In a landmark move towards inclusivity and equal rights, advocates are stressing the importance of providing equal employment opportunities and support for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the workforce. With an estimated 1.2 million individuals living with disabilities in Zimbabwe, it is crucial for the government to take proactive steps to address this issue.
PWDs continue to face significant barriers in the job market, including discrimination, limited accessibility, and insufficient accommodations. This not only deprives them of economic independence but also denies them the opportunity to contribute their skills and talents to the nation’s development.
Speaking on the pressing issue, Chipo Mushininga, a disability rights advocate and member of the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association (ZPHCA), highlighted the importance of equal employment opportunities for PWDs.
“By giving equal opportunities and the corresponding respect, we grow a sense of confidence in the persons with disabilities and cultivate a sense of belonging. This makes for positive growth attitudes, and despite any disability, a person will pursue and work on their goals, thus contributing positively to society.
“When we help others we help them pursue and achieve their goals, we play a big part in social change and growth. By providing social services like proper health care for persons with disabilities, we can ensure that more people enter the workforce. This collective effort to assist persons with disabilities ultimately contributes to the economy’s growth and improves the overall social setting.
“Frankly, persons with disabilities face inequality and bias due to their perceived limitations. That is why it is crucial to inform and educate the public about multiple disabilities and how to interact with persons with disabilities respectfully. This civil education can be done through campaigns and seminars,” she said.
To address this urgent matter, advocates and disability organizations have called upon the government to take immediate action. They recommend a multi-faceted approach, encompassing both legislative measures and practical support programs.
Furthermore, fostering awareness and changing societal attitudes towards PWDs is vital. The government should launch public information campaigns to raise awareness about the capabilities and potential of PWDs. These campaigns should challenge stereotypes and promote a more positive perception of disability.
“With the proper information, more people will be tolerant and kind to persons with disabilities, creating an environment of mutual respect. Besides, this enlightenment will lead to more accommodating attitudes in all sectors allowing more persons with disabilities to contribute to societal growth. Empowerment of persons with disabilities is essential, as support can be given to the affected persons and their families. This can be done by creating programs to provide medical care and shelter for neglected persons with disabilities,” added Mushininga.
Moreover, partnerships between the government, private sector, and NGOs can play a critical role in implementing sustainable practices and initiatives. However, speaking on behalf of PWDs, Midlands Coordinator, and Board Secretary for the Association of Disabled and Elderly Persons in Zimbabwe, Primrose Nyangoni mentioned the need for affirmative action rather than equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
“…of course, the government has called on equal opportunities and that is important to the PWD constituency, but to what extent is the question? The issue of equality gives equal opportunities, but equal opportunities are being given to different people. The able-bodied have been given more opportunities than the disabled, now they are getting equal opportunities. I am of the opinion that rather than calling for equal opportunities, to end this discrimination government could adopt affirmative action to uplift the lives of women and young girls.
“Affirmative action is crucial for PWDs, so rather than advocate for equality it is better to emphasize equity. With equity, the effort is that both abled-bodied and disabled benefit socially, economically, and politically as well. On employment, when we talk about equity, government should come up with deliberate ways to uplift the already disadvantaged to become like others.
“So with affirmative action, we look at three areas of action, we look at discrimination in hiring and promotion of workers, this should be done properly calling for the disabled to be part of the call. We should come up with programs that increase the representation of PWDs in government employment. We should put in place measures like giving first preferences to PWDs to occupy certain positions in the government for instance the social development department could employ PWDs with the necessary qualifications to run the social services department rather than having 100% abled-bodied we could try and ensure that we can at least have 50% running the social services department because ‘nothing for us without us’.
“Another way of doing it is also to come up with deliberate policies for special admission in institutions via learning because we want to give PWDs a chance to get jobs and special admission to institutions. Because I remember affirmative action before, women were given preference in higher institutions, they could get places at universities even with few grades than usual, where 15 points are needed for girls, those PWDs with 14 points would get the chance and learn thereafter look for jobs. that is the way I feel is best for PWDs in employment rather than equal employment opportunities. Equity is what I am lobbying for, and emphasis on affirmative action can lift PWDS up,” she said.
According to the Sustainable Development Goals, there is a need to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value (SDG#8.5). While striving to empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status (SDG#10). It is against this background that social commentator and human rights advocate Tadiwa Muwanigwa stated that if the government and society neglect the issues affecting PWDS then they will be denying them the chance to contribute to the national trajectory or national discourse of the country.
“By implementing inclusive policies and programs, the government can create a more inclusive society and provide individuals with disabilities the opportunities they deserve to contribute their skills and talents to the workforce. Let us come together and urge the government to prioritize this issue, ensuring that no one is left behind.
If we neglect this issue, we are denying a significant portion of our population the chance to participate fully in society and contribute to our economy. It is crucial for the government to implement legislation that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities, enforce non-discriminatory practices in recruitment and hiring, and provide accessible workplaces. By doing so, we can build an inclusive society that celebrates diversity and ensures that every individual has the opportunity to thrive professionally, regardless of their abilities,” remarked Muwanigwa.
As the government of Zimbabwe considers this pressing matter, it is hoped that swift actions will be taken to empower PWDs, eradicate discrimination, and promote a more inclusive and equitable society. By valuing and tapping into the potential of all citizens, Zimbabwe can foster economic growth, unleash untapped talent, and build a society where every individual can thrive, regardless of their abilities.