Malawi former president Joyce Banda says unless the international community and national governments provide the necessary mechanisms and environment to create employment for people with disabilities, all efforts to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities will be futile.
She was speaking at the inaugural Harkin International Disability Employment Summit held on December 8 and 9, 2016 in Washington DC, United States.
The main objective of the summit was to "begin a tradition of bringing together change agents to develop strategies for increasing disability employment around the world".
Banda said in 'advancing disability employment', it was imperative for stakeholders to have a clear understanding of the global scope of the challenges that people with disabilities face, particularly in the developing world, in order for them to come up with effective and relevant interventions.
In most countries, she said, disability rights are non-existent and that discrimination continues to deny persons with disabilities, as well as workers who become disabled, access to work.
"Households that have family members with disabilities have a lower living standard than the average. People with disabilities suffer various stereotypes, myths and stigma. In many developing countries, particularly in Africa, people with disabilities are regarded as outcasts," noted Banda.
"Indeed, people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence or rape, and less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection or preventive care. Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse," said Banda.
She said "genuine political" could remove "the intrinsic barriers that deny people with disabilities their basic rights", including to fully and actively participate in economic activity and access to employment.
Banda said when she was Malawi's President between 2012 and 2914, she endeavored to improve the plight of people with disabilities, including providing them with employment opportunities by strengthening the Ministry of People with Disabilities andappointing a disability rights activist to head that ministry, signing into law the National Disability Bill, introducing sign language on public television and ensuring that all public and private places, infrastructure and facilities were disability-friendly; and increased the capacity to train special needs educators at all levels in order to enhance access of learners with disabilities.
"I also directed the Ministry of Finance to allocate 30% of my salary to Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA), a government agency that works to help men and women with disabilities to become more independent and self-sufficient by providing vocational training centres," she recalled.
Banda said these efforts were not only geared towards promoting the rights of people with disabilities but also creating an enabling and economically empowering environment that will enable people with disabilities to realize their full potential and ensure their full integration into the country's socio-economic development processes.
She called upon the private sector to design and adopt affirmative policies, as a corporate responsibility drive, to ensure that people with disabilities have access to education, training and employment.
"I call upon governments, disability organizations, global development organizations, businesses and civil society to ensure programs, policies and funding fully include people with disabilities, with a specific objective to create employment for them to be self-reliant," she said.
Other high-profile people who spoke at the two-day summit included Roberta "Bobbi" Cordano, the 11th president of Gallaudet University in Washington (she is the first deaf woman to hold this position), Andrew Imparato, Executive Director, Association of University Centers On Disabilities, Jack Markell, Governor of Delaware and Tom Harkin, US Senator.
Banda was introduced by Tim Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics. In her remarks, Banda hailed Tim Shriver for being "hugely instrumental in promoting the rights of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the world.
She said she first met Shriver in January, 2013 at Global Development Summit at the Special Olympics in South Korea where she requested Special Olympics to assist Malawi develop the necessary programs and activities to become a model country in empowering children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
"In February 2014, my government, in partnership with the Special Olympics, hosted the first ever 'African Leaders Forum on Disability' in the capital, Lilongwe, to explore effective interventions in support of people with disabilities, with particular emphasis on people with intellectual disabilities," said Banda.