Inclusion Now 68

Report on being a Disabled youth delegate to Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting

Saista Parwin, from India, had the opportunity as the representative of Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum (CDPF) to be the Youth representative at the 13th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in London, September 2023. She reports back to Inclusion Now.


It was a privilege, to attend the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting held in London but a disappointment realising that 1.3 billion of the worldwide population is a Disabled person and I am the one and only representative who attended the meeting from my country that is a Disabled person (pun intended). I felt every Disabled person present probably felt some kind of desire to take action – it really was a call to action.

Historically, the fight for the rights of Disabled people has taken various forms, ranging from peaceful resistance to protest, and coalesced around leaders whose words and deeds provide a call to activism.  Different movements have resonated across Commonwealth countries and globally, particularly among activists from the Commonwealth countries, who leverage the power of social media and our interconnected lives to raise awareness of our campaigns. These campaigns address a range of issues, from accessibility to reasonable accommodations, from the fight for mainstream coverage to basic access to facilitates such as washrooms in the conferences etc – all basic human rights that demand attention.

Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Secretary General did not adopt this inclusive approach, which reflects the harsh reality we are all living in. There is a notable decline in Disability Rights campaigns, with disability activists often being overshadowed by political and geopolitical considerations. Furthermore, historical, cultural, and geographical factors are sometimes used to silence calls for protecting the rights of Disabled people who are most marginalised. Tactics such as ‘Whataboutism’ and comparisons to similar or worse oppression are employed, whether out of genuine ignorance or as a calculated move, to suggest that calls for equal representation of Disabled people’s human rights are unnecessary or unjustified.

Over five impactful days, the conference hosted a series of engaging plenary sessions, each contributing a unique perspective to the exploration of varied human rights issues in the Commonwealth and the state party.

Saista’s event diary

  • Monday, 11 September 2023: Roundtable meeting (with Stakeholders)

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani chaired the 10th Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting (CYMM) in London from 12-15 September 2023. This was the first time in 30 years that Pakistan chaired a Commonwealth event. Youth Ministers from more than 45 Commonwealth states participated in the meeting, which was held as part of the Commonwealth’s commemoration of 2023 as the “Year of Youth.” Chairing the CYMM, the Foreign Minister emphasised the Commonwealth’s role in charting youth engagement in the global sustainable development agenda. He added that youth comprised 60 percent of the Commonwealth’s population, which was our biggest asset.

I had three interventions:

  1. When we are talking about inclusivity and reasonable accommodation, where is the sign language interpreter? Are we just talking about inclusivity, but when it comes to actual implementation, I see little action in the ground realities?
  2. When we talk about education, what steps has a responsible International Organisation taken to ensure inclusive education for all, especially for Disabled children with special educational needs coming from the economically marginalised sections of the society?
  3. I hear the word ‘inclusion’ from every other esteemed speaker, which is good and I am happy about it. But wait, let me ask you something. I will be very obliged if you could answer: When we are talking about inclusion repeatedly, almost from every other speaker/panellist, but we are sitting in one of the Western countries known to be a developed nation, in the very building where we are sitting; that building itself is not wheelchair accessible, and the washrooms are not friendly enough if my colleague wishes  to attend this whole session.
  • Tuesday, 12 September 2023: Ministerial Policy Discussion on Sub-theme 2: Education

Same questions on inclusion and education to the minister of Ghana and to the ministers of Kenya:

  1. What steps have they have taken in their respective government to ensure that Disabled children have access to primary education?
  2. How to ensure primary education, serves as a basic foundation and steppingstone, to empower Disabled people economically? Because recognising the correlation between education and economics is imperative to leverage education as the tool to bring and include Disabled people into the mainstream society.
  3. I received a few cross questions during the discussion and a few afterwards when networking.
  • Wednesday, 13 September 2023: Ministerial Policy Discussion on Sub-theme 4

My intervention and questions to the panel:

  1. Diversity is an important issue for any modern state/business, but it’s not enough to simply hire people of different nationalities, races, genders, and sexual orientations or categorise Disabled persons, whatever you want to name us although we prefer the word Disabled people. Everyone needs to feel welcomed, safe and free to be themselves in the workplace. If you focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in your state, your business’s culture and bottom line will benefit.
  2. Although many states are moving toward more inclusion and diversity, isn’t there still much progress to be made?
  3. As a State what steps have you taken to ensure that diversity is maintained?

Business – the breakout session

Questions to Pakistan’s ex-Sports and Youth Minister:

  1. Under which policy or law is there no representation politically, especially from the most vulnerable and marginalised community: that is Disabled persons since independence of Pakistan in 1947. Why is there no law explicitly for the persons with disability or per se reservation for the Disabled youth?
  2. When you are talking so much about youth concerns and when the state is so powerful, what is stopping you from doing so? Why is there a lack of political will? I appreciate your interest. I as a youth representative myself was impressed but when it come to a Disabled youth why is there a big silence?
  • Thursday, 14 September 2023

The rest of the time on Thursday I spent networking and meeting with the Commonwealth Human Rights Unit. Overall, I was not impressed and realised how far we have to go to get disability equality in the Commonwealth, but this only increased my motivation to achieve this.