|Sustainable Development and Persons with Disabilities: The Process of Self-Empowerment (ADF, 1995, 117 p.)|
|Section I: Understanding and perception|
|Chapter 3: The enabling environment: SAPs, development and disability|
The "Internal" and the "External"
We ended the last chapter by talking about the centrality of the inner self, as opposed to an outside provider, as the primary basis for change. You are first and foremost your own redeemer.
First and foremost, for sure. But that implies that there are other, secondary, factors that can help too. Sometimes with the best will in the world, the environment is too harsh for the inner potential to realize itself. The egg. to get back to the old example, will not hatch if it does not get the warmth of mother hen. So whilst the "internal" force is the primary cause of change, the "external" environment, though secondary, is also important. That is the relevance of the "enabling environment," and what this chapter is about.
Barriers to "Enabling Environment"
In the previous chapter we talked about the "barriers" to integration. We identified the following barriers.
· Lack of self-esteem on the part of the disabled people themselves.
· Negative social attitude.
· Lack of opportunities, e.g. to jobs, education.
· Lack of access to resources, e.g. finance, equipment.
· Infrastructural and architectural barriers.
· Legal barriers and government policy and practice.
Thus, when we talk about the enabling environment we refer to the conditions, or circumstances, that must be created to enable PWDs to overcome these barriers. The question is: WHO should create this enabling environment? Who should act as mother hen? Who should provide the right warmth and moisture for the inner self to realise its potential?
The PWDs themselves
Families and Communities in which PWDs live
Who should create the enabling environment?
We call them "stakeholders" - people or agencies who have a stake, or interest, in the matter. We identified some of these in chapter two. Once again we put them in a continuum with the two key stakeholders - namely, the PWDs themselves and the Government - at the two extremes of the continuum.
The PWDs themselves are the principal stakeholders. If they do not struggle for their own rights, nobody else will create the enabling environment for them. In other chapters we shall talk about roles that can be played by the communities in which PWDs live, the NGOs and the donor agencies. Here we shall focus on the government, for if we asked ordinary people the question: "Who is principally responsible for creating an enabling environment for development?" the most likely answer would be: "The government. We voted them into power, and now it is up to them to provide us with the resources for development."
The Role of Government
Is the above assessment by ordinary people on the role of government right or wrong? Right, because the government is the highest expression of our collective will. We expect it to perform, to do something about "development." Wrong, because the governments in our third world countries are themselves hostages to more powerful forces outside of our nation-states. These forces (symbolically represented these days by the World Bank and the IMF, although that is a simplified version of a more complex truth) more or less dictate to our governments what they should do. We in Africa have won our "political independence", but not yet "economic independence." The first black head of state of independent Africa, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, used to talk about "neo-colonialism." He was right. He still is.
How much can be expected from governments?
Frankly, do not expect too much from our governments. They make promises to people in the heat of a political race for votes, but they can only partially fulfil these promises. Many of them are in budgetary crisis, and are busy borrowing from the domestic and international money markets and from "donors." Of course, corruption diverts some of these resources to private pockets. But even without it, there just would not be enough to meet the demands of everybody for education, health, housing, jobs, and a decent standard of living. In fact, there are more poor today than 10 or 20 years ago.
Above all, most African governments today are implementing World Bank designed Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which, among other things, have forced governments to reduce on social expenditure, such as education and health. Other effects of SAN are increased retrenchment of employees from both the private and public sectors, de valuation of the currency, and liberalisation of the market. All these measures are based on the assumption that African economics will become lean and competitive in the world market. That remains to be seen. In the short run, however, all evidence indicates that the SAPs have increased the marginalisation and impoverishment of large numbers of people in Africa. [At the end of this chapter, we give the example of Zambia's experience with a Structural Adjustment Programme.]
Why are we painting such a bleak picture? Because of three reasons:
One is to bring a sense of realism in what to expect from our governments.
Second, to remind ourselves that we must as far as possible stand on our own feet, mobilising whatever resources we have from our own means.
And thirdly, to encourage looking at things beyond our own selves. We have to join with all those forces that are looking for alternative development models to the one under which the bulk of humanity is getting impoverished daily.
