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Towards breakthrough for the visually impaired

By Watipaso Mzungu, Contributor:

DULLA—We face challenges

It is recommended not to discriminate persons with disability in providing access to certain goods, services and facilities.

Human rights experts say indirect disability discrimination happens when conditions or requirements are put in place that appear to treat everyone the same, but disadvantage some people because of their disability.

For instance, it may be indirect discrimination if the only way to enter a shop is by a set of stairs, because people with disability who use wheelchairs would be unable to enter the building.

Mercy Dulla, a 19-year-old student with visual impairment at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School, wonders whether it is justifiable to deny visually-impaired persons access to laws and policies framed to protect their rights.

“When I go to school, I face myriad challenges to enjoy my right to education because the school does not have Braille materials. When I go to the hospital, I face hurdles to access information to critical services such as sexual and reproductive health services because I cannot make an independent choice in the absence of information, which, in my case, can only be made available through Braille,” she says.

NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) Coordinator, Innocent Hauya, says this is a familiar case to them.

He notes that there have been scenarios where persons with disabilities have failed to effectively communicate with health personnel on the type of disease they are suffering from, resulting in wrong prescriptions.

Hauya thinks Malawi cannot be talking about human rights when a certain section of the people, such as persons with visual impairments, is denied access to the law that was framed to protect and empower them to demand accountability from duty-bearers.

“Duty-bearers are supposed to be held accountable. But when rights holders such as persons with visual impairments are denied access to laws that protect and promote their rights, how can they hold duty-bearers accountable?” he asks.

The scenario in Malawi has compelled NGO-GCN to take steps to enable Malawi to conform to international human rights standards and treaties by addressing making relevant policies and laws available to person with disability.

The transcription of the laws is part of the second-year programme the network has been implementing with financial support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy through the civil society organisations Policy Leadership and Strengthening for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights programme cooperative agreement.

The programme runs from December 2018 to December 2019 and seeks to contribute towards strengthening policy and institutional leadership of NGO-GCN and has promotion of effective gender implementation and civil society participation in the policy formulation processes in Malawi as its overall goal.

HAUYA—We are very hopeful

Hauya says their recent studies have exposed serious gaps in responding to the needs of persons with disabilities in almost all areas, including human rights.

“These challenges are not just about physical access to buildings, but also access to services, information, care and support because, currently, the only law transcribed into Braille is the Disability Act; and, we believe that this is probably because it is directly linked to persons with disabilities,” he submits.

But there is possibly good news for the visually-impaired persons because NGO-GCN has embarked on an ambitious programme to transcribe some of the major laws and polices into Braille.

Hauya says they have finalised transcribing Gender Equality Act, Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act, Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and simplified gender-related laws into Braille.

“The programme seeks to contribute towards strengthening policy and institutional leadership of NGO-GCN and has promotion of effective gender implementation and civil society participation in policy formulation processes in Malawi as its overall goal,” he explains.

Hauya says the programme has four outcomes, which include reducing incidences of gender-based violence amongst women and children, particularly the girl child in Malawi.

It also aims at increasing women participation in politics and decision-making at all levels; improved legal protection, speedy access to justice and accountability mechanisms and for women and children when their rights are violated and improved capacity of NGO-GCN secretariat and its membership to effectively network in addressing gender issues in Malawi.

The transcription of the gender-related laws into Braille is part NGO-GCN efforts to enhance the promotion the rights of the marginalised groups, particularly persons with visual impairments and aims to increase awareness among people with visual impairments on such laws thereby challenging them to hold duty-bearers accountable.

“NGO-GCN will, therefore, deploy strategies to influence creation, development and implementation of laws or policies that support gender equality through engaging government on creating relevant new policies to address emerging issues on gender equality…,” Hauya explains.

Hauya believes that the transcription of the laws into Braille will make laws and policies more inclusive “because where we have laws and yet people cannot read them, it’s just as good as not having the laws in place”.

“We are very hopeful that the visually impaired can now read gender-related laws on their own without having to rely on someone to help them. This is a milestone in the fight for an inclusive society. This is part of NGO-GCN efforts to enhance access to justice for the marginalised, particularly persons with visual impairment,” he stresses.

Chief Disability Programmes Officer in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Jessie Chiyamwaka, says persons with disabilities face various challenges, including double discrimination, abuse, neglect, among others.

Chiyamwaka says the problem is further compounded by lack of knowledge on the laws and policies that protect them.

“So, we believe that transcription of the laws is one step towards addressing challenges that persons with disabilities are facing in this country. Government is, therefore, highly indebted to NGO-GCN for taking a step in the right direction in addressing these problems,” she says.

Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Community and Social Welfare, Richard Chimwendo-Banda, says the National Assembly has made strides in formulating and enacting laws that aim to promote the welfare of persons with disabilities.

Chimwendo-Banda, however, observes that making such laws accessible to persons with disability is another challenge facing this country.

“The transcription of the gender-related laws into Braille is, therefore, a breakthrough in the promotion of rights of the marginalised groups in Malawi,” he says.

Dulla says the transcribed laws will enable her to demand better services from duty-bearers, including the health sector where persons with visual impairment have been facing challenges to access various services due to lack of knowledge on relevant laws that protect them.

“This is a step towards bridging that gap. We believe that NGO-GCN will not stop at merely transcribing those mentioned laws, but also polices and statutes that concern us,” she says.

However, Hauya stresses the need for the government and other stakeholders to go a step further by translating all laws other than gender-related laws to disability-friendly form.

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