Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at the Celebration of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities

The celebration was hosted at Esibayeni Lodge, on Thursday, 3rd December 2020.

Hon. Deputy Prime Minister,

Government officials,

Distinguished partners,

Leaders of the private sector,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Brothers and sisters,


A very good morning to you all. It is with utmost humility and great pleasure that I stand before you today at the celebration of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. I am truly humbled as I look onto an exceptional audience such as yourselves: those who show tremendous bravery, courage and resilience on an everyday basis. I would like to take a moment to ask you all  to give yourselves a round of applause; for your perseverance and courage shown not just today but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s theme is significant as we celebrate all persons living with disabilities, noting that ‘Not All Disabilities are Visible”. It is time that all disabilities are brought to light, including: mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairment, diabetes, brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, and many more. We cannot ensure the protection and rights of all persons living with disabilities until we acknowledge that not all disabilities are visible.

Across the globe, 15 percent of the world’s population, or one billion people, are living with a disability. Of these, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 450 million people live with mental illness or a neurological condition. Devastatingly, two-thirds (2/3) of those with a mental illness or neurological condition will not seek professional medical help, largely due to stigma, discrimination and neglect. Another 69 million people sustain Traumatic Brain Injuries each year throughout the world, while one in 160 children are identified as being on the autism spectrum.

It is shameful that today’s society continues to mock mental illness and neurological conditions, and does not encourage treatment. Change begins with you and me: let us change the narrative about invisible disabilities such as mental illness, and support those who are suffering. In the same manner that you would not hesitate to protect your child, friend, brother or sister from injury or illness, you and I must provide the same protection to our loved ones living with ‘invisible’ disabilities.

It is with this vision of protection in mind, and efforts to leave no one behind, that the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres, called for global leaders to ensure a “Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19”. The COVID-19 pandemic has created immense disruption around the world, impacting societies at their core and deepening pre-existing inequalities. It has created many more barriers for persons living with disabilities, whom, under normal circumstances, are less likely to access education, healthcare and livelihoods, or to be included and participate in a community. People living with disabilities are also more likely to live in poverty, and experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse.

In the Kingdom of Eswatini, an approximate 170,000 of our brothers and sisters live with disabilities, accounting for over 16 percent of the population. This is a significant percentage of our nation’s family who are in need of empowerment to reach their full potential and indeed, protection during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is therefore paramount that COVID-19 responses focus on including people living with disabilities. Commitment, passion, creativity and ambition are required to lift and break-down the many barriers facing people living with disabilities, during and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the health, economic and social crises experienced by the world today, present a unique opportunity to include our brothers and sisters living with disabilities, in the response and recovery. It is therefore vital that consultations are had with persons living with disabilities, including them in each step of the process. Their voices must be heard and listened to, for they are an incredibly important and valuable part of our society.

This vision of an inclusive and accessible world for persons living with disabilities is reflected in Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agenda 2030 serves as a blueprint for a prosperous globe in which no one is left behind, and indeed, a prosperous and inclusive Kingdom of Eswatini. So too is this idea reflected in His Majesty’s Vision 2022, the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) 2021-2025, adopted by the Kingdom of Eswatini in October 2020,  and the National Development Plan.

It is through these frameworks, determination and commitment to the people of Eswatini that we will ensure a ‘just, prosperous and resilient Eswatini’, in which no one is left behind. Full access for persons living with disabilities to essential services such as: healthcare, justice, education, recreation and employment, are critical to the prosperity of our nation.

I would like to take a moment to congratulate His Majesty’s Government for its incredible  achievement in establishing the Eswatini National Disability Plan of Action 2018-2022, following the adoption on the National Disability Policy of 2013. This is a commendable achievement and we look forward to witnessing the fruits of its implementation. However, ambitious action is required to ensure the anticipated results.

In particular, I would like to extend my deepest congratulations to the Hon. Deputy Prime Minister; my brother, friend and advisor. Your Excellency, it is a privilege to work with you, learn from you and share with you occasions like today. Your passion to fight for the vulnerable and protect the rights of all EmaSwati, including persons with disabilities, is remarkable. Thank you for all that you humbly do for our beautiful nation.

The United Nations in Eswatini continues to stand in solidarity with the Government and people of the Kingdom. Together, through collaboration and dedication, we will ensure the protection of the rights of people living with visible and ‘invisible’ disabilities.

As I close, I am reminded of the great words of the late ‘Superman’ actor, Christopher Reeve; “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming circumstances.” It is true that today, I stand before heroes, and I would like to encourage you all to see yourselves in that light, for I am blinded by your exquisite lights.

Thank you for the privilege to celebrate the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. I wish you all a wonderful morning.

I thank you.

Speech by
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund