Chakwera wants Improved Rights of Persons with Disabilities

President Lazarus Chakwera says Malawi needs to do more and much better in upholding the rights of persons with disabilities in a new Malawi in which everyone prospers together.

Chakwera made the call Thursday when he presided over this year’s Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA) Golden Jubilee – Flag Week, which is being observed under the theme “50 Years of Empowering Persons with Disabilities at State House in the capital, Lilongwe.

Chakwera receives a gift from Dr. Chioza Bandawe

The president said he propagates for improved rights of persons with disabilities in the country as the new Malawi entails that everyone is on board on the road to prosperity.

Said Chakwera: “If we want the next 50 years to be 50 years of empowering persons with disabilities, then we need to do more and better than we have done, so far.”

“That is the new Malawi we want,” he added.

The Malawi leader said it is sad, the more he reflects on the work so many have done to empower persons with disabilities in the past 50 years, the more he realises that Malawi has a long way to go to make persons with disabilities feel that they are in a new Malawi in which everyone prospers together.

“We should not deceive ourselves with the notion that we have done enough to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities. If persons with disabilities are themselves saying that we are not doing enough, then we must work as though we haven’t done anything at all,” said

President Chakwera, who congratulated MACOHA on reaching the milestone of commemorating Golden Jubilee, cited the death of former deputy Speaker of Parliament and Parliamentarian for Mangochi Central Constituency Clement Chiwaya after he shot himself at Parliament Building at the heart of Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe as a painful reminder about the rights of persons with diasabilities.

In the same vein, the Malawi President also, on a global scale, cited an incident that recently took place in Glasgow at the Climate Change Conference where a disabled Israel’s Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Karine Elharrar, was unable to access the conference facility with her wheelchair, who after waiting two hours to be assisted, she gave up and returned to her hotel some 50 miles away.

He said: “50 days ago, my friend Honorable Clement Chiwaya was alive, and he and I even corresponded. But by the end of the next day, he was dead, having fatally wounded himself with a gun in the House of Parliament, where he had once worked as Member of Parliament for Mangochi Central and as Deputy Speaker.

“In a note that he had left behind, the former legislator narrated his ordeal as a person with disability, describing how he had been denied his work benefits for so long that he felt reduced to the indignity of having to beg for them. There were many sobering thoughts in that note, but one phrase in particular stood out for me: “I know they are doing this because I am disabled and they don’t value me.”

Chakwera said it is sad that these heartbreaking words were written by arguably the most empowered person with disability in the history of Malawi.

“The fact that we as a society made such an accomplished and distinguished man feel devalued and distressed on account of his disability is a stain we must work tirelessly to remove. If a man of his achievements was made to feel disempowered by his disability, how much more those persons with disability whose names, stories, and faces remain unknown.

“I am, therefore, directing the Minister responsible for the social welfare of persons with disability to conduct an assessment of every public institution’s performance in upholding the rights and dignity of persons with disability and to report those who are violators to me. I will know how to deal with the heads of those departments,” a visibly concerned Chakwera said.

Chakwera said these two unfortunate recent incidents, one here at home and one abroad, serve as a painful reminder that we cannot afford to become complacent about the rights of persons with disabilities.

“If in the developed Global North, a Minister with a disability still has to fight for something as basic as equal access to a building, then there is no way we can become complacent in our efforts to equalize access to public services and public spaces for persons with disabilities.

“I am therefore directing the Minister responsible for Local Government to ensure that our building accessibility standards are complied with in all the councils, and I expect a progress report no later than the last day of this fiscal year.

Chakwera has inaugurated the MACOHA 2021 Flag Week by purchasing the first flag at K1 million.

At an international level there are a number of conventions that Malawi has signed that promote the rights of the People with disabilities, for instance, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities, which Malawi signed and ratified in 2007.

There are also a number of other international conventions and agreements that Malawi has signed and ratified.

Malawi has also made progress in the domestication of the UN Conventions in its legislation and policies.

At national level, the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and other pieces of legislation promote and uphold the rights of people with disabilities.

Malawi, however, still use the Handicapped Persons’ Act (1971) which is old, charity-based and does not promote or protect the rights of PWDs.

The Disability Bill, drafted in 2004, which was aimed at replacing the Handicapped persons Act (1971) is yet to be approved by Parliament.

The National Policy on the Equalisation of persons with disabilities was launched in 2006 and it promotes the rights of people with disabilities and the implementation of the policy has been weak mainly because awareness is low, most sector ministries have not taken up the policy, mainstreaming disability across sectors is yet to be done and that there is currently no legal framework within which to enforce the policy.

In 2003 it was estimated that 4.18 percent of Malawi’s population consisted of People with disabilities and this rate was also found in 2008.

The 2003 World Health Survey found that 12.97 percent of people aged between 15 and 65 were people with disabilities and that disability prevalence was higher among poorest quintiles compared to wealthier quintiles.

The Ministry of Education has also embarked on a campaign aimed at creating awareness about the need for special needs education and as a result of this communities are participating for example in construction of resource centres.

The Ministry has also issued a directive to all its institutions that all new structures being constructed should be disability friendly. In terms of enrolment and attendance, 35% of People with disabilities have never attended school compared to 18 percent, among the non-disabled; hence school attendance among is significantly lower compared to those household members without a disability.

Learners with disabilities experience important challenges in accessing education and these include: the lack of specialist teachers such as those with Braille knowledge and sign language; inadequate instructional materials; inadequate learning support as classes are too large; and inaccessible infrastructure.

Other problems include: dropping out of school because of lack of money; and long distances to schools and persons with Albinism may drop out of school because they have problems in reading books and seeing what is written on the board.

The major source of livelihood for persons with is mainly farming, both subsistence and commercial.

Some studies have shown that some persons with disabilities have problems entering and sustaining relationships because of the disability itself.

Difficulties in mobility also make creation of relationships problematic. Women with disabilities, especially the poor, are more vulnerable: they suffer sexual abuse and once pregnant cases are uncommon in which they have been abandoned by men.

Family members can also discourage men from marrying women with disabilities because of the belief that such a couple will bear Children with disabilities and in some cases such children are also abandoned by fathers and cases of households sending their disabled children away or hiding them have been reported.

Some progress has been made with regard to empowerment of persons with disabilities in Malawi as over the the last decade, a lot of people have been sensitised in the wider community on the rights of people with disabilities although the documentation of such awareness campaigns has been limited.

The National Policy on Equalisation of Opportunities for persons with Disabilities says that all Government Ministries, Departments and statutory bodies are responsible for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the National Policy on Equalisation of Opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The provision of services by MACOHA is hampered by inadequate funding from central government.

The Ministry of Education has made some progress in terms of ensuring that Children with disabilities attend school but major challenges remain.

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