Youth activists have raised concern over the exclusion and discrimination of people with disabilities (PWDs) from actively participating in decision making processes while calling for all citizens to join in the disability inclusion movement.
This call to action was discussed during an online engagement on ‘Promoting the inclusion of PWDs in Societal Issues through community enlightenment conducted by Quadriplegic and Paraplegic Association of Zimbabwe (QUAPAZ) in partnership with the Federation of Organizations of Disabled People in Zimbabwe (FODPZ).
A young disability activist from Kwekwe, Noreen Mapfidza said inclusive development is premised on leaving no one behind.
“Community development and policy formulation should carry everyone on board including PWDs for implementation to be effective. PWDs should be consulted of their special needs to advise government’s and other stakeholders’ response in service provision. In theory public policy and institutional systems have disability inclusion in mind but the outcome of the reality on the ground is different. PWDs inclusion should not be out of empathy but on the basis of promoting equality and non-discrimination as stated in Section 56 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” Mapfidza said.
Mapfidza also recommended the need for capacity building on the capabilities of PWDs to remove the taboo tag that limits participation of PWDs in public or civic processes in our society.
“I was once approached by a stakeholder in a health meeting that was conducted in my community to ask why and how I had attended the meeting considering every one of the participants was able-bodied. I had to stand my ground and fight for my right to be equally there to raise concerns of the constituency I represent. This experience is just a tip of the iceberg but most PWDs are falling behind due to being excluded and this would result in a society were inclusive development is an illusion,” she said.
Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Young Women’s Forum Chairperson, Grace Mazambani said the normalization of speaking for or on behalf of PWDs should be addressed and rectified as disability does not translate to inability.
“PWDs can still think for themselves and do what any able bodied can do. Young women and men should be involved whenever decisions are being made, development of communities is being done and policies are being formulated,” Mazambani said.
Speaking from a young woman’s perspective, Mazambani said the high percentage of youths including youth with disabilities in the total population of our country should relate to the representation in decision making at multiple levels.
“We constitute over 60% of the total population but the figures in turn do not relate to youth representation in decision making processes and positions. It is then our duty to change the narrative and if there is a paradigm shift, YWDs would begin to participate effectively. This would demystify myths and cultural norms that discriminate against PWDs so they can become leaders of today and the future. Youths with disabilities require to be nurtured now to stand up for themselves and demand their space,” said Mazambani.
The National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (NANGO) Regional Coordinator for Midlands Province, Taitos Mangoma said PWDs should have equal access and opportunities that are key in getting rid of discrimination and intolerance as it affects all aspects of public life.
“The constitution and its founding values protects and furthers the rights of PWDs but in our society, stigma and discrimination of PWDs is a social construction. To add, budgetary constraints are one other area that needs to be addressed by government so as to allow a disability desk across all public offices considering we have a population of over 1.5 million PWDs.
“PWDs had limited access to cushioning funds in the form of “Social Safefy Nets” during the Covid-19 induced lockdowns. We never saw them participating in Covid-19 taskforce structures to contribute towards disaster response or being consulted in implementation of the inclusive education system and to date, most learning institutions are not disability friendly. When the voice of PWDs is absent in decision making, definitely we cannot achieve the Global Goals as we are leaving them behind,” Said Mangoma.
QUAPAZ Midlands Provincial Coordinator, Audrey Rusike said PWDs seek to collectively address their grievances most particularly as the country is in preparatory mode ahead of the 2023 elections.
“Currently our government in partnership with various stakeholders are pre-occupied by the voter-registration exercise and voter education drive and that is where us as PWDs must collectively speak out and demand our space in decision making processes. Across the whole country, representation of PWDs is very low therefore the need to continue fighting for our recognition in such critical processes,” Rusike said.
Nozipho Rutsate is a community development journalists and communications expert currently working at the Quadriplegic and Paraplegic Association of Zimbabwe. She writes in her personal capacity.