An increase in funding for programs to support people with disabilities in developing countries is cause for much excitement, writes Lucy Daniel from CBM Australia.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced last week that Australia will provide $7.5 million in new initiatives to improve the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries.
The Pacific Disability Forum, the regional umbrella network of Disabled Peoples' Organisations (DPOs) in the Pacific, will receive $4.5 million from this amount. The remaining $3 million will go to the Disability Rights Fund, which supports DPOs in developing countries to advocate for the human rights of people with disabilities.
This announcement has got me excited. And not just passing-smile excited. I read the press release announcing the funding over breakfast last Wednesday, and it triggered a squeal of joy, a fist pump and urgent messages to colleagues to get tweeting with the early birds.
Granted I'm an excitable kind of girl, but there was a lot more than just an extrovert personality to my reaction. The way I see it, this announcement deserves a fist-pump from anyone who cares about disability and poverty issues.
To start with, Australia's foreign aid budget is on pretty shaky ground at the moment, so any announcement of funding to programs in developing countries is a welcome sign of continuing support. Like many government departments, Australia's foreign aid took a hit in this year's federal budget in order to help produce that surplus. The bipartisan commitment to contribute 0.5% of Australia's Gross National Income to foreign aid by 2015 was pushed back by the Government to 2016, meaning the aid budget will receive around $2.9 billion less than expected over the next four years. The shocking news is that it's been suggested this money could have saved up to 290,000 lives. Also concerning is that the Opposition has not been forthcoming in confirming bipartisan commitment to reaching 0.5 per cent by 2016, so there could be further delays and cuts.
While $7.5 million is no answer to these grand scale setbacks and cuts, this announcement does show that worthy and life-changing programs in developing countries are still well on the Foreign Minister's radar.
Cue squeal of joy.
But it was not just the money itself that got a fist-pump, but rather how it will be spent. The fact that they will be channelling this funding into programs that support and empower people with disabilities in the Pacific indicates the Australian Government recognises that people with disabilities in developing countries face unacceptable barriers in overcoming poverty.
The links between disability and poverty are undeniable. Over 1 billion people in the world live with disabilities, and approximately 80 per cent of these people live in developing countries. While people with disabilities worldwide experience exclusion and poorer outcomes than those without disabilities, in developing countries this is even more acute. People with disabilities are frequently stigmatised and blamed for their impairments, denied any opportunities for education, employment or social interaction, or simply forgotten or hidden away.
It is not surprising then, that people with disabilities in developing countries are at much higher risk of poverty, and make up the poorest of the world's poor.
At the same time, circumstances related to poverty in developing countries, such as poor nutrition, lack of access to health care and unsafe environments, often lead to disability-meaning those living in poverty are more likely to acquire a disability. A vicious cycle then forms, where disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty.
The good news is that disability-inclusive development programs have been proven to break this cycle, through initiatives that support people with disabilities and their communities to work together to address the causes of poverty. The great news is that this $7.5 million funding announcement will do much to continue this work in the Pacific.
Cue fist pump.
Yet there's another layer to this funding announcement which tipped my excitement over into Twitter-action levels.
Funding is not only going to disability-focused development programs, but in particular to Disabled People's Organisations throughout the Pacific. This means it will be used by people with disabilities for people with disabilities, thus paving the road for better and longer-lasting outcomes, true empowerment, and strong leadership for disability communities in the Pacific.
While government and non-government organisations will continue to have a vital role in the delivery of disability-inclusive development programs, this funding to DPOs demonstrates that Australia wants to put people with disabilities at the helm of the programs they will benefit from.
So why is this funding announcement something to get excited about?
Because it means that the fight to ending poverty in our neighbouring developing countries is being supported.
Because it means the need to include people with disabilities in foreign aid programs is being recognised.
And because it means that within such programs, the disability movement's 'nothing about us without us' mantra is being prioritised.
If that doesn't get you fist pumping over your breakfast table, I don't know what will.