The United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development committed UN Member States and agencies to “leave no one behind” by aiming at the political, economic, social and cultural inclusion of marginalized groups. However, despite accounting for around 15% of the global population, it’s still rare to see persons with disabilities among the UN workforce.
UN entities will not be able to fulfill their promise of leaving no one behind and promoting inclusion until persons with disabilities are fully represented among UN staff.
United Nations Volunteers, as a cross-cutting organization in the UN system, is very well placed to partner with UN entities with the aim at unlocking the potential of persons with disabilities to work for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Volunteerism is a powerful means of bringing people together, supporting the development of community-based solutions to social inclusion and breaking the physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from their full participation in their own development.
Living with a disability can be perceived as a strength rather than as weakness, and by providing persons with disabilities with the opportunity to volunteer, barriers to their inclusion can be overcome. This vision drives UNV’s efforts to recruit volunteers with disabilities to serve within the UN system.
“Nothing about us without us!” Deaf Activist Marco Vuoriheimo.
In March 2017, Ms. Rupmani Chhetri from India started her work as a UN Volunteer Advocacy Specialist on Disability based in Ukraine. She is hearing impaired and focuses on advocacy efforts for inclusion of persons with disabilities, actively engaging with civil society organizations. She is also helping UNV to be more inclusive as an organization, as well as to improve our outreach to potential volunteers with disabilities.
Rupmani is not the first UN Volunteer with disabilities UNV has deployed, but she is part of a new initiative to improve UNV’s engagement with persons with disabilities, both from an institutional and a programmatic perspective.
And it’s not just about volunteering in the field. Two per cent of all our UN Online Volunteers are self-declared persons with disabilities, and hundreds of UN Online Volunteers every year perform assignments that support civil society organizations working with and for persons with disabilities.
We are also improving our hiring processes to ensure that potential candidates that are persons with disabilities are welcomed to apply to become both UN Volunteers and UNV personnel, and that we have mechanisms to accommodate their needs.
Volunteer action of and with persons with disabilities is certainly having an important impact on UNV’s work with communities and local disability groups around the world. Volunteers with disabilities can be determined advocates, since they have the best knowledge on how to engage with disability groups to properly address their needs and interests.
We will deploy more volunteers with disabilities over the coming months, making the UN system more inclusive and showing what our motto unlocking potential looks like in practice.