Promoting citizens’ voice in development
By Watipaso Mzungu:
Each time she is taken ill, Violet Magunda endures a gruelling and rib-breaking bicycle ride to access healthcare services at Kasina Health Centre in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kaphuka, Dedza District.
Magunda, a 36-year-old mother of three from Mwiri Village in T/A Chauma, also has to cover about three kilometres from her home to make an important phone call because telecommunications network becomes problematic in the area.
“We are living in a neglected area. So, we always make the most painful choices and sacrifices as poor road network continues to hinder us from enjoying our rights,” she explains.
What the people of T/As Chauma and Kaphuka are going through presents a classic example of violations of socio-economic rights, which are more subtle and do not easily draw attention from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other watchdogs, except where such violation has become rampant and sustained over a period.
This might be because it is easier to detect violation of civil and political rights than socio-economic rights.
Civil and political rights have a universally recognisable standard, whereas social, economic and cultural rights are sometimes relative to the cultural values of the country.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations states that good road network could play a critical role in the implementation of policies and programmes aimed to improve the socio and economic livelihoods of the people.
FAO says lack of roads also hampers agricultural productivity, making it expensive and difficult for farmers to get synthetic fertilisers, adding that developing nations could score substantial gains in productivity by making better use of modern technologies and practices.
However, this requires money and the organisation estimates that, to meet the 2050 challenge, investment throughout the agricultural chain in the developing world must double to $83 billion a year.
Most of that money needs to go towards improving agricultural infrastructure, from production to storage and processing.
Under the burden of income and redistribution inequality and inequity, the people of T/As Chauma and Kaphuka in Dedza have lacked readily available, accessible, acceptable and quality healthcare and health systems.
They have, for decades, grudgingly accepted the reality of suffering long standing discrimination and exclusion from the progressive realisation of various rights, including health, education and economic opportunities.
Magunda – who is also chairperson of Mkundi Women Forum – believes this has been a result of failure by the government to include them in participating towards the formulation of health policies and towards the implementation of health programmes at sub-county level which reflects the type of health care the residents require.
She believes that such lack of financial and administrative accountability, along with lack of governance transparency in the provision of health care towards residents of the area, has affected the enjoyment of their health rights, economic opportunities and healthcare advancements.
With the promulgation of the Republic Constitution, which seeks to advance socio and economic rights for all citizens irrespective of their geographical locations, the government commits itself to providing every citizen with the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to healthcare services, including reproductive health care.
In furtherance of this commitment, the government has developed various policies and plans in order to entrench human rights principles in development policy-making and programming.
Group Village Head Kasina states that lack of services such as electricity, tarmac road networks, equipped medical facilities, water and lack of the means of transportation have exacerbated the violation of the people’s rights in the two areas.
He says the situation is even worse for vulnerable groups, including women, the elderly, persons with disability, children, youths, members of the minority and marginalised communities.
However, the chief expects a turnaround in the enjoyment of various rights following the introduction of a five-year multi-layered, integrated and innovative programme from Irish Aid, ‘Achieving sustainable poverty reduction through increased inclusive resilience and empowerment (Aspire)’ project, which United Purpose (UP) is implementing in partnership with National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust.
The project, whose overall objective is to contribute towards achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and Malawi Growth and Development Strategy III, is expected to bring lifelong, noticeable change to 25,000 targeted households in T/As Kaphuka and Chauma.
Kasina says through the project, community governance structures are now able to engage and demand their rights from duty-bearers, such as Dedza District Council.
He says, while communities could not engage duty-bearers previously, community governance structures are now able to demand their rights to development.
“Through the Nice-initiated engagements with officials at Dedza District Council, we were able to demand our rights to development, including the need to construct good roads. And government has since responded by allocating resources for the reshaping of the road from Linthipe 1 Bridge to Chauma. The reshaping works will start soon,” he says.
Patrick Siwinda, Dedza Nice District Civic Education Officer, says the project specifically aims to increase the resilience of 25,000 poor households and 32 village development committees (VDCs) and community governance structures to economic, social, and environmental shocks in T/As Kaphuka and Chauma.
“The Aspire Project is promoting improved accountability and responsiveness by local authorities to target communities, especially people in poverty. This is done through promoting improved participation and influence by citizens and local organisations in development and decision-making processes,” he says.
Siwinda says the two organisations appreciate that the Constitution bars direct or indirect discrimination against any person on any ground including race, sex, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.
As such, the project aims at enabling communities to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty and insecurity, as well as to inform and leverage greater change nationally.
“To this end, the project is also strengthening local governance institutional capacities and greater social inclusion to achieve improved governance and accountability and responsiveness by local governance authorities.
“At the same time, we want to achieve increased participation of citizens, and thus contributing to achievement of overall programme objectives,” he narrates.
Member of Parliament for Dedza Central East, Mc Steyn Mkomba, says the Aspire Project has had a huge impact on constituents.
Mkomba observes that community governance structures such as the VDCs and ADCs have benefitted a lot from the trainings held under the project.
“Our people are able to articulate critical issues affecting them. They are able to even develop proposals for small projects,” he explains.
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