when including the impaired in the development dialogue was when they were at the receiving end of compassionate hampers.
In the modern era, they can contribute in any sort of discussion lucidly like any able bodied participant.
Mr Kudzayi Shava, a visually-impaired disability activist and lecturer at the Reformed Church University, said recently disability is a social construction and along with the SDGs, there needs to be adequate conversations around it.
“Disability is misunderstood. Disability is a social construct which comes from the absence of enabling conditions which guarantee their participation is certain discourses,” he said.
Time and again, media practitioners have also side-lined disabled voices in discussions outside the imparity spectra, something Shava lamented.
“Journalists should not consult us when they are issues to do with disability only. We need to be involved in sports discussions, political discussions and wide ranging dialogue because we know these things too,” he said.
Mr Shava said instead of the two ceremonial Senate seats handed to the disabled, they would have preferred to run for the legislative seats and get to win them as well if they had sound policies for the electorate. He added that their engagement in other human endeavours like starting families should not be given special attention but treated like any other expected social occurrence.
Mr Shava embraced the new SDGs saying they have clarity on the importance of people with disabilities unlike the discarded MDGs which did not explicitly state people with disabilities.
Questions have been asked on the level of inclusion and what it means beyond what is written on paper.
e development efforts have been preached for a while but there is still a tendency of treating the disabled like fixated beneficiaries.
Academic and disability advocate, Dr Tsitsi Chataika from the University of Zimbabwe called for a change of approach in interactions involving people with disabilities.
“We need to stop treating people with disabilities as if they are incapable of doing simple things like running a business, among other things. At times the media writes stories with headings which read, against all odds when a person living with disability has done a normal thing which would have not made a story if it was an able-bodies person,” she said.
She added that social inclusion is both an objective and a process which needs serious interventions from the grassroots to the highest level of interactions in the society.
“Development cannot exclusively reduce poverty, unless all groups contribute to the creation of opportunities, share the benefits of development and participate in decision making,” Dr Chataika said.
Development efforts where certain groups are included in group photographs so as to solicit bigger deposits from international backers lack sincerity.
This is why most ventures have been reduced to the distribution of foodstuffs and countless consultation processes which are repeated at intervals.
Ideal principles which are accompanying the new SDGs are participation, accessibility, sustainability and non-discrimination.
These principles entail that there should be a long-term plan meant to include all members of society from women, children and all the other groupings.
Coupled with the need to be realistic to the environment in which the efforts are being made, development in the country will only bear fruit if people abandon the “they” mentality.
Problems on inclusion are born when a section of society is described by a pronoun.
According to World Bank statistics, there is about one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, who experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries.
These statistics mean that looking at people with disabilities with a prejudiced eye is counterproductive and works against the overall development effort.