Sustainable Development Goals fall short of PWDs’ expectations

Saturday, 14 November 2015 15:55 Written by  Ambrose Murangira
A woman with mobility impairments in northern Uganda A woman with mobility impairments in northern Uganda

SDGs are a new set of 17 global development goals following the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 and expiring this year.

They seek to end poverty, gender inequalities, hunger, improve service delivery, people’s lives, protect the environment and promote sustainable use of resources over the next 15 years. They are as a result of a three-year consultative process among the UN’s 193 member states and are designed to shape government policies and programmes in the post-2015 era.

The main theme of SDGs is "Leave No One Behind", a catchphrase similar to my 2010/11 campaign promise for Western Youth MP. Clearly, the new goals are an invaluable tool for rights’ activists globally and in Uganda in particular to lobby and influence policies and deepen transparency and accountability in governance. Unlike MDGs, SDGs recognize the role of the private sector.

But the question remains, will these goals indeed "Leave no one behind"? I believe not. Firstly, SDGs use ambiguous concepts like "Inclusive", "Vulnerable", "All" to ensure that all people regardless of age, sex, gender and disability are not left behind. This was one of the Achilles’ heels of theof MDGs which also emphasized issues like "Education for All" but are ending before all school-going-age children are attending and completing school.

For instance, according to a Uganda Society for Disabled Children (USDC) study (2013) over 80 per cent of children with disabilities in Uganda have never been to school despite the fact that the PWDs Act 2006 encourages "inclusive education".

Of the 17 SDGs, there are only three goals (4, 8 and 11) which mention "PWDs" but just mentioning PWDs is not enough. We need to unpack who "PWDs" are because not all PWDs require the same services or face the same challenges. For example, a deaf person may require sign language interpretation services while a blind may require a Braille machine.

It is, therefore, important to urgently have specific and precise monitoring indicators that clearly outline the development impact and difference the SDGs seek to impact to different categories of vulnerable groups in all their diversity. For instance, though Uganda disability fraternity acknowledges people with epilepsy and albinism as PWDs, the latest guidelines on election of PWDs (2015/16) from the Electoral Commission do not.

Practically, there is a big problem of financing the 17 goals which have 169 targets. It is estimated that the world will need $3 trillion annually to implement SDGs. Who will foot the added bill especially since the SDGs have more 148 targets compared to MDGs which had only 21 targets?

My fear is that the government will use these so many targets and cost of enacting them as excuses of selective implementation which obviously leads to "leaving some people behind." As it has been a practice, PWDs are likely to be the first victims.

Fortunately, unlike MDGs, the SDGs recognize the role of private sector in financing their implementation which offers hope of bridging the funding gap especially if it is well sensitized and lobbied by interest groups like vulnerable groups towards funding targets pertaining to their welfare.

It, however, remains to be seen if governments and the private sector cooperate. Will governments, for instance, give in to demand for stable, leaner and fairer regulatory and tax regime including tax holidays and exemptions, which the private sector is likely to demand in exchange for funding SDG implementation?

With corruption continuing to raise its ugly head in Uganda; for example, amidst minimal demonstrable will to curb it, it will be difficult to persuade private sector to finance these ambitious goals as graft reigns. Clearly, realization of these virtuous goals will depend on actions of multiple stakeholders, both state and non-state actors and one can only hope that they will all be influenced by the heaven on earth that these goals seek to establish.

The writer is a disability scholar interested in health communication for PWDs.

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