Human rights

Disability and human rights | Sunday mail

Sunday mail

Disability issues

Dr Christine Peta

IN this article I unpack the human rights approach which is the last of three models that form part of the conceptual framework within which the National Disability Policy (2021), which was launched by President Mnangagwa on June 9 of this year, is founded.

The Ministry of Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare, headed by Professor Paul Mavima, oversees the implementation of the national disability policy, thus using the three lenses of the policy (the social model of disability, the intersectional model and human rights approach) to push forward the national disability agenda.

The social model of disability and the intersectional model have already been explained under this heading, in previous articles in this series. Therefore, in this article, I unpack the human rights model which is the third and final approach on which the National Disability Policy (2021) is based.

So what are human rights?

Zimbabwe’s National Disability Policy (2021) states that human rights are inherent rights of all human beings, regardless of age, disability, race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language , their religion or any other status. This means that all people, including people with disabilities, have human rights because they are simply human beings.

People with disabilities and people without disabilities are part of the same society and have the same rights and obligations. Human rights therefore cannot be given from one person to another, because people are born with their human rights.

Human rights are numerous and include the right to life and liberty, the right not to be subjected to slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right at work and education. Everyone has the right to these rights, without discrimination. In the human rights approach, people with disabilities are seen as rights holders and not sick and passive (medical model) or good-for-nothing who should simply wait to receive donations from supporters (charity model).

In a disability context, the human rights approach guides the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by people with disabilities as well as the promotion and respect of their inherent dignity.
The approach also focuses on equal opportunities, non-discrimination on the basis of disability as well as the active and meaningful participation of people with disabilities in society.

Some people think that the rights of people with disabilities are special rights, yet they are basic human rights that are similar to the rights of everyone else on the basis that we are all human beings.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that people with disabilities around the world often face marginalization, discrimination and barriers that prevent them from participating in society on an equal basis with the others.

For example, people with disabilities are often denied the right to be included in the general school system and in the workplace, to live independently in the community, to vote, to participate in sports and cultural activities, to benefit from social protection, access to justice, choose medical treatment and freely enter into legal commitments such as the purchase and sale of real estate.

Research in Zimbabwe has found that some people believe that by giving food and drink to severely disabled children they are doing them a favor, but like everyone else, severely disabled children have the right to life, hence their basic survival needs must be met, regardless of disability.

Some parents who give birth to severely disabled children deny children to eat and drink, in an attempt to hasten the death of children, alongside the fallacious belief that their lives will be nothing on the basis of disability. Such practices constitute a serious violation of the right to life of children with severe disabilities.

Another example of the violation of the rights of persons with disabilities concerns women and girls with disabilities who may undergo forced sterilization at the instigation of family members. While, like any other woman or girl, women with disabilities may experience medical problems such as diseases of the biological reproductive system, which may require sterilization, such procedures should always be undertaken with the informed consent of those concerned.

Some people “fear” that if disabled family members start having biological children, the offspring will be an additional burden on the family. Yet, following a human rights approach and as clearly stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2002) and Zimbabwe’s National Disability Policy (2021), persons with disabilities have the right to to have their own families and to decide on the number and spacing of their own children.

Forced sterilization is therefore a serious violation of the reproductive rights of women and girls with disabilities. Although family members may change their mind later, forced sterilization of women and girls with disabilities is not a reversible medical procedure. More so, the procedure has serious physical, psychological and social consequences.

Go forward

We all need to understand that the rights of persons with disabilities are not special rights, but that they are basic human rights which are similar to the rights of everyone else since we are all human beings. We must therefore work together to promote, protect and respect the rights of people with disabilities, thus avoiding violating the rights of people with disabilities.

As stated in the National Policy on Disability, disability is a cross-cutting interdisciplinary issue, so in everything we do in all sectors we must take into account the rights of people with disabilities, including on issues of access to buildings, roads, transport and utilities. such as schools, housing, hospitals, clinics and workplaces.

We must also take into account the rights of people with disabilities when working on issues relating to access to information, communication and other services such as the Internet and emergency services, public services that include health and education and public institutions such as the judiciary. Other public activities that include voting and advocacy.

Other issues include employment, housing, food, community support, and assistive devices and many other issues that I haven’t mentioned in this article. The bottom line is that “disability is everywhere and disability is everywhere”, hence, as the Zimbabwe National Disability Policy (2021) states, mainstreaming the rights of people with disabilities in all sectors is an issue that requires special attention.

Dr Christine Peta is an expert on disability, policy, international development and research who is the National Director of Disability Affairs in Zimbabwe. She can be contacted at: [email protected]