By Watipaso Mzungu, Contributor:
For two decades, Benson Mhone – a 45-year-old man with physical disability – had been repairing shoes under tree shades and corridors of shops owned by merchants at Nkhata Bay Boma.
He might have felt like one more neglected soul as nobody seemed to pay any attention to his struggles. Far from it.
There were others watching him from a distance.
Mhone had a pleasant surprise when, less than a year ago, Nkhata Bay District Commissioner (DC) Rodney Simwaka, in consultation with the full council, allocated him a plot within the market to enhance his participation in socio-economic development activities.
“I operated my business the hard way. And, during extreme weather conditions, I would be forced to take days off because I had no safe place for myself, let alone my tools. This negatively impacted the welfare of my family because I do not have another income-generating activity to engage in to sustain my family,” Mhone says.Advertisement
A new research by Shelter and Capability Scotland of the United Kingdom reveals that millions of disabled people across the globe are forced to rely on charities for basic care, equipment and vital information because of gaps in social services.
Their report, Fit for Purpose, also exposes the constant battle persons with disability (PWDs) face as they try to adapt their homes or move into more suitable housing.
Lack of practical advice, long waiting lists and shortfalls in funding are common because of a huge gap between government policy and practice on the ground, the authors say.
The findings of the research highlight common problems across the globe, where charities frequently fill gaps created by a shortage of suitable housing and discrimination in the job market.
In Malawi, thousands of PWDs are reliant on social services to decide what they need.
Parents of children with severe disability in some parts of the country rely on charities for basics such as incontinence pads and wheelchairs.
In some instances, lack of classroom services prevents children with disability from pursuing their education dreams.
Disability is referenced in various parts of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, specifically, in parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and monitoring of the SDGs.
For instance, SDG 4 seeks to promote inclusive and equitable quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all focuses on eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disability.
In addition, the proposal calls for building and upgrading of education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and also provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
In Goal 8, countries are called to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, the international community aims to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for persons with disability, and equal pay for work of equal value.
On the other hand, SDG 10 strives to reduce inequality within and among countries by empowering and promoting social, economic and political inclusion of all, including persons with disability.
The Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (
) is one of the local non-governmental organisations working to address social and economic inequalities and discrimination of PWDs in Malawi.
With €480, 000 financial support from the European Union (EU), the organisation is implementing a disability-inclusive Malawi Society through Empowered Disabled People’s Organisations Project.
Fedoma Project Coordinator responsible for this project, Cecilia Phiri, says the main objective of the project is to contribute towards a disability-inclusive society in Malawi where people with disability enjoy improved quality of life.
The project is being implemented in five districts of Nkhata Bay, Thyolo, Salima, Lilongwe and Nkhotakota, and works through an institutional structure of Fedoma.
And being a federation of 10 disabled people’s organisations, Fedoma’s affiliate organisations carry out a wide range of projects for service delivery and advocacy within their specific mandates with districts’ disability forums (DDF) s as anchors.
“We have facilitated the formation of District Disability Forums [DDFs) through which we expect persons with disabilities to effectively participate in local development planning and decision-making processes. We also want to ensure that evidence-based practices to inform disability programming of targeted sectoral programs at district and national level are in place and that disability-inclusive budgeting is promoted in government programmes in five target districts and on national level, in line with disability related legal instruments,” Phiri says.
Simwaka says the council is geared to “leaving no one behind” to ensure Malawi achieves inclusive and meaningful socio-economic development.
Simwaka states that his council’s starting point in addressing inequalities is the setup where they have incorporated PWD through a representation at the council from all the special interest groups.
“We believe that, by taking that move, we have taken care of the needs of PWD because they will have their voice incorporated,” Simwaka said.
He says the council has further adopted a ‘bottom-up’ approach to budgeting, which commits them to consult from the village level before moving to the area development committee when soliciting views on what needs to be included in the financial blueprint of the district.
Simwaka says this process ensures that duty-bearers formulate budgets and policies that consolidate democratic and economic governance from the village through to the council level.
However, the DC laments that national policies have dwelt on accessibility of public structures such as schools and hospitals without putting much emphasis on building their resilience to financial and economic problems.
“I think the people have talked much about disability issues. Unfortunately, most of the emphasis has been on access to buildings. But, to us, the most important thing is economic empowerment; how we empower PWD to stand on their own. And, in that regard, the resources we receive may not actually be adequate to cover all sectors but we make much effort to ensure that, in all areas of financing, PWD are benefitting,” Simwaka says.
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