Having said this, we cannot let governments off the hook. We must continue pressing our just demands. And what are these? These are, to put them rather schematically:
· Right to information,
· Equal rights to social welfare: e.g. jobs, education and health care;
· Right to participate in policy making;
· Equal access to resources for development: such as land, raw materials, skills, and appropriate tools and equipment;
· Accessible buildings and public facilities.
The government can facilitate an enabling environment by equalizing opportunities to the PWDs in respect of the above. There is the question of whether the PWDs deserve a "better than equal" opportunities on account of their disabilities. This is the issue of what is known as "affirmative action," but to this we shall return in a moment. Let us first elaborate on each of the above demands.
Right to information
This is vital. Without information it is difficult to realise all the other rights, such as the right to participate in national affairs in general with the rest of the community.
The PWDs need ready access to the various channels of information - both public (such as the radio, the television, newspapers, access to parliament, etc.) and private (such as company reports). This information should be in the language the PWDs can understand, including braille and the sign language.
Right to social welfare: e.g. jobs, education and health care
As indicated above, governments have been forced on account of SAPs to cut down on social services. Those at the bottom of the social pile are the ones who usually suffer from these cuts more than those at the higher levels of social hierarchy. This is a question of government prioritisation; to some extent it is also a question of how communities and families prioritise their needs and concerns. During hard times, for example, parents tend to favour boys to girls for education, and the able-bodied children to the ones who are disabled.
Governments and NGDOs, with the help of communities and the organizations of the disabled people, should investigate how SAPs are hurting the more vulnerable sections of our population. They should then take remedial action to ensure that the PWDs (and other similarly disadvantaged groups) are not made to shoulder the brunt of government cuts in social welfare programmes.
Give me information and I am no longer blind. - Nelson
Isiko at Entebbe Workshop
The organisations of the disabled people need information on how governments are administering the social funds, where these have been set up, to cushion the impact of SAPs.
The general international experience, however, highlights the difficulty of separating the effects of SAPs from those of other factors, such as drought, poverty, etc. The experience in sub-Saharan African countries (PAMSCAD in Ghana, PAPSCA in Uganda, SDA in Malawi and Tanzania and the PRODEC in Cameroon) has shown that it is not enough to cushion the effects of SAPs. Governments have to do more than that; they have to have broad ranging policies that tackle the effects of general poverty and such occurrences as drought, as well as the effects of SAP.
Right to participate in policy making
It is not enough for the government to say they are implementing SAPs and therefore they have to cut down on social welfare, and that we must wait until the economy improves five or ten years down the line. People cannot wait that long, and who knows whether they will ever reach the "promised land"? They have immediate needs. If the government cannot meet these, they must explain why. They must give information on the terms under which they negotiate loans from the IMF and the World Bank. Maybe governments are wrong in pinning too much hope on SAPs. They have not succeeded anywhere in the African continent. So people everywhere want to take part in the debates on where their national economies are going, and whether Governments have the correct strategy in place. To enable this to happen, people need:
· access to information;
· knowledge on how government decisions are made;
· access to channels where critical decisions are taken;
· and capacity and opportunity to influence these decisions.
A.K. Dube leaving the hotel via a portable ramp build especially for the workshop (Photo by Marla Feldman)
Right to equal access to resources for development
It is not enough for governments to say, for example, that they have given a school for the blind, and therefore they have done their part. That's good but not good enough, because a school cannot be isolated from other developmental resources. If PWDs are to develop economic self-reliance, they need:
· access to resources (such as land and raw materials);
· access to training (whereby we can acquire skills);
· access to capital to start small enterprises;
· appropriate tools and equipment;
· and so on.
Right to accessible buildings and public facilities
Above all, PWDs need to be able to move around and integrate with the community. The public transport systems in most countries are atrocious as far as the mobility of PWDs is concerned. So is access to public buildings such as the Post Office, banks, museums, libraries, and provincial and district headquarters. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that these public places are accessible to PWDs, especially those who are physically impaired.
Women and Children with Disabilities (WWDs and CWDs)
Grace at the Entebbe Workshop (speaking in Shona): "At the hospital I go to, the bed is too high for disabled women to climb. Especially the delivery beds. Disabled women are always afraid that their baby would fall off the bed."
We have already mentioned the need for special attention to those among the disabled people who are "further disabled" on account of their lower standing in the social hierarchy. WWDs and CWDs belong to this category. In some societies, women eat after men have had their fill. In others, children are given only what is left over, and often there is nothing left over. In many cultures women and children are "owned" by men as means of production. WWDs and CWDs in such societies are therefore doubly disadvantaged: first as women and children and secondly as disabled people.
At the Entebbe Workshop, the question of empowering women was discussed at length. A working group on the subject made several recommendations, which we summarise below:
· Women need to build their confidence. They should choose their own leaders, and not vote for men in influential positions. Women should be ready to grab power because nobody will give power to them freely. [The International Labour Office (ILO) has a guideline which stipulates that there must be at least 50 percent women as participants and beneficiaries of any project.]
· Organizations of PWDs and those working with them must give at least 50 percent representation to women in decision making bodies.
· It is sometimes assumed that when women get involved in IGPs, they automatically get empowered. There are other forms of empowerment such as legal, which should go with economic empowerment. One of the major strategies to empower women is through education and skills training.
· Women should demand for their rights and should form groups, clubs and working committees. They should struggle to get education and to attain equality.
· African cultures and religions, as practised today, oppress women. Women do most of the household chores while men relax: they work twice as hard as men. Therefore, there is need to reform religious and cultural practices so that women are empowered.
· Women should not limit themselves to "traditional" types of activities, such as secretarial work. They should look into possible new opportunities such as electronics, radio repairs, computers, etc.
Some disabilities are more "disabling" than others. The blind and deaf, for example, face more severe communication barriers than those who are physically impaired. These barriers make participation even among the PWDs difficult. Furthermore, there is a disproportionately high representation of persons With physical disabilities in organisations of PWDs as members and leaders. When negotiating for resources, the blind and deaf are often viewed with misgivings. There is, therefore, need to improve the conditions of living, access to resources, and means to facilitate participation (braille and the sign language) for these people.
In the case of the severely disabled people, it is important to recognise the role played by their "carers" who can articulate their needs as well as provide love and daily living care and facilities, often at the sacrifice of their own economic well-being. Organisations of PWDs as well as governments should adopt positive discriminatory measures in favour of the severely disabled persons and their caters.
Question of Affirmative Action
We come now to the issue of "affirmative action," or "positive discrimination" as it is sometimes called. The arguments for it are familiar, and they boil down, essentially, to this: "Equal treatment of unequals is itself unequal."
The ILO position on this is that it must "...establish as a social policy the target that the rate of unemployment amongst the disabled persons should be no higher than the respective rate of the general workforce." 1
Equal treatment of unequals is itself
For example, under "equal conditions" a race between a one-legged person and a two-legged one is unequal. The chances are automatically loaded against the one-legged winning the race. Therefore, to "equalise the conditions" the disadvantaged should be given a head-start. In other words, there should be a policy of "positive discrimination" in his/her favour.
It is now a "standard" social policy to recognise the merits of "affirmative action" in favour of those who are disadvantaged either by history (the black community in South Africa), or by circumstances (the poor, for example), or by disabilities (the PWDs). There are, however, practical aspects that remain controversial.
How much discrimination should there be in favour of the disabled people?
For example, everybody is in the same boat as far as unemployment is concerned. Should the PWDs be given a preferential treatment over and above the non-disabled persons? What the ILO says in the above quotation is that the disabled people should not be given a preferential treatment as far as employment is concerned, but that they should, equally, not be discriminated against in terms of job placements, and job opportunities.
If "positive discrimination" is to take the form of, for example, a wage subsidy to the employer for taking on a PWD on a job, how much should this subsidy be? And for how long?
These are the kind of practical issues that arise in administering a policy of "affirmative action" in favour of any group of disadvantaged people, and not just the PWDs. But some of them cannot be answered in general terms; they need to be considered in concrete situations.