At last week’s United for Equality Summit, NCD Governor Powes Parkop launched an inspiring call for 2024 to be declared the “Year of Equality” in Papua New Guinea. The main focus of the Summit was on gender equality and women’s empowerment. We can all agree on the importance of that in PNG, which ranks 169th in UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index and where levels of gender-based violence are still among the highest in the world.
But a Year of Equality must also be for other citizens who have yet to see the Constitution’s promise of equal rights fulfilled – including persons with disabilities.
No-one knows how many people are living with disabilities in PNG, because that data has never been collected. That needs to be put right by the 2024 Census. In the meantime, though, the World Health Organisation has estimated that 15% of people worldwide are living with disability – which means, on any view, millions of Papua New Guineans.
Last Sunday, 3rd December, was the International Day of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and this year is also the 10th anniversary of PNG’s joining the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, making a legal commitment to ensure the equal rights of all Papua New Guineans with disabilities. Consultations on a draft Bill to enshrine those rights in PNG’s legal system have been continuing for 5 years, but the Bill has still not yet been submitted to the Parliament for adoption.
The theme of this year’s International Day is “United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with and by persons with disabilities”. That theme reflects two things. Firstly, globally we are off-track in meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the development targets which every country committed to achieve by 2030. But secondly, as the forthcoming UN Disability and Development Report 2023 shows us, we are even more off track in meeting those targets for persons with disabilities.
Women and girls with disabilities are even more likely than other women to suffer gender-based violence; people with disabilities face higher barriers in getting decent jobs, a good education and adequate healthcare, communication and information; and they are the most vulnerable to the impact of severe disasters and accelerating climate change.
So let’s unite with Governor Parkop to call for a Year of Equality in 2024 in PNG, and let’s also make sure we include persons with disabilities within it. Two commitments will make a great starting point. Firstly, to adopt the Law on disability that will guarantee the equal rights of persons with disabilities. Secondly, to make sure that the 2024 Census collects the data on persons with disabilities in PNG in line with international standards. That way, when the next International Day of Persons with Disabilities comes around next year, we will really have something to celebrate.