People with disabilities have urged the government to look at disability as a developmental issue rather than as a disease since it is classified as a non-communicable disease in the National Health Strategy.
Analyzing the National Health Strategy (2016-2020), Deaf Women Included said the government must start refocusing its stance on disabilities.
Samantha Sibanda, founder of Science of Hope said there is a misconception that people with disabilities suffer from a form of illness.
“The current strategy is viewing us as sick people who need rehabilitation which is wrong. As we are speaking, they are concluding the next strategy of which it’s supposed to be a participative and consultative process involving our contributions but no one has come to us,” said Sibanda.
She said if key stakeholders are educated on disabilities, they will realise that not all people with disabilities need rehabilitation as is currently perceived.
According to UNESCO, PWDs are a key constituency in Zimbabwe and are estimated to make up 7% of the population, however, they remain invisible in all levels of society and face numerous challenges in accessing healthcare, jobs, education, and justice.
“For the budget consultation, they said they need to empower women and girls but when it comes to disability, they just decide on a figure to give us as if we are a charity case yet we have different needs and we must be consulted on our empowerment too.
“This is why we have companies and banks always donating food and clothing to us. They just consider us as charity. Why not give us loans if they care about our welfare that much?” said Sibanda.
Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination due to their marginalized gender.
According to UN Women, one in five women in Zimbabwe live with disabilities but the figure may be much higher.
PWDs are still facing difficulties in accessing health services since the clinics and hospitals do not have people who sign or translators.
Director of Deaf Women Included, Agnes Chindimba emphasised the need to come up with empowerment programs for PWDs.
“My ears don’t have any disease, I’m impaired. I don’t need charity, I need to be empowered.
“When people see a person with a disability who is pregnant they ask very stupid questions like ‘did you have sex?’ Obvious I had sex. I’m also human. People tend to see the disability first before reflecting that I’m also human and I have the same needs as everyone else,” said Chindimba.
Physical access to healthcare facilities is also a critical issue as many are not equipped with ramps or assistive communication devices such as braille signs; as a result, disabled women and girls face numerous difficulties in receiving proper services.
Communities play a key role in perpetuating the discrimination and stigma; hence, the fear and shame surrounding disability propels parents to leave their children in solitary thereby segregating them from other children and the wider community.
This form of protective abuse increases the likelihood of sexual violence and solidifies their invisibility in public sectors especially within the SRH and justice domains.