Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) recently conducted a meeting with persons with disabilities (PWDs) from Gweru to raise awareness on the delimitation process ahead of the 2023 elections by sharing findings of a research carried out to assess the disability inclusion status in our communities.
The Disability Inclusion Research Report was launched beginning of September, of this year (2021) emphasizing the church’s mandate to be at the forefront of addressing exclusion of PWDs including influencing community to appreciate that disability does not translate to inability.
“The ZCC believes in self-representation of PWDs and has thus far worked tirelessly to ensure that their voice and issues are heard and addressed during and beyond the Covid-19 era. ZCC envisages that the research findings will support the advocacy role of the church and inform the representative function of umbrella bodies for organizations for persons with disabilities,” read the foreword statement issued by Reverand Dr Kenneth Mtata.
Programs specialist for ZCC and legal practitioner, Tariro Senderayi said the engagement was purposefully done for PWDs to have an opportunity to interact with findings of the research to evaluate disability inclusion status albeit the obligations of various stakeholders from state actors or public sector and non-state actors or private sector.
“Some of the key findings include a general acknowledgement that at some point, people may find themselves with a disability which is unplanned for. Another finding is related to how private sector is failing to employ PWDs yet they are the biggest employer in the country. The church recommends that private sector be motivated to promote an inclusive environment and government could consider giving incentives such as tax vacations to companies that would have 15% of their workforce as PWDs,” Senderayi said.
Senderayi said through this research, the church raises concerns over the role various stakeholders should be or are playing to promote disability inclusion in their service delivery.
“The research evaluates how our local authorities are implementing by-laws that are inclusive in terms of enforcing construction of disability-friendly infrastructure and allocation of housing stands for PWDs. It also addresses how institutions have made their service delivery accessible to PWDs such as having sign language interpreters at the police stations or government hospitals. It also questions government’s commitment to promote an inclusive service delivery system.
“Besides holding the government and other stakeholders to account in terms of providing for user-friendly infrastructures, we also inquired if our policy makers and public officials are advocating for disability friendly policies when in parliament. Are the public officials in their own capacity deliberately having focused or nuanced discussions around disability inclusion?” questioned Senderayi.
Senderayi said the study findings make it clear that the major setback to the advancement of disability inclusion in our country is stigma and discrimination at all levels of society.
“Key sectors of our society have not yet meaningfully transformed their policies and practices to promote disability inclusion thereby significantly excluding PWDs from key sectors, accessing services and participating in processes in society, most importantly decision making processes,” she said.
PWDs present at the meeting voiced grievances related to their general inclusion in multiple processes and Provincial Midlands Coordinator for Quadriplegics and Paraplegics Association of Zimbabwe (QUAPAZ), Audry Rusike expressed need to strengthen advocacy to align the Disabled Persons Act [Chapter 17:01] to the new disability policy.
“As long as the Act still exists, the government is not obliged to renovate their buildings to be disability friendly as most have staircases without ramps. However, the disability policy is our advocacy tool to hold our government and service providers accountable in the implementation of disability inclusion,” she said.
A disability activist and representative of the visually impaired community, Belinda Msesengwe said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is a key stakeholder that should ensure equal representation of PWDs in voter registration, delimitation and electoral processes.
“ZEC should employ PWDs that will best represent the needs of our constituency to ensure full and active participation. As the visually impaired, we need braille voting material to allow our vote to be confidential. To add, we need accessible polling stations and an opportunity to also vote for our own representatives in parliament. Two senators are not even adequate as we have the right to have a whole disability quota,” said Msesengwe.
Speaking on the sidelines of this meeting, Disability senator Watson Khupe said increasing numbers in the disabled population should resonate with number of people representing them. He said, “PWDs require to be at the center of all these critical decision making processes to ensure their full involvement”.
PWDs await census to be conducted in 2022 as they believe that statistics gathered would be important in informing the delimitation process.
Senderayi emphasized on the role and mandate of ZEC in which the commission is a product of the constitution which is also a product of the aspirations of the citizens that in turn is responsible to report back to the people.
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.