The effects of Covid19 have been variably felt by different groups with marginalised populations greatly affected. One of the groups has been of people with disabilities (PWD) who have limited access to information about COVID-19. As it stands, COVID-19 narrative appears to be discriminatory against persons with disabilities as less conversations on its unique effects on that group of people have taken place.

HOCIC Zimbabwe under its Securing Rights Program (SRP) was invited by the Bulawayo Advocate Charter for People with Disabilities to facilitate a session on gender based violence (GBV) and disability in the context of COVID19. The conference for People With Disabilities was held at St Patricks Hotel on 16 October 2020 focusing on expediting information dissemination in the times of COVID-1987.

Representing HOCIC was the SRP Project Officer Ellen Mhlanga and the SASA! Together Project Officer, Fortune Mpofu.

“We were invited as HOCIC to be part of the conference of People With Disability, after the Bulawayo Advocate Charter for People With Disability had seen the work that we do,” said Mhlanga.

To compliment the efforts of helping People With Disabilities access PPEs, