During my recent visit to Finland, I was honoured to again co-chair the annual Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network meeting, this time in Helsinki hosted by the Finnish Government and the Abilis Foundation.

Two people in wheelchairs and five people standing in front a of staircase.
The hosts, co-chairs and keynote speakers of the GLAD meeting: Mr Vladimir Cuk, Executive Director, IDA; Mr Colin Allen, Chair, IDA; Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Australia; the Hon Kai Mykkänen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Finland; Ms Marjo Heinonen, Executive Director, Abilis Foundation; Dr Kalle Könkkölä, Chair, Abilis Foundation; and Gerard Howe, Head of the Inclusive Societies Department, Department for International Development, UK.

Co-chaired by Australia and the International Disability Alliance (IDA), GLAD is a dynamic and cutting edge initiative that brings together donors, multilateral organisations, foundations and private sector organisations from around the world. It is a testimony to Australia’s leadership on disability-inclusion that IDA’s Chair is the eminent deaf Australian Colin Allen.

GLAD’s members include disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), Business Disability International, Open Society Foundation, the World Bank and UNICEF, together with foreign affairs and international development ministries from countries such as Germany, Japan, Norway, United Kingdom and United States.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells speaking at a podium.
Delivering Australia’s keynote address to the GLAD meeting, with captioning (background) and sign language support (foreground) to make it accessible for participants who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Around one billion people globally live with a disability. In developing countries and humanitarian emergencies, they are often left behind. This month’s meeting enabled GLAD members to capitalise on their collective voice, role and resources to turn this around.

Working together with developing country governments and DPOs, GLAD seeks to make international development and humanitarian efforts more inclusive of people with disabilities.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells speaking at a podium.
Speaking at the opening session of GLAD with Colin Allen and Kai Mykkänen.

Discussions centred on GLAD’s four key focus areas of inclusive education, social protection, humanitarian action and disability data, and I am pleased that these discussions resulted in a number of real achievements.

It was great to engage with leading global experts to identify new opportunities for collaboration including working collectively to influence key development and humanitarian forums and mechanisms to be more disability-inclusive.

The Network shared good practice examples to improve disability-inclusion in future programming. For example, the Pacific Disability Forum presented on the Australian funded Vanuatu Skills for Economic Growth Program, which has strengthened disability inclusion in Vanuatu in tourism, handicrafts and agribusiness.

Participants also made a deeper commitment to engage meaningfully with people with disabilities and DPOs in development and humanitarian efforts.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells at a roundtable discussion.
Chairing the States’ Session of the GLAD meeting, during which Mika Kontiainen, Director Disability at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade shared insights into how the Australian aid program delivers disability-inclusive development assistance.

This commitment links firmly to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that clearly includes people with disabilities in a universal and ambitious plan of action to ensure no one is left behind. To achieve the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals, people with disabilities must be able to benefit from – and contribute to – sustainable development and humanitarian action on an equal basis with others.

The outcomes that GLAD is helping deliver are resulting in real benefits for people with disabilities, including in our region. For example, GLAD continues to advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in all humanitarian action and promotes the Charter for Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action, in recognition that disasters and conflict disproportionately affect people with disability and can increase the prevalence of disability.

Already, joint advocacy by GLAD members has contributed to a commitment by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to be more disability-inclusive in its global programs, and a commitment by the World Food Program to develop guidelines consistent with the Charter to ensure that food assistance reaches people with disabilities.

Australia’s commitment to implementing the Charter is evident in the disability-inclusive approach that underpins our $100 million package of assistance in response to the Iraq humanitarian crisis.

A large roundtable discussion.
The State’s session of the GLAD meeting inside the historic House of the Estates building in Helsinki.

Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper affirms disability inclusion as a crosscutting priority for our international engagement in human rights, humanitarian action and development assistance. This will be evident during our term on the UN Human Rights Council where Australia will advocate for disability rights as one of six key areas of focus.

I am also delighted that in July 2018, the United Kingdom will be hosting a Global Disability Summit, following which they will join Australia and IDA as a co-chair of GLAD. The Summit will further galvanise the international effort to address disability-inclusive development and humanitarian action, which GLAD has so effectively spearheaded. Australia’s participation will help contribute a strong Indo-Pacific perspective.

Australia is proud to maintain an international leadership role in co-chairing GLAD and supporting people with disabilities to realise their rights and be active participants in development to ensure that no one is left behind.

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