The first UN World Data Forum took place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 15-18 January 2017, hosted by the Government of South Africa and Statistics South Africa. The Forum brought together key experts from governments, businesses, civil society and the scientific and academic communities to discuss opportunities and challenges and showcase the latest innovations to improve data and statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Why is data important for persons with disabilities?
Data collection can provide the number of persons with disabilities in a location, the barriers, and what policies and programs are needed to eradicate those barriers. Disaggregation of data by disability is a key step in including persons with disabilities who encounter higher rates of poverty and exclusion from society.
To disaggregate by disability status in the SDG indicators, it merely requires the addition of a small set of questions – such as the Washington Group on Disability Statistics Short Set – on already existing data instruments. When disability questions are included in the data systems that produce the SDG indicators, disaggregation of data is not only feasible but can easily be accomplished.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development specifies that data should be disaggregated by “income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national context” (17.18). Overlooking these groups undermines the Agenda’s core concept of leave no one behind.
In contrast to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), civil society and other stakeholders, including persons with disabilities, have more space to drive and be involved meaningfully in the SDG indicator framework, particularly at the national level. The main reason for this is because the SDGs are country led, use a multi-stakeholder approach, and employ the principle of leave no one behind.
Disability inclusion at the Forum
Persons with disabilities had a strong presence at the Forum. This included an IDA-IDDC disability-focused side event (more below), having various panelists throughout the Forum highlighting disability (e.g., World Bank, DFID, and WHO) and with many DPO representatives and allies as participants and panelists. Moreover, in the opening session, Mr. Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General of DESA, included the need for data on persons with disabilities in his speech. Similarly, at the end of the Forum, disability was again highlighted as a group that needs to be addressed in data. Particularly relevant, is that in the final session on the IAEG-SDGs, two members included disability in their final conclusions on the Forum (Jamaica and Fiji).
Also, there is a disability reference in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data that was launched at the World Data Forum. IDA and IDDC were active in advocating for this reference, so we welcome the inclusion of disability language. Specifically, the Plan states “Support the strengthening and further development of methodology and standards for disability statistics” (Objective 3.5). “Accessible” is also used twice in the document. While this is a good first step, the language can be improved from “strengthening” and “development,” to systematic mainstreaming of disability statistics. But as was stated in the closing session, the GAP is only the first step of what needs to get done and the beginning of a process.
The Global Action Plan (GAP) was drafted by the High-Level Group on Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building (HLG) as one of the Group’s main objectives (the other was convening the UN World Data Forum). The GAP focuses on monitoring and statistics and calls for a full, active and focused commitment of government, policy leaders and the international community to implement the sustainable development agenda. Furthermore, the GAP calls for policy leaders to achieve a global pact or alliance that recognizes that funding modernization efforts of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) is essential to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.
The (projected) work plan of the GAP:
- January 16, 2017 – the GAP was launched at the UN World Data Forum, Cape Town, South Africa
- March 2017 – Present the GAP to UNSC for endorsement by members
- May/June 2017 – Endorsement of ECOSOC
- July 2017 – HLPF: Side event to provide an update on the GAP
- September 2017 – UNGA: Endorsement of UNGA
- September 2017 – UNGA: Side event to provide an update on the GAP
Disability data event
The program covered six main themes, one of which was on leaving no one behind. Specifically, this theme looked at innovative approaches for SDG follow-up and review on all groups, data in post-conflict countries, and data and human rights.
I was a focal point organizing the session focused on disability data on “collecting disability data toward implementing the sustainable development goals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” The key messages and recommendations that jointly emerged from the compelling session are as follows:
- The inclusion of the Washington Group disability short set of questions in data collections that produce the sustainable development goal (SDG) indicators is a tested and efficient method for disaggregating indicators by disability status for monitoring the SDGs and the overarching objective of leaving no one behind. In addition, a child functioning module has been developed by the Washington Group and UNICEF for monitoring the status of children with disabilities.
- It is very feasible to disaggregate data by disability status at the primary and secondary levels in a range of health programs and within ministry of health and NGO facilities and outreach. The key is what is next?
- Collection of disability-related data is greatly improved by involving organizations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) and persons with disabilities in data collection analysis and related programs and policies. NSOs and other organizations responsible for data collection and analysis would benefit by having persons with disabilities on their staff as well.
- The Washington Group short set endorsed by UN agencies provides a way to leave no person with disabilities behind by disaggregating the SDGs. It is critical to make use of this tool for planning and monitoring, and to go beyond disaggregation to understand how discrimination occurs and how to challenge these, while at the same time engaging with DPOs to hold their governments accountable.
In addition, another IDDC member, Sightsavers, wrote a great blog over the Forum highlighting the importance of using the Washington Group Short Set of Questions and how this is being carried out in their programs.
Next steps and upcoming data-related events
- The Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) will submit a background document to the Commission in February 2017 that will contain a compilation of work plans for the development of internationally agreed definitions, standards and methodology for Tier III indicators. Work plans are currently missing for a few indicators that do not have a custodian agency.
- A plan will be developed for increasing the data coverage of tier II indicators with the joint working group of the IAEG-SDGs and the HLG.
- The 8th meeting of the HLG will take place on Sunday, 5 March 2017 in New York to discuss the outcomes of the first UN World Data Forum and plans to develop a short summary document on lessons learned.
- The 48th Session of the UN Statistical Commission will take place 7-10 March at the UN in New York that will focus on the global SDG indicator framework.
- The IAEG-SDGs will hold two meetings, the first in March 2017 and the second in the fall of 2017.
- The 9th meeting of the HLG will take place in September/October 2017.
- The next World Data Forum will take place in Dubai in two years.
This was the first of many UN world data gatherings, so let’s keep working together to ensure that no one is left behind and to build a more inclusive society.