Women and girls with disabilities are experiencing high rates of Gender Based Violence (GBV); limited access to legal services and exclusion from decision making processes on a daily basis. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, the issues faced by women and girls with disabilities are increasing. UNDP Zimbabwe through the Spotlight Initiative has reprogrammed some of its activities to provide a disability and gender inclusive response to the pandemic. This is being achieved through community engagement and awareness campaigns which are providing information and training on legislative processes and policies, gender responsive institutions, violence prevention programmes and essential services.
The first awareness campaign and workshop was conducted in Mt Darwin, Harare in partnership with Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe (LCDZ). Women and girls with disabilities, caregivers and local workers were provided with information on COVID-19 and GBV services. During the workshop, participants highlighted that they had limited information on the virus and had not been fully represented in the development of COVID19 response plans.
“Most of the information being shared on COVID19 cannot be accessed by those who are blind or deaf impacting our knowledge about the pandemic” , Munyaradzi*, workshop participant.
The increase in GBV cases due to lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus was a key issue discussed during the workshop. Participants discussed the specific barriers being faced by women and girls with disabilites in reporting cases of violence and accessing legal and health services during the pandemic. A coordinated effort between government, civil society and the private sector is needed to ensure that GBV services are provided to persons with disabilities when required.
“ Access to GBV services should not be put on hold during the pandemic. We need support to access services quickly and safely during COVID19” – Chipo*, workshop participant.
The workshop also addressed the limited participation of women and girls with disabilities in law and policy making processes.
“I have never participated in the legislative process because I am not well informed and I do not think my views matter” Amanda* , workshop participant.
Article 4 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilites (UNCRPD) states that ‘’lawmakers should consult with persons with disabilities, their representative organizations and take active steps to ensure their full and effective participation’’. Whilst the Zimbabwean constitution makes provisions for the consultation and participation of persons with disabilities in legislative processes, it remains limited due to the unavailability of information in appropriate formats, inaccessibility of facilities where public hearings are conducted, and the financial and societal costs involved.
The awareness campaign highlighted the importance of involving persons with disabilities in the development and implementation of COVID19 response plans ensuring their voices are heard and needs addressed. UNDP and LCDZ will continue to provide support with the next awareness campaign expected to take place in Chipinge.
UNDP Zimbabwe through the Spotlight Initiative has adapted its programming to address issues specific to PWDs during COVID19 with guidance from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS), UN Agenda 2030 on “Leaving No One Behind” and the recent UN Secretary-General’s policy brief titled ‘’A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19’’.
For more information on the work being done with persons with disabilities s read this article by Gift Govere, and United Nations Volunteer working at UNDP Zimbabwe through the Talent Programme for Young Professionals with Disabilities