Malawi Commemorates International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The Ministry of Disability and Elderly Affairs and Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (FEDOMA) - in collaboration with FEDOMA affiliates, partners, and various other stakeholders –  joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDD) which officially falls on 3 December every year.

However, in Malawi, this event was commemorated on Saturday, 14 December 2013, in Blantyre. The commemorative activities were preceded with a solidarity march from Shoprite to Maselema, from 8:30 a.m., and were officially graced by the Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs, Honourable Mrs. Rachael Kachaje, who was invited as Guest of Honour.

The main theme for 2013 IDD was “Break barriers, open doors: for an inclusive society for all”.

The IDD is observed internationally and has been promoted by the United Nations since 1992. The observance of the Day aims at promoting an understanding of disability issues and mobilizing support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. The 2013 theme augurs well with the Government and FEDOMA’s work in promoting awareness and promoting the welfare of persons with disabilities. 

About the 2013 Theme
The theme was proposed by the UN against the background that the UN General Assembly in the recent years has repeatedly emphasized that the genuine achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other internationally agreed development goals, requires the inclusion and integration of the rights, and well-being, as well as the perspective of persons with disabilities in development efforts at national, regional and international levels.

The  theme was also conceived amidst the concerns that as we pass the halfway point of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is crucial for governments, donors, international agencies and civil society to address disability through the implementation of inclusive development strategies. Inclusive development recognizes all individuals as equal members of society who should be actively engaged in the development process irrespective of disability, age, gender, ethnicity or any other status. This is achieved by designing policies, products, services and creating environments that can be used by all people, including disabled people.

In Malawi, Persons with Disabilities continue to face a myriad of barriers that impinge on their ability to enjoy various rights and freedoms. Barriers include stigma and discrimination, lack of adequate health care and rehabilitation services; and inaccessible transport, buildings and information and communication technologies. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disability is less about health and far more about social and economic barriers to inclusion. Poor sanitation, unsafe water, a lack of access to healthcare and malnutrition can all lead to disabling conditions.

The 2013 IDD, therefore provided an opportunity to engage businesses, organizations, companies and other service providers to go beyond the legal requirements to provide both physical and service accessibility to Persons with Disabilities.

The Solidarity Walk
One of the key activities that took place during the commemoration of the IDD was a Solidarity Walk that started from the Shoprite Complex in Blantyre at around 8:30 a.m. to FEDOMA office in Maselema. Scores of people braved the rains to join in the Solidarity Walk

Some of the stakeholders that participated included the members of the Disability People's Organisations (DPOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the private sector, Government representatives, and the general public.

The Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs, Honourable Mrs. Rachael Kachaje, joined the march as Guest of Honour in the colorful event that symbolized the commitment of various stakeholders towards the achievement of the full potential and participation of Persons with Disabilities in all development activities.

The Speeches
After the Solidarity March was followed by a series of speeches at the FEDOMA complex. The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Disability and Elderly Affairs, welcomed the participants from all walks of life who had come to attend the function. He expressed gratitude that despite the many challenges faced during preparations of the IDD commemorations which had earlier been planned to take place in Mzuzu but was cancelled at the eleventh hour, it was pleasing to witness how scores of people had persevered the rains that morning and joined the Solidarity Walk.

In his speech, FEDOMA Chairperson, Mr. Simon Munde, called upon the government and the society as a whole to promote the rights of people with disabilities as together they work for the better world that includes people with disabilities in developmental activities.

"It is everyone’s responsibility to make the society more inclusive in order for it to be called a better world for all. Even the bible says we are all equal in the sight of God," he said.

Mr Munde acknowledged that the DPOs were working tirelessly in lobbying and advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in Malawi, but it very pathetic to see the conditions in which they were working. He said some hardly have funding for their work and others still cannot define their sustainability, hence the need for Government's support towards the work of DPOs.

He also acknowledged Government’s efforts in breaking barriers and opening doors for persons with disabilities through the Ministry of Disabilities and Elderly Affairs whichput in place policy and legislative framework for effective disability programming and provision of various disability-friendly services. In particular, we recognized the fact that the Government enacted the long-awaited Disability Bill in 2012 and subsequently gazetted the same in 2013.

He, however, noted that the struggle to promote the rights of persons with disabilities is far from won in Malawi as the Act is not yet operationalised for effective implementation.

Said Mr. Munde: "What we have done is just to lay the foundation. This is so because we recognize the fact that in Malawi what matters most are not just those beautifully-worded, juicy-sounding laws and policies, but it is, rather, the implementation on the ground that those of us advocating for disability rights are worried about most. For this reason, we believe that more consultations and dialogue processes aiming at operationalizing these policies is key to the actualization on the ground; hence we find this IDD commemoration as very timely; as being integral to these dialogue processes."

The FEDOMA Chairpersons further made the following specific calls:

(i) the Government and its key stakeholders must ensure that programs for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) must also fully integrate persons with disabilities and their families;

(ii) all sector plans and national programs must include persons with disabilities, from conception to implementation, with appropriate budgets for human and material resources with which to enable access;

(iii) Education sector plans and whole school improvement approaches must be geared towards transforming mainstream schools to be inclusive, rather than opening more special unit classes; (iv) Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) must be expanded, strengthened and used as a service delivery model for persons with disabilities;

(v) disability service delivery performance indicators must be included in service delivery appraisals; (vi) a registry of children with disabilities must be created for each district and ensure that birth registration must be free and accessible;

(viii) mandatory screening for disability-causing diseases and impairments must be provided to pregnant mothers and children, in order to be able to provide appropriate medical care on time;

(viii) as per the law, the principles of universal access must be applied to all buildings and facilities, through the use of appropriate accessibility guidelines and standard design requirements for buildings; and

(ix) families and communities must be educated on simple, inexpensive ways to adapt their homes, facilities and everyday items to accommodate those with disabilities.

In her response, the Disability Minister, Honourable Mrs. Rachael Kachaje, assured the participants that Government was doing everything possible to mainstream disability in its programme, especially in ensuring that the law is operational.

She said among other things, Government would ensure that public places, including airports, were made accessible to persons with isabilities.

The Cooperating Partners
The Government of Malawi and FEDOMA took advantage of the commemorations to recognize and appreciate the support and commitment by development partners, local and international non-governmental organizations as well as civil society organizations, in addressing the challenges faced by persons with disabilities by making key social sectors accessible in the country.

In particular, FEDOMA acknowledged the moral an financial support towards activities marking 2013 IDD from the World Vision International (WVI), Christian Blind Mission (CBM), Water Aid, and Norwegian Association of Disabled (NAD).

The World Vision and Water Aid supported the of IEC materials including radio and TV programmes and averts, banners, T-shirts, and publication of press releases.