HomeEditorial CommentDisabled women can work

Disabled women can work

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Zimbabwe’s economy shrunk significantly after 2000 resulting in widespread poverty and an 80% unemployment rate as of 2009. Poverty and unemployment have become endemic in Zimbabwe.

It is mind-numbing how Zimbabweans have made it to now with probably some of the highest unemployment figures in the world, though the actual rate of joblessness has been disputed.

While 80% is alarming and if we consider that persons with disabilities are among the poorest of the poor, the picture gets gloomier.

Close to a million of the said 80% are persons with disabilities particularly women.

“The biggest employer of persons with disabilities, including women, used to be the industries and now with the current situation, only a handful may be formally employed. And to some of us, May 1st is just like any other day, where I need to wake up in the morning and go to Egodini to sell my wares in order to survive”, a woman with disability said. She went on to say that industries would employ persons with disabilities regardless of their educational status.

A study carried out in 2002 by National Association of Societies for then Care of the Handicapped (Nascoh), found that only 2% of people with disabilities are employed in the public sector, and overall less than 7% of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe are employed.

What does this mean in real terms what is 7% of 13 million?

Over 900 000 or nearly a million people with disabilities are jobless. How do they make ends meet?

Angela (not her real name) she did not manage to complete her education she had to sacrifice that her brother gets the chance to get an education as the family could not afford to put both of them through school. Angela settled for an informal job.

She is a vendor and that is how she earns her living. Angela’s case is one of many women and girls who have been passed over when it comes to getting education especially if the girl is found to have disabilities.

The perception of a disabled girl child is different from that of other children deemed ‘normal’ and the result of discrimination and stigma about disability are the swelling ranks of people with disabilities being reduced to beggars.

In addition, how can people with disabilities be counted among the country’s workforce when there is missing data of how many are gainfully employed, where they are employed.

Besides, there is little evidence that we have similar data on the actual primary and secondary school enrolment of children with disabilities. How many complete these levels and proceed to university level.

If we had a clearer picture, would our community and our country respond better to the needs of people with disabilities?

Take the case of Betty (not her real name) who has five ‘O levels and has applied for several jobs even being called for interviews.

But would – be employers on seeing Betty on crutches, see a disability and not an able employee.

As a result Betty too have resorted to the informal job market. Nascoh in their study alludes that employers are generally reluctant to employ people with disabilities as doing so is perceived to be costly, and generally, employers do not take measures to facilitate a working environment appropriate for people with disabilities.

There is also a general lack of awareness among employers about appropriate environments for people with disabilities. One of the answers to this problem could be lobbying for disability main-streaming at all levels. With the funding support from UN-Women Zimbabwe, Diwa/Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (Diwa/Safod) in collaboration with Federation of Organisations of Persons with Disabilities, held a workshop on Disability main-streaming within women’s networks, on August 3–5th 2011.

The objective of the meeting was: “To main-stream disability within women networks programmes and systems”. During the same workshop five key areas for disability main-streaming were said to be:

Organisation, sensitisation, workplace, programme, policies.
Workplace main-streaming was said to be the process of ensuring that organisational policies and practices in the workplace are inclusive, equitable and non-discriminatory, and do not create barriers or reinforce the negative effects of the issue.

In the Diwa/Safod report of 2011, it was reported that. Majole gave a statement that she works in a big parastatal organisation. She is physically handicapped. She mentioned that her colleagues, the disabled and non-disabled, support her.

This gives her confidence to express her abilities. She highlighted that it is necessary to advocate for inclusion of disability issues within existing programmes.

If you make it a new programme then it becomes expensive hence you fail to mainstream. In view of this, when more organisations develop administration policies that are disability sensitive, build ramps where needed, target persons with disabilities within their programmes, the process of disability main-streaming will have begun and running programmes targeting persons with disabilities will no longer be seen as an expensive matter.

Women with disabilities I interviewed acknowledged the international treaties and declarations that Zimbabwe is signatory to but have not seen the fruits of our global commitments to securing the livelihoods of all including people with disabilities.

Some of the working persons with disabilities cite that they are at times given lower grades than their non – disabled counterparts, despite that they will be having same qualifications. Joyce (not her real name) started working in 1993 as one of the machine operators at Company XYZ. Just recently, from three machine operators, she was the only person graded down. Because Nancy was and is empowered, she approached management for an explanation and finally, she was returned back to her grade. The question is, how many persons with disabilities experience such treatment at work, and their cases go unreported?

National bodies like Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) being guided by the Constitution of Zimbabwe and deriving their mandate from Labour Act Chapter 28:01, under fundamental rights at work, there is a clause that states that no one should be discriminated on the grounds of one’s race, tribe, place of origin, gender, HIV status or disability.

DIWA had an opportunity to contact ZCTU Western Region Offices to ask about the claim that some women with disabilities feel that ZCTU is not representing workers with disabilities and if such a huge Union is turning a blind eye on them, the situation could be worse for employers.

The officer at the ZCTU Western Region Office advised that all employees including persons with disabilities are entitled to workers’ rights and at national level, they as ZCTU involve persons with disabilities, and she encouraged more workers with disabilities to visit their offices and launch their grievances.

The Public Service Commission is said to be the biggest employer of persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe. Here we are talking of lawyers, teachers, labour officers and social workers. And this is about 7 percent of persons with disabilities as recorded in 2002.

And it caters for the educated individuals. With continued economic hardships, this could be 10 times worse. What about those without education?

There is a link between education and employment opportunities. Without education, chances of getting a decent job are few. There is need for Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) together with like – minded organisations to advocate for inclusive education to give children with disabilities an equal chance at a good education and better life.

Good education and a good job helps break a cycle of poverty with ripple effects at household, community and national levels. I am convinced people with disabilities can contribute more to all sectors of our economy as part of the workforce if only disability is included in development planning and is not treated as an afterthought.


 Kilton Moyo is a pastor, guidance and counselling consultant and author of Responding to Personal Crisis. Call or WhatsApp on +263 775 337 207/ 712 384 841.

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