Every Young Person Has Something to Offer: The Role of Young People with Disabilities in Championing the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals - An Interview with Peter Ochieng
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was commemorated on 3 December 2016 and this year’s theme was “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want”. The focus relates to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the role that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) can play in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities. Passionate about sustainable development concerns and the SDGs, Peter Ochieng, the chair of the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities (GPCWD) Youth Council and a member of the African Youth with Disabilities Network (AYWDN), answered several questions on the occasion of the International Day.
Question: Why is it important for young persons (including youth with disabilities) to champion the implementation of the SDGs?
Peter Ochieng: Estimates suggest that there are between 180 and 220 million youth with disabilities worldwide and that nearly 80% of them live in developing countries. This number is too large to be ignored or be passive in the implementation of the SDGs. It is also a clear indication that young people are directly affected by the outcomes of development choices. It is only by promoting the inclusion and active participation of young people with disabilities and reaching the most marginalized groups, that we can achieve equality and meet the SDGs – acknowledging that youth with disabilities are not just beneficiaries, but agents for change.
Meaningful participation in the decisions that affect our lives is one of the main articles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (article 29). Championing the implementation of the SDGs by youth with disabilities means many things: breaking stigma and discrimination, promoting quality education, guaranteeing physical and information accessibility and ensuring our voices are heard in development decisions in our community. With the support of technology and global communications, we, as youth with disabilities, are offering our help to work with policymakers globally to make this world more inclusive for all. As we strive to leave no one behind, we should keep in mind that it is young people that have the potential to carry on the development principles, values and outcomes of the SDGs to the next generation.
Question: How can the SDGs assist in building a more inclusive and equitable world for young persons with disabilities?
Peter Ochieng: A human rights approach should be at the centre of the SDG activities in order to continue addressing issues like information accessibility, the empowerment of youth with disabilities, and the lack of desegregated data on the participation of youth with disabilities in SDG activities.
Children with disabilities have historically been among the most excluded from all levels of education. In comparison to their peers without disabilities, boys and girls with disabilities aged 6 to 17 years are significantly less likely to be enrolled in school, more likely to drop out of school, twice as likely to have never attended school, and half as likely to progress to higher levels of schooling. In turn, children with disabilities exceedingly grow up to be excluded from the workforce, perpetuating cycles of poverty. Therefore, with regards to SDG 4 (on ‘quality education’), educating all children— including children with disabilities— is a fundamental means to eradicate poverty, boost shared prosperity and enhance inter-generational equity. Poverty is recognized as a cause and result of disability, therefore in efforts to eradicate inter-generation poverty (which affect many persons with disabilities), children and youth with disabilities should have the same opportunities as other young people to utilize their skills, experiences and expertise as well as have the ability to flourish, realize their potential and contribute to the development of their society.
Question: What are some of your accomplishments in this work to date and what challenges or barriers do you feel you have faced?
Peter Ochieng: As the chair of the Global Partnership for Children with Disabilities (GPCWD) Youth Council supported by UNICEF, we have organized an online training for youth with disabilities on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in 2030 Agenda. This training enlightened youth with disabilities on their roles and entry point in advancing the SDGs. As members of the Youth Council, we are now working to develop key advocacy messages on SDGs which we hope to share on different avenues and social media platforms in order to raise more awareness about the inclusion of youth with disabilities in implementation of SDGs.
I also attended International Disability Alliance (IDA) and the International Disability and Development Consortium’s free online briefing for youth with disabilities to explain the Sustainable Development Goals and how to participate in realizing them. This participation inspired me to go the “extra mile” to learn that the SDG framework includes seven targets which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities and six further targets on persons in vulnerable situations, which include persons with disabilities which now inform my advocacy.
Despite the fact that the SDG framework incudes targets specifically on persons with disabilities, the goals still lack strong enough reference and focus on youth with disabilities, their participation, and deliberate investment in youth with disabilities and their rights. Keeping silent on disability in the first three goals and targets is a contradiction to the “Leave no one behind” principle which underlies the agenda and a threat to exclusion of persons with disabilities.
Question: What advice would you give to others, including those that may want to do similar work?
Peter Ochieng: Let’s work together and empower young people with disabilities. We need to first raise their awareness about the SDGs because few youth with disabilities have clear knowledge
about these goals. Secondly, we need to begin changing the traditional power dynamics between youth with disabilities and their counterparts without disabilities in championing the implementation of these goals.
We need to keep in mind that while online platforms can be very cost effective and convenient to engage young people with disabilities in SDG activities, they are not necessarily accessible to all. Therefore, we should plan for local activities like sports, debates, performing arts and other activities within local communities to give chance to all youth with disabilities to participate in advancing the SDGs. As young people with disabilities (including those with disabilities organizations), it is high time we joined up and formed an international organization of youth with disabilities. This will strengthen young people with disabilities’ advocacy voice and ability to influence their active participation in championing the SDGs and other development programs.
About Peter Ochieng:
Peter Ochieng, aged 26, is a youth with disability rights advocate. He engages in national and global processes around the inclusion of young people with disabilities in development activities in their communities, with a particular emphasis on those that affect their lives, such as education, health, employment, and leadership.
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