Rose Msope, in her early 30s, is distraught. She has attended school to the tertiary level.
Yet, Msope cannot get a job.
“I do apply for jobs but no one seems interested to employ me. Some prospective employers have insinuated that disability will render me incompetent at their workplace,” says a Lilongwe-based woman with albinism.
Msope is among a legion of women with disabilities who are not only living in appalling conditions but also suffering various forms of discrimination and marginalisation due to their physical conditions.
Recent statistics from the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare indicate that Malawi has an estimated population of 480,000 persons with disabilities.
Out of this, 245,280 are being women with majority of them living under appalling conditions in rural areas.
Discrimination against and marginalisation of women with disabilities is identified as an obstacle to the full enjoyment of their human rights and as a barrier to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
The Action states that gender discrimination and all other forms of discrimination … and related intolerance continue to cause threat to women’s enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Some women and girls continue to encounter barriers to justice and the enjoyment of their human rights because of such factors as their race, language, ethnicity, culture, religion, disability or socio-economic class or because they are indigenous people, migrants, including women migrant workers, displaced women or refugees,” reads the Action in part.
A recent study by Disabled Women in Africa (Diwa) shows that Malawi has yet again fared poorly in promoting and protecting rights and well-being of women and girls with disabilities despite appending her signature to various local and international human rights instruments.
Diwa Executive Official and former Ministry of the Disability and Elderly Affairs, Rachel Kachaje, made the revelation in Mangochi recently when she presented a paper at the first-ever national conference on women with disabilities in Malawi.
The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare in collaboration with UN Women organised the conference to provide women with disabilities a platform to come up with strategies to ensure that they are represented in various forums, thereby raise their status and that they have a voice that represents women with disabilities in Malawi.
The conference, which was attended by the Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Community and Social Welfare, Richard Chimwendo Banda, sought to empower women with disabilities to demand for their rights and ensure that they are represented in forums where issues that affect them are discussed and that their voice can be heard.
And Kachaje was among women with disabilities that made presentations at the conference with her paper titled ‘The Voice of Women with Disability: A Call to Leave No one Behind’.
Her paper dwelt much on the challenges that women with disability in Malawi face and a call for self-representation.
The former minister observed that while efforts to create an inclusive society are ongoing all over the world, in many developing nations, including Malawi, persons with disabilities continue to be devalued, dehumanised and rejected despite many of these nations having assented to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
“Existing human rights instruments have not significantly benefited women and girls with disabilities, especially in developing countries such as Malawi. On the one hand, many in society do not believe that women and girls can play meaningful roles in their communities and in economy,” said Kachaje.
She added that women with disabilities in Malawi are leading horrible lives as government policies tend to sideline them due to their condition.
She said, until recently, there was no mention of people with disabilities in the country’s development blueprints although this is among the world’s poorest individuals.
“If one of the goals is poverty reduction, surely the world’s poorest population must be given consideration. Yet, little is being done to ensure that women with disabilities are educated, trained and offered employment and/or entrepreneurship opportunities, women with disabilities are often alone with no support,” observed Kachaje.
She said time has come for women and girls with disabilities to be visible, get their voice heard, be respected and included in society.
UN Women human rights specialist, Habiba Osman, said women with disabilities suffer from double discrimination: first as women, then as women with disabilities.
Osman noted that, as a result, they are left out of socio-economic initiatives by government and other players.
“They are also not represented at high-level conferences and forums both nationally and internationally. Women with disabilities are unable to meet and discuss their problems and situations. As a result, they do not have one voice which makes them not be fully empowered and move out of their oppressive situations. Hence, they lack a forum where they can discuss the issues raised above,” she explained.
Chief Disability Programmes Officer in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Jessie Chiyamwaka, said government is aware of some challenges that women with disabilities face, including double discrimination, abuse and neglect among others.
Chiyamwaka acknowledged that if the situation is not addressed, it is likely to isolate women with disabilities form socio-economic activities.
“The ministry is aware of the gaps in the disability policy as well as the 2012 Disability Act like issues of diversity ranging from age, gender as well as various kinds of disability which doesn’t have a blue paper solution. These gaps are not limited to diversity in terms of gender, types of disability, severity as well as age,” she said.
She said government is in the process of reviewing the Disability Act to ensure it conforms to the current trends and needs of persons with disabilities.
Osman expressed her organisation’s commitment to providing relevant assistance towards supporting, promoting and strengthening social and economic rights of women with disabilities.
Chimwendo Banda said the National Assembly will continue formulating and enacting laws that aim to protect and promote the welfare of women with disabilities
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