Zambia Deaf Youth and Women releases statment for International Women's Day

March 7, 2012
Source: Zambia Deaf Youth and Women

As Women around the world celebrate commemoration of International Women Day ZDYW wish to add the voice on challenges facing women with disabilities in Zambia. It cannot be misinterpreted that women with disabilities participation would be meaningless in as far as social, legal, economic and political environment barriers are not addressed by these who hold political power to govern our national.

It is widely acknowledged that, regardless of where in the world they live, women with disabilities are one of the most marginalised, neglected, violated, excluded and isolated groups in society. Women with disabilities suffer manifold discrimination – female, poor and disabled – compounded further by intersections of race and culture. Women with disabilities remain invisible and voiceless, ignored by national policies and laws. Their issues and needs are neglected in policy developments as well as in legislation. They are even excluded from social movements designed to advance the position of women and the position of people with disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities are the most vulnerable and the least protected.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities states unambiguously that the World’s governments have a duty take all appropriate measures to oppose and prevent all kinds of discrimination against girls and women with disabilities. The Convention was signed by more than 80 states on 30. March 2007.   

Discrimination against women still thrives within Zambian society. The discrimination against women with disabilities is even more profound. Most disabled women in our society remain hidden and silent, their concerns are unknown and their rights are overlooked. They continue to live under the double burden of being disabled and female. Prejudice prevails making disabled women one of the most marginalised groups in our society.

Discrimination affects all aspects of life, including education, employment, economic status, marriage and family relations, health care, and health and human services. Even when women with disabilities do find work, it is usually low-paid, of little or no status, and under poor working conditions. In the absence of well coordinated Zambian government policies aimed at integrating disabled people in mainstream activities, disabled women live under extremely difficult conditions. Not only are they women but most of them are in the rural areas. Discrimination deprives disabled women of vital life experiences, and therefore of equal opportunities. 

It is known that investing in the education and training of women with disabilities and promoting opportunities for their employment is sound economic and social policy. Gainfully employed women with disabilities contribute actively to the economy, but the reality in Zambia is still far from even moving towards this perspective.

Women with disabilities have negative experiences of participating in activities where they have not felt respected or have even felt humiliated. Such experiences have created distrust of the civil society and what it can offer. This reality has therefore led to a situation of “self-chosen isolation”. In general, girls with disabilities grow up in their families with the burden of a stigma: “Do not expect anything from them.” The perception that a disabled woman are inferior and of little value contributes greatly to their lack of self-esteem. Unfortunately the complexity of the political situation adds a great obstacle for the ability for women with disabilities to move around. Families tend to take that as an excuse to keep them home where it is safe and comfortable. This makes it very difficult for disabled women to take on paid work outside the home. Other major factors include the negative social attitudes and disabled women’s lack of awareness of their rights. This leads to inadequate communication skills and self-reflection which leads to negligence, isolation and lack of assistance. Lack of accessibility limits disabled women’s access to information and proper medical care.

In Zambian communities there is a clear tendency of preference for men over women. Women with disabilities are placed at an even lower level when it comes to roles and decisions within the families. 

 The majority of women with disabilities are deprived of proper training opportunities and depend on their families for financial stability. Education levels and literacy rates of women with disabilities tend to be lower than those of men with disabilities. Education and training are the keys to the advancement of women and girls with disabilities. Furthermore, they enable women with disability to communicate their needs, interests and experiences, bring them into contact with other students, increase their self-confidence and encourage them to assert their rights. And without basic skills, their chances for employment are almost absent.

I believe that women with disabilities must become visible participants on the arena of planning and formulating policies and programmes of poverty alleviation and development. The issue of Zambian women with disabilities should be tackled within the overall framework of women’s development in the country. Mainstreaming of women with disabilities into education, training and employment should be a priority action. Public awareness of the capabilities and dignity of women with disabilities should be boosted and their social integration should be promoted.

Women with disabilities have immense potential which remains untapped. This potential can be put to productive and profitable use to benefit the family, the society and the country. It is said that a nation’s development is also measured by the ease with which it integrates the disabled into the mainstream society. As a criteria of development, the issue of considering the disabled as a neglected but extremely important sub-group of the population merits immediate and continuous attention. Enhancing social security by building, improving and extending systems of social protection in Zambia is an important contribution to poverty reduction for women with disabilities. It is time now to move towards the rights-based approach when defining disability and setting up policies. It is known that most of the past and current policies in Zambia are guided by a medical and charitable approach to disability, which focuses on few benefits.

Finally, I believe that “equality” should recognize equality of opportunity and of outcomes. This requires that any relevant restrictions or limitations that are caused directly or indirectly by a disability or the intersection of disability with gender, poverty, race, caste and/or class should be remedied by appropriate modifications, adjustments or assistance. This requires affirmative action, reasonable accommodation and special measures. The term "access" is not an act or state, but a liberty to enter, to approach, to communicate with, to pass to or from or make use of physical, environmental and societal structures, systems and processes regardless of type and degree of disability, gender or age.

About the writer: Musukwa Frank is trained Teacher, Disability Right Activist, the Executive Director of the Zambia Deaf Youth and Women and the National Coordinator- African Youth with Disabilities Networking Zambia Chapter. He lives in the Kitwe, Copperbelt Province of Zambia. To find out more about his work, you can reach him at zambiadeafyw@ zambia.co.zm/ Skype: frank.musukwa: phone: +260977 866 459  (SMS ONLY)