In a remarkable display of dedication and commitment to the rights and well-being of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), Senator Annah Shiri, the newly appointed PWDs representative, has set an ambitious 100-day target to initiate significant changes that will positively impact the lives of PWDs including the setting up of a provincial PWDs governance structures.
Speaking in an interview with this reporter, Senator Shiri acknowledged that she is faced with a mammoth task ahead, but believes the target is achievable within the set timeline.
“It is a mammoth task ahead of me but what I want is meaningful representation for PWDs. In the first 100 days, I will establish the Board of Secretariat consisting of a team of technocrats in areas of research, public relations, media, and involvement of the committee clerk. Spearheading the creation of Provincial Governance Structures for PWDs,” she said.
The Senator also promised to conduct ‘meet the people’ Provincial interfaces with her constituency and make courtesy calls to all Government Ministries within 100 days. She also promised to enhance communication and information dissemination strategies by setting up vibrant social media platforms for PWDs as well as through the mainstream media.
“I will create the Senator’s column in the newspaper(s) and increase social media visibility on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube so that PWDs are always up to date on the progress and reforms that we will be implementing. I will also set up channels for engagement, feedback, and suggestions on Social Media (WhatsApp) as well as the creation of a personal website where you (PWDs) will be able to evaluate and rate our progress as well as suggest reforms,” she said.
She also said the capacitation of members of the Parliamentary Disability Caucus will be part of her 100-day target. Senator Shiri convincingly outclassed four other candidates during the disability female Senate representative elections held at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare in August.
The Gweru-based Senator garnered 128 votes out of a possible 251, with her closest rival who came second, Mercy Maunganidze, garnering only 63 votes. As part of her manifesto for the coming five years, Senator Shiri said she will fight for inclusive education for PWDs, fight for policy reforms by ensuring that all legislation is disability inclusive with a primary focus on the enactment of the Persons with Disabilities Act, pushing for the amendments of the Electoral Act and the Traffic Act.
She said there is also a need for the introduction of the Inclusive Mass Public Transport Policy, Personal Care Assistant Policy, a need for the review of the Gender Policy, and Assistive Technologies Policy among several others. She also said PWDs need comprehensive health care and increased representation.
On expectations following Senator Shiri’s successful bid into Senate, National Council of Disabled Persons in Zimbabwe (NCPDZ) Gweru Branch Chairperson, Final Dube, said PWDs need to be afforded entrepreneurial and employment opportunities, as well as full representation in all governance structures and key decision-making positions.
“We expect to see the eradication of PWDS being seen in the streets begging. Those who finish university education must be employed. The quota system must be adhered to. Retaining the post of Councilors with disabilities (Special Interest Councilors) in local authorities is needed. We also want to see empowerment through genuine disability funds and harsh conditions to access those funds must be scrapped,” Dube said.
He further said PWDs are in desperate need of decent housing and proper vending spaces, not the current haphazard scenery. Dube said the new representatives should fight for financial inclusion as currently the Disability Affairs department is underfunded.
“We should not rely on donations from well-wishers,” Dube said.
Another PWD, Joyce Togarepi reiterated that there is a lot to be done including economic and legal empowerment to uplift PWDs.
“We need constituency development funds for PWDs, grants for PWDs, realisation of the Disability Bill. Push for the domestication of United Nations policies on PWDs; the National Disability Policy should be aligned to the constitution so that it becomes part and parcel of the law of the land for any meaningful development to take place in the Disability fraternity at the grassroots level,” she said.
“We also need an assistive technology policy, gender policy, mass transport policy, assistive care policy, health policy, and all other policies that will positively impact the lives of persons with disability,” Togarepi said.
On representation, PWDs are calling for at least 15 percent representation at all levels of governance and decision-making, private or public, to represent about 1.4 million persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe.