Ignore youth with disabilities and UN goals will fail, say campaigners

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 June 2024:

A new campaign is calling for youth with disabilities in Sierra Leone to be included in an upcoming UN Summit that will decide their future. In September 2024 world leaders will come together for the Summit of the Future in New York, to accelerate progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These global goals aim to reduce poverty and inequality by 2030, but with the deadline looming and 50% of time gone, only 12% of targets have been met.

Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign says without immediate and radical action, and underrepresented voices being heard, they will fail. It has launched a global advocacy push calling for action in the lead up to the UN event.

Tiangay Gondoe, the Sierra Leone country director at Sightsavers said “We’re in danger of sleepwalking into disaster if we don’t act now.

“The central promise of the goals, to leave no one behind, is in peril. We must listen to the voices of those being left behind, and ensure their ideas are at the heart of the commitments made.

“In Sierra Leone, consultative engagements will be held with Organisations of Persons with Disability and other key stakeholders to discuss the summit and the youth campaigner identified will work closely with other advocates to ensure more persons with disabilities are included in the upcoming UN Summit.” The Summit of the Future is the ‘sister’ summit of the SDG Summit in September 2023 which looked at the set of 17 ambitious goals which were adopted in 2015 by the UN and governments around the world.

Ahead of the upcoming UN summit, campaigners are calling for seismic change. They are calling upon world leaders to listen to and consult people with disabilities, particularly young people, in global decision-making processes.

Basiru Bah is a 30-year-old visually impaired political science graduate and now law student based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, who started advocating for the rights of young people with disabilities as early as primary school.

He said: “To understand the barriers facing young people with disabilities, global decision-makers need to listen to young people with disabilities. We are experts in our own lived experience, OFFICIAL and our voices must be heard in the development of our futures. For example, in Sierra Leone the law guarantees free education, but that has been challenging because in some of the universities, even though it is stated in the law that we should have access to free tertiary education, it is not respected.

“My message to global leaders is that we have less than seven years before 2030. I think the time is now if we want to achieve the SDGs. Acceleration should go beyond just a commitment, but it should reflect an action and acceleration. It means that those who are left behind should be fully involved, to reduce inequality within and among countries.

“So, nations and their international partners should work relentlessly to ensure that they accelerate efforts to meet those targets by 2030. They cannot achieve the 2030 goals if the issues of persons with disabilities are not fully implemented.”

Although the summit’s agenda does focus on ‘meaningfully including young people’, UN processes often fail to fully acknowledge the complexity and multiple forms of discrimination faced by youth with disabilities. As a result, their voices go unheard when decisions are made about their lives and futures.

A 2018 flagship UN report found that young people with disabilities were not yet sufficiently included in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs.

Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign is calling on UN member states to ensure a disability-inclusive future, and to contribute specific and actionable commitments on disability. The campaign also calls for the member states to encourage the participation of young people with disabilities in national and global discussions on the Summit of the Future.

To learn more about Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign, please visit:

Equal World: join Sightsavers’ disability rights campaign (Home page)

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