According to the Ministry of Health, about 7% (over 900, 00 individuals) of the Zimbabwean population are People Living with Disabilities (PWDs). Despite being a significant portion of the population, PWDs did not have representation in Parliament until 2013, when a constitutional provision mandated that two seats be reserved for one male and one female senator representing PWDs in Parliament.
Tackling Disability in Parliament
Senator Rejoice Timire is one of the elected officials, representing PWD in Zimbabwe’s 9th Parliament. She has been passionately advocating for women and girls with disabilities for many years having worked with organisations such as the Disabled Women’s Support Organisation since 2003. As Senator she is lobbying and advocating for the rights of PWD , a segment of the population who have long felt excluded and discriminated against with regards to Parliamentary processes.
People living with disabilities have been marginalised for a long time and discriminated on the on the grounds of sex, gender and type of disability.
“Part of the issue of discrimination comes from the fact that there are currently no laws that address disability. When there is nothing that is written down you cannot expect people to know, or understand what disability is really about.”
Senator Timire is lobbying for the mainstreaming of disability work issues in all spheres of development , ensuring that no one is left behind. In promoting the inclusion of PWD in social processes, the Senator is lobbying for a disability policy, which Zimbabwe does not currently have. This policy is being developed with the inputs from the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa. She is also working in collaboration Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) , the Zimbabwe Women Parliamentary Caucasus and the UN pushing for the alignment of laws , especially the Disabled Persons Act to the Constitution and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
After becoming a Member of Parliament (MP), Senator Timire took part in the EU, SIDA and UNDP Parlimentary Support Programme which provided leadership and negotation skills training to all new female Members of Parliament in November 2018. These skills will be used in advocating for the issues and causes affecting PWDs in Parliament.
Women with Disabilities and Gender Based Violence
Lack of knowledge on human rights, societal attitudes and perceptions are perpetuating the abuse of women with disabilites in their homes,
“There are married women with disabilites who are abused within their households. When they get divorced they can lose all their property, as they do not know their rights. This is not seen as a form of abuse as it is seen as the man’s right to do what he wants as you are deemed useless as a disabled woman."
In addition to this women, living a disability face several challenges in reporting cases of GBV,
“ A woman with a disability may not be able to physically take themselves to a police station to report an incident. Or if they are deaf, they may not be able to communicate with anyone at the police station.''
Working with the Spotlight Initiative
Prior to becoming Senator, Mrs Timire worked with the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative in its design phase providing insight into the GBV issues being faced by women with disabilites in Zimbabwe. Her work in Parliament will continue to be supported by Spotlight through its focus on aligning the Disabled Persons Act to the Constitution and raising awareness on the rights of women and girls with disabilities especially in respect to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR).
“As a senator what I want to see the laws being inclusive of disability. All Members of Parliament need to understand what disability is and PWD in mind when working in their constituencies. PWD should not be treated as charity or an afterthought, I want parliaments to consciously empower these individuals.
The vision of Spotlight Initiative in Zimbabwe is that women and girls realise potential in a violence-free , gender responsive and inclusive Zimbabwe. This includes ensuring that all women and girls benefit from adequate legislation and policies, gender responsive institutions, violence prevention programmes and essential services. The Spotlight Initiative is funded by the EU and is being implemented by the UN.