Zambia is one of the prominent and outstanding countries that have committed to respect and fulfil the rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities. This is demonstrated through the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities just within two years from the time it came into force in 2008.
After the ratification of the Convention, the country went on to domesticate it through the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2012. The National Policy on Disability was also developed to guide the implementation of disability inclusive programmes. Furthermore, the government went further to enact the Mental Health Act of 2019 which partially adopts some of the principles of the CRPD to advance the delivery of mental health services with the human rights perspective with the recognition of the rights of persons with psycho-social disabilities.
It is essential that these efforts to promote disability inclusion in Zambia should be appreciated and recognised. On the other hand, the actual and practical aspects of effective disability inclusion whereas the welfare and livelihoods of persons with disabilities are seen to improve towards a status of socioeconomic parity with the rest of the average Zambians are yet to bear desired fruits. This is all the reason why the Government of the Republic of Zambia should scale up its efforts to embrace disability inclusion by signing up to the Global Disability Summit of 2022 with specific and deliverable Commitments.
The Global Disability Summit 2022 (GDS 22) will run from the 15th to 17th February, 2022 in Oslo, Norway.
It should be noted that the GDS is part of the global efforts to actualise the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Therefore, the Summit will mobilise efforts for the implementation of the CRPD. The Summit will also strengthen the realisation of the principle of leaving no one behind and on building back better and more inclusively post-pandemic.
This is a great opportunity for the government to sign up to the Summit and make specific Commitments on its promise to implement the CRPD. The Commitments the government will make will also directly reflect its thematic proposition on the implementation of its national development framework of leaving no one behind. The Commitments will further strengthen the government drive on building back better and more inclusively post-pandemic. Therefore signing up to the GDS 22 with ambitious Commitments is a reasonable stride towards disability inclusion in Zambia.
The opportunity is now for the Government of the Republic of Zambia. Why? Zambia is in a “political new dawn” period which is based on building on stronger democratic principles, inclusion and leaving no one behind. The new dawn is all about the political sunrise being driven by the administration of the United Party for National Development (UNDP) whose entry to an equal Zambia is premised on an inclusion agenda.
In our perspective as Disability Rights Watch (DRW) inclusion is no inclusion at all without the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities must be an unnegotiable integral part of national development. This calls for visible disability inclusion.
But what is disability inclusion? Many institutions, including government usually, unknowingly, misinterpret disability to mean the presence of persons with disabilities in a place, programme or service whether they are playing a meaningful role or not. DRW interprets disability inclusion as a series of practical steps and measures taken by the government to create a more accessible physical environment and to adopt and effect adequate policies and practices that will allow the free and effective participation of all persons with disabilities in day-to-day socially and economically life roles and responsibilities. This demands for positive attitudes among the society, especially those individuals allowed to hold public and political office. In the Zambian setting, disability inclusion means the full and effective participation of all persons with disabilities in all the social and economic sector activities like education, social protection, health, employment, sports and culture without any form of discrimination. It also includes being actively involved in family life including making free choices in relationships and marriage. The government should cement its practical interpretation of disability inclusion on this thinking as it draws up its Commitments towards a disability inclusive Zambia.
So, which specific thematic areas should the government commit itself to at the GDS22 as it collaborates with organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) in Zambia? The Government of the Republic of Zambia does not require a long ‘fishing hook’ to clarify what specific thematic sectors it should draw its GDS22 Commitments on. It already holds commitments in its previous and current National Development Plans and policies. So, it is not about re-thinking and re-creating a new will. The will already exists.
The clear Commitments are around inclusive education, inclusive employment and livelihood, access to health, science and technology, climate change and humanitarian action. The government is already carrying strong commitment on gender equality with much focus on girls and women. In all these thematic sectors, the government should have a huge Commitment to engage persons with disabilities through their representative organisations through transparent and effective consultations in all matters of development and in all aspects of life. This is the master key to creating a disability inclusive Zambia! A disability inclusive Zambia will contribute to creating a more equal world. An equal world is a world for all! It is not only about persons with disabilities.
The Government of the Republic of Zambia and persons with disabilities now are in grip of this great opportunity to making Zambia a true inclusive democracy. This will be reflected in the leadership the government will take at the GDS22 through the making of more ambitious and deliverable Commitments with persons with disabilities in the forefront of inclusive development. The government should be clear on the strong inclusion of girls and women with disabilities throughout the development process of making of the GDS22 Commitments. Usually left-out groups of persons with disabilities like children with disabilities, persons with mental and intellectual disabilities; persons with albinism, deaf-blindness, autism, multiple disabilities should actively be involved and their voices heard and taken into consideration for the GDS22 Commitments. Then, we shall be heading towards creating a real disability inclusive Zambia. A real equal world.
The implementation of the CRPD is critical for creating a more disability inclusive Zambia. Zambia strides to be a more dignified country. A dignified Zambia stands for the respect of inherent dignity for all! The respect for inherent dignity for all means the respect for inherent dignity for all persons with disabilities. Therefore Zambia believes in inclusive dignity! Inclusive dignity creates a highly dignified disability inclusive Zambia. The government commits itself to create a more disability inclusive Zambia. Only then shall the people of Zambia will stand and sing of Zambia proud and free. Only then shall all persons with disabilities feel included in the “One Zambia: One Nation: slogan of dignity and real humanity! A disability inclusive Zambia is for TODAY!
Disability Rights Watch
13th January, 2022.