Speech by the UN Resident Coordinator on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is commemorated annually on 3 December around the world.

The theme for this year’s International Day is Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want. This theme notes the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role of these goals in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.

This year’s objectives include assessing the current status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and SDGs and laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons with disabilities.

When the world in 2015 signed up to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, it committed to eradicate extreme poverty and promote human dignity while leaving no-one behind and reaching the furthest behind first. No matter the human rights or economic situation in a country, persons with disabilities are always the last in line, whether in going to school, getting a job, voting, or obtaining health care. Within this group, persons with albinism are identified as being left furthest behind, as underlined by the surge in attacks against persons with albinism in 2015 and 2016.  In addition, women and girls with disabilities are also subject to multiple forms of discrimination.

At its core, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Malawi ratified in 2009 underlines that persons with disabilities enjoy the same human rights as everyone else, and are able to lead their lives as fully-fledged citizens who can make valuable contributions to society if given the same opportunities as others.  The Convention explicitly states that discriminatory practices against persons with disabilities are no longer permissible.  It places obligations on the State to combat discrimination and to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

The Convention marks, in many ways, a shift towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights who are capable of making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent.  Persons with disabilities, include persons with physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments,as active members of society, from whom persons without disabilities can learn and develop.  In this way, the problem to be fixed is not any particular impairment or condition-of-being but rather the surrounding, often unwelcoming, environment which reduces the ability of persons with disability to participate in society.

Underlying principles of the Convention include respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy and human diversity, non-discrimination and equality, participation and inclusion in society, accessibility, respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities.

Ensuring access to education for persons with disabilities is key to lifting them out of poverty. Aside from eradicating physical barriers, for persons with disabilities, inclusive education seeks to ensure that the general education system has the necessary capacity to incorporate people from diverse backgrounds including persons with disabilities.  Inclusive education is not simply a question of mixing students from different backgrounds within the general education system (which might be termed integrated education). It is also about incorporating those differences within the education system.

Implementation of the Disabilities Act (2012) and the Disability Policy (2006) is key to the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in Malawi. This in turn requires raising the budget allocation for the Ministry of Gender, Children Disability and Social Welfare, which for 2015-2016 was less than 0.36% of the national budget.

In conclusion, we need to increase awareness around the rights of persons with disabilities and improve our knowledge of the challenges facing persons with disabilities – including through gathering disaggregated data.  Together with persons with disabilities, we can move Malawi forward, leaving no one behind, by breaking barriers of discrimination and exclusion and opening doors of opportunity for all persons with disabilities, valuing diversity and inclusion. Together, let us build an inclusive society for all.