Published:  02:04 AM, 15 January 2022

SDGS: Why Inclusive Society So Imperative

Inclusiveness is the cornerstone of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Inclusiveness is the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. If we disregard inclusiveness, it would be tough to achieve SDGs.

 People with Disabilities (PwDs) comprise a large section of our population, but they have been excluded from the mainstream of our society. SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The SDGs were set up in 2015 by United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.With the adoption of 2030 Agenda, UN Member States pledged to ensure 'no one will be left behind' and to 'endeavour to reach the furthest behind first'.  

In Bangladesh, we see that PwDs are facing many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of our society. Hence, they have been deprived of getting access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment and education as well as social and political participation.

They are mainly living a life of poverty. They are entitled to government support, but programmes have been limited in scope and restricted to urban areas, and the question of disability has not been integrated into general development programmes.The PwDs can prove their worth and can also contribute to the country's development if they get necessary supports. They are victims of discrimination and neglect due to misconception about them.  

Citing a survey of World Health Organization (WHO), Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO) said, about 8%-10% people in Bangladesh have impairment in somehow or others. According to that tally, there are roughly 17 million PwDs in our country.

PwDs have poor or little access to jobs, different government services, training and above all social justice. Their opinions are not generally heard for and their rights are often violated resulting in their marginalization and exclusion. The formation of a separate ministry titled 'Disability Ministry' is essential for improving the condition of PwDs in respect of job, education, skill development training, ensuring social justice, assistance in natural calamities, ensuring social security and ending harassments to PwDs.

Md. Saidul Huq, Executive Director of BERDO, said it would be helpful if a separate ministry is in place. This ministry would be helpful in increasing the social status of the PwDs. There is a link between national development and development of PwDs. If the condition of PwDs is improved with access to necessary support, they can contribute to the national development, he observed.

BERDO has been working to provide education, employment, training and medical services for the PWDs. In addition, BERDO is implementing social rehabilitation activities along with socio-economic development through income generation activities. BERDO planned to install a modern world class Braille Press, an eye medical service centre, and a residential school for visually impaired girls. BERDO hope that more rights-based organizations would be established in the country and other organizations currently working at development sector should take up steps for ensuring the rights of PWDs.

Initiatives have been undertaken at national as well as international level to protect the rights of all the people. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was agreed on December 13, 2006 by UN General Assembly and came into force on May 3, 2008 to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

Bangladesh government had ratified it on November 30, 2007. After the ratification, Bangladesh is bound to take up programmes aimed at ensuring the rights of PwDs.  SDGs were adopted by all UN Member States as a universal call to ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Through the pledge to 'Leave No One Behind', the countries have committed to fast-track progress for those furthest behind first.   

In our country, there are two laws titled 'Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013' and 'Neuro Developmental Disabilities Act 2013', which need to be implemented properly. PwDs are not being included in different development committees due to lack of full implementation of the laws. Rights of the PwDs have been clearly identified and defined in clause No. 16 of that law.

Those are accessibility, full and active participation of PwDs in social, economic and state activities according to nature of disabilities; protection from oppressions, and safe and healthy environment; accepting Sign language as main language by person with Hearing and Speech impairments; formation of Self-help groups and  welfare organizations, and operation of those groups.

A country cannot go ahead if a large number of its people remain excluded. Hence, it is needed to build an inclusive society. But how? According to BERDO, the following measures can be helpful:

It is needed to create awareness, share information, and increase greater coordination among Disabled People's Organizations (DPOs); define strategies and involve PwDs from the very beginning of planning; work closely with local, regional and national level agencies/departments to implement "Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013" by DPOs to achieve the SDGs goals; build good rapport and keep constant touch, liaison and communication with different ministries, departments and institutions.

The steps also include to make correlation between UNCRPD and SDG strategies of the government; ensure participation of PwDs in different platforms, committees and forums and to monitor SDG implementation.We need a rights-based inclusive society where all the people can enjoy their rights without any discrimination. We have constitutional obligation to build up such society. 

Article 19 of Bangladesh Constitution called for ensuring equality of opportunity to all the citizens. Article 28 (1) says that the State shall not discriminate against any citizens on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.Article 28(4) called for making special provision for the advancement of any backward section of citizens.It is hoped that the PwDs would be integrated into the mainstream of society with the adoption of inclusive approach, which would contribute achieving the SDGs.

Md Sazedul Islam is a freelance journalist

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