Patricia in front of the community school in Sent, where she teaches human rights and reproductive health to local women. Photo: Lisbeth Albinus/NAD.
Watch Patricia's story on the Norwegian Association of Disabled's Facebook page.
In Malawi, persons with disabilities are traditionally viewed as charity objects. Some believe disability is contagious. Others think that persons with disabilities have magic powers. Young disabled girls are raped because it is believed to cure HIV and AIDS. People with albinism are killed and sold because their limbs are thought to bring fortune.
The Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (FEDOMA) continues to report examples of offenses against people with disabilities. Patricia belongs to a new generation of disability activists, who fights for equity and insists that everyone has the right - and obligation - to contribute to and participate in community life on equal terms. They are changing the world by changing mindsets.
In mid-December 2016 representatives from Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in Norway and Malawi discussed disability rights on national prime time TV. The discussion was an evaluation of a comprehensive campaign implemented by the disability movement in Malawi between November 3rd and the International Day of persons with disabilities on December 3rd.
Increasingly, persons with disabilities are viewed as resourceful and active contributors to society rather than passive charity objects and a burden to society. FEDOMA has worked systematically to empower persons with disabilities as right holders and sensitize both duty bearers and local community members, including parents, schools, teachers, village chiefs etc.
FEDOMA and its eleven DPO members were instrumental to the formulation and enactment of the 2012 Disability Act in Malawi, and the DPO network is now heading discussions with the president about its implementation. In mid-December FEDOMA met with the President, Professor Peter Mutharika and the Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Ms Patricia Kaliati, to discuss the way forward. During the meeting, the President committed to training 100 sign language interpreters. This will ease communication between people with hearing disorder and public service providers and authorities, including school teachers, medical staff, police officers etc. The president also asked FEDOMA to prepare a proposal for an Inclusive Education Institute, which will train teachers and school authorities in inclusive education. This is a velar indication that FEDOMA is recognized as not only a watchdog for disability rights in Malawi, but also a resource and expert advisor to the Malawi government.
According to the Executive Director of FEDOMA, Action Amos, the achievements of the disability movements in Malawi can be largely attributed to the long-time commitment and support of the Norwegian Association of Disabled (NAD) and the Norwegian Development Cooperation, Norad. Similar to FEDOMA, NAD is established and governed by persons with disabilities themselves. This has enabled mutual learning and exchange of experience in the global fight for equity and disability rights.
FEDOMA and NAD’s youth wings are currently in the process of establishing a working relationship. Malawi’s population is very young, 67 percent is under the age of 25. It is therefore crucial to the future of persons with disabilities in Malawi that the global human rights movement prioritize support to youth. It was in this context that board members of NAD’s youth wing visited Malawi and contributed to the Friday night MBC television Debate in mid-December.