In recent decades, the exclusion of many people with disabilities from society has been recognized as a human rights issue, resulting from social barriers rather than the individual’s inability to participate. This transition from a social welfare perspective to a rights-based approach has brought about a focus on improving access to education and skills training, reflected in legislation all over the world.
The Declaration on Employment and Poverty in Africa1, 2004 commits African
Union (AU) members to ensure equal opportunities for disabled persons by
implementing the African Decade of Disabled Persons and, to that end,
developing policies and national programmes that favour full participation of
persons with disabilities and their families in social, political and economic
development. The Plan of Action for the implementation of the commitments
made in this Declaration prioritizes the targeting and empowering of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, through education, skills training entrepreneurship, among other recommended actions.
The move towards a human rights approach to disability issues and away from a social welfare or charity approach is also reflected in ILO’s Convention
concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of Disabled Persons
(No. 159) of 1983, now ratified by 78 countries. Convention No. 159 requires
States to develop a national policy concerning vocational rehabilitation and
employment of persons with disabilities based on the principles of equality of
opportunity and equal treatment, and to promote community involvement and
mainstreaming where possible. Malawi ratified ILO Convention No. 159 in 1986
and is making progress in developing rights-based legislation concerning disabled persons by drafting (2004) a new Disability Bill to replace the Handicapped Persons Act of 1971.
The trend towards a rights-based approach and full inclusion of disabled persons in society has gained momentum worldwide with the decision by the United Nations General Assembly to develop a Convention to Protect and Promote the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, a process which is currently underway. Representatives of Malawi have also taken part in the negotiations of this Convention.
Given the emerging trend towards a rights-based approach to disability issues in Malawi, and the support provided to this by the AU Declaration in the broader context of Africa, it is timely to examine legal provisions concerning the training and employment of disabled persons and their implementation, and to identify steps which may be needed to improve opportunities for disabled persons seeking to acquire marketable skills, find a decent job or set up a viable business.
This workshop, ‘‘People with Disabilities: Pathways to Decent Work”, 16-17
May 2006, provided the opportunity to commence such a review. The workshop
was linked to two ILO projects in Malawi. One of these projects, Promoting the
Employability and Employment of People with Disabilities through Effective
Legislation, funded by the Government of Ireland, seeks to promote training and employment opportunities for disabled people by supporting selected national governments to enhance the effectiveness of existing laws and policies or to develop new laws reflecting a rights-based approach. As part of this project, a country profile has been prepared, describing the laws and policies in place in Malawi which set the framework for training and employment opportunities and examining available evidence on implementation measures and their impact. This country profile was one of the key background documents for the review to take place at the workshop.
The second project, Strategies for Skills Acquisition and Work for Persons with
Disabilities in Southern Africa, funded by the Government of Flanders, aims to
enhance skills acquisition by disabled persons by identifying effective strategies to provide vocational skills and real work opportunities to youth and adults with disabilities by governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) and Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programmes. A national survey on skills acquisition by people with disabilities was conducted by the Malawi Federation of the Disabled (FEDOMA) and Platform for Disability and Development Cooperation (PHOS) as part of this project. A preliminary report on key issues in skills development for people with disabilities in Malawi, incorporating the main survey and case study findings, formed the second key document for the workshop.