In our second session we opened up the discussion by looking at three different approaches to development. The long-term process of structural change in the international system, the short to medium-term poverty reduction and MDGs and lastly development as discourse or a set of ideas that shapes and frames reality. The idea of development as discourse and ideas that frame reality seemed to be most related to our Amartya Sen reading, as well as to the philosophy behind the work of our guest speaker, Nay Lin Soe.
Sen wrote about the role of freedoms of different kinds in countering afflictions imposed upon us, and how fostering greater individual agency is central to addressing these deprivations in our lives. Mr. Soe’s organization, the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative -MILI, is a nongovernment organization that works for equal rights, inclusion and independent living of people with disability in Myanmar. Mr. Soe’s organization seems to adopt this philosophy in their organization, which promotes the individual agency of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life, and to work as agents of change in their own lives. Sen explains that one of the impediments to development is that our individual agency is inescapably qualified and constrained by the social, political and economic opportunities (or lack thereof) that are available to us. Mr. Soe explains that many of the impediments he and his organization face stem from the legal, cultural, and religious barriers imposed by his country. He spoke about the absence of funding in Myanmar’s government for disability organizations, discrimination that disabled persons face in the professional sphere as well as negative stigma against disabled persons stemming from some of the country’s religious traditions.
Sen expresses that the expansion of freedom should viewed as the primary and principal means of development, consisting of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. This is exactly what Mr. Soe and his organization have taken upon themselves to do. One of the organization’s major achievements include the creation of accessible and disability friendly polling stations that were implemented at four locations in the country, to serve as models moving forward. They have made remarkable progress in removing unfreedoms in the electoral sphere, by increasing disability access in Myanmar’s elections, thus giving disabled people the agency to cast their own private and secure votes and a voice in their countries elections.