MPs urged to do more on disability

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Moses Magadza

Windhoek-A call has been made for the SADC Parliamentary Forum to work closely with organisations that represent people living with disabilities so that members of parliament fully appreciate the plight of disabled people and be part of the solution.
Phillimon Simwaba, the Executive Director of Disability, HIV and AIDS Trust (DHAT), made the call when he visited the SADC PF Secretariat in Windhoek, Namibia on Tuesday.

The SADC PF is a regional deliberative body that brings together 14 national parliaments and approximately 3 000 lawmakers from the SADC region.
During a meeting with senior managers at SADC PF, Simwaba said such a collaboration would enable the region’s lawmakers to better appreciate disability, which affects approximately 15% of the world’s population or about one billion people, according to the World Bank and other authoritative sources.

Simwaba explained that DHAT focuses on advocacy and inclusion of people with disabilities in all social sectors.

“We consider SADC PF as an anchor, given that it deals with regional policies including regional integration,” he said. He said there were many issues on which SADC PF and DHAT could collaborate and gave the example of health, particularly HIV and AIDS.

“Together we can look at available health policies to see how they respond to the needs of people with disabilities. We can lobby members of parliament to understand disability from an attitudinal point of view. Many parliamentarians have no clue about disability despite the fact that some parliaments have disabled MPs,” stated Simwamba.

Noting that many programmes to support disabled people were hamstrung by lack of sufficient funding, Simwaba said there was a need to build the capacity of MPs to consider the needs of people with disabilities when they pass national budgets.

“This is a big challenge. There are some governments that budget for people with disabilities. These governments include Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Others do not budget with disabled people in mind at all, while others budget very little.”

He suggested that to respond to a serious dearth of disaggregated data for disabled people in the SADC region, his organisation and SADC PF could spearhead a mapping exercise to generate up-to-date information related to disability.
“We did mapping in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The outcome of that mapping informed us on issues obtaining in those countries, but we need to do more,” noted Simwamba.

Turning to political participation, Simwaba said his organisation advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities as elected or appointed members of parliament.
He said there were far too few disabled MPs in SADC and called for innovative ways of increasing the participation of disabled people as lawmakers.

“Is it possible that our governments can – like what happens in Uganda – reserve some seats for disabled people through a quota system of some sort of affirmative action? In Zimbabwe that has happened. We have two disabled MPs in parliament,” he said.
Namibia has a full cabinet minister representing people with disabilities.

“We think we can work together to ensure that disabled people become part of decision-making processes at the level of parliamentarians so that issues affecting disabled people are better articulated.”

Simwaba said many disabled people were engaged in trade or business at different levels. There was, therefore, need to bring them together so that they exchange ideas and access loans from financial institutions.

“Without collateral security, many disabled people cannot access loans and in terms of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), people with disabilities struggle to access age-appropriate information.”

He gave the example of blind people and said the fact that SRHR information was not in Braille increased their vulnerability.
“Health alerts should be in Braille, pictorial form or in large print to cater for the blind, visually impaired and the deaf.”

He said as the world responds to the HIV and AIDS epidemic there was a high prevalence of HIV among people with disabilities especially the deaf, who lack appropriate information. “Many deaf people do not go very far with school. When they drop out, their only way of survival – especially girls – is by going into sexual activities.”

According to Simwaba, many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) claim to work with disabled people yet have nothing to show in this regard. His view is that SADC MPs could monitor and evaluate programmes set up ostensibly to empower disabled people.
Boemo Sekgoma, the Director of Programmes at SADC PF represented the SADC PF Secretary General Dr Esau Chiviya during the meeting with Simwaba. She concurred that there was a lot that the two organisations could do together to respond to the needs of disabled people.

“In the interim we can look at how we can mainstream issues of disability in the work that we do with members of parliament to increase awareness,” she stated.
She suggested that DHAT and SADC PF could develop fact sheets for use by MPs.

“Our view is that no one should be left behind. We have various standing committees and we can look at disability from the perspective of the work that these standing committees do.”

• Moses Magadza is Communications and Advocacy Specialist at SADC PF.

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