Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
It often feels as if advocates for different groups are trying to out-do each other in order to claim that their group is the most marginalised. But new research on disability rights in southern Africa should end the argument once and for all – the most marginalised people are people with disabilities.
Back in 2010, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) – in partnership with Open Society Foundations’ Disability Rights Initiative and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa – undertook a research project into disability rights in nine countries in southern Africa to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the state of disability in the region.
The final reports have just been released and the findings make for depressing reading.
As the research shows, people living with disabilities (PWD) are the most marginalised people in a region where life is already difficult for the majority of the population. PWD have the highest rates of poverty, deprivation, malnutrition, ill-health and child mortality – and have been worst affected by the deteriorating conditions across the region.
In all countries, the rights of PWD are not given any priority by their governments. Usually, any ministry dealing with disability also has to address other marginalised groups such as women and children, so disability rights and the protection of PWD receive minimal state funding and focus.
Most of the organisations and individuals interviewed during the research had to conduct their activities and advocacy work on an extremely tight budget – in most cases with little or no state support. In depth country interviews showed that the continued survival of disability rights organisations was one of their greatest challenges.
Yet despite all the hardships faced by the disability community, remarkable work is taking place – work that is highlighted in a separate publication containing the country-specific reports.
Both reports include a variety of recommendations that would advance disability rights work in the specific countries and the region as a whole – and provide valuable information that OSISA and its OSF partners will utilise to support the protection and promotion of the rights of PWD in southern Africa.
While there are a host of general and specific recommendations, some of the most important are:
If the rights of PWDs are ever to be taken seriously, programmes that involve the whole of society will have to be undertaken (possibly with the help of television and radio) to counteract these false stereotypes. These campaigns could follow in the footsteps of others used to break down prejudice and misinformation, like racial and gender discrimination and the stigma related to HIV and AIDS.
Whether sufficient political will and public resources can be found to accomplish these purposes is questionable, but the cause of the disability movement must continue to be advocated for until some ground is gained.
People with disabilities and disability issues are severely neglected in most countries in southern Africa, and most of the DPOs appear to be ineffective. Therefore, it is time for disability activists to look for new ideas and fresh inspiration, which should, at the very least, include innovative ways to persuade governments and donors to try out new approaches and pilot projects.