The Institute recently held a workshop in Malawi to enhance the capacity and role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) to effectively fulfil their mandates in promoting and protecting human rights in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) participated in the workshop titled the Application of the Guide for African National Human Rights Institutions for Monitoring the Implementation of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the UNCRPD).
The Institute’s key partner in this work is the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI).
In 2015, we developed a guide together with NANHRI on how NHRIs can implement the UNCRPD. The guide aims to increase knowledge and understanding, and skills among NHRIs representatives on international human rights standards, best practices and specialized NHRI functions in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities. It was launched in Geneva 2016.
“The workshop we are doing now with the MHRC serves to promote the practical use of the guide,” says David Eile, Programme Officer at RWI. “We hope a national plan of action will be developed at the workshop with the involvement of national stakeholders on monitoring the implementation of the UNCRPD. The activity is expected to promote, in particular, practical application examples for other African NHRIs to use.”
Embracing the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities
The UNCRPD is a vital framework for creating legislation and policies around the world that embrace the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities (PWDs). The purpose of this Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all PWDs, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. PWDs include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
The Convention obligates states to introduce measures that promote the human rights of PWDs without discrimination. While some countries have enacted comprehensive legislation with regard to the rights of PWDs, many have not.
“The support to the NHRIs in monitoring the implementation of the UNCRPD is therefore necessary considering that majority of persons with disabilities in the continent live in abject poverty and at the mercy of charity. Disability-related oppression, marginalization and socio-economic exclusion remain deeply embedded in African socio-economic systems,” says Eile.
“I was disabled at the age of 3”
Rachel Kachaje is the founder and chairperson of Disabled Women in Africa (DIWA). DIWA was founded in Dar Es Salaam in 2002 and has carried out work primarily in Southern and Eastern Africa. Today, it has offices in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and in Lilongwe, Malawi.
What is your own background and experience with work with the rights of persons with disabilities?
I became disabled at the age of 3 due to an outbreak of polio which meant that I had to start school late. There were many barriers which made it difficult for me to walk to and from school. My parents encouraged me to take education seriously and they used to carry me. Later on, my young sister would carry me there and back as we were in the same class. After my secondary education, it was not easy to get employment. Fortunately, the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA) was registering people with disabilities in the country. After registering with them, MACOHA got me a job in a financial institution as a telephone operator. I was not satisfied with the job so I enrolled at the polytechnic for evening classes in secretarial work. After graduating, I applied for a promotion. I was unsuccessful but I kept lobbying. It took 7 years for management to promote me. At that time it was still unheard of for a person with a disability to be able to do secretarial work. In 2001, the bank was going through restructuring and retrenched, which led to me losing my job. During that time, the government was developing policies on disability. I got involved in drafting those policies. This led me to travel to all three regions of Malawi and looking into issues reagrding disability. I became the first woman to chair Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD) in 2002. I then became the chairperson of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI). In 2013, I was appointed Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs in Malawi, where I worked until 2014 when a new government came into power. Then the Ministry of Disability was removed due to restructuring of government, and disability was instead placed under the Ministery of Gender.
What do you see as the main challenges for persons with disabilities in Malawi today?
I think education is key. Most of the persons with disabilities are not educated. Some do get access to education but then it is because their parents make a great effort for them. The large majority of them are not educated, and as a result they are ignorant of their rights. Education is the master key to unlock all other rights. Another important issue is employment. Most of the people that have had education are back in the street due to lack of employment. Many of the disabled persons that you see begging in the street are educated, but have not been able to gain employment. I appreciate this workshop because it lets us see how the different articles in the UNCRPD are connected to what the government should do. There is legal support for the rights of persons with disabilities but a lot needs to be done by both government and the people on the ground so that they can claim their rights – again, education is the key.
What do you think about this workshop and what expectations do you have for the outcome of the workshop?
I think it is long overdue and something like this should have been done many years ago. I have travelled in many countries within Africa and throughout the rest of the world and have seen – for instance – in Zambia, some years back they had a national plan of action in place. I believe that they still have it. And I have been longing to have such a plan of action in Malawi. Otherwise we risk getting piece meal things from the government today, but then what will we get tomorrow? With a plan of action I am expecting that government will respect the rights of persons with disabilities. With a plan of action, the government will understand that the rights of persons with disabilities are human and development rights. Then things can really change in Malawi. That is my expectation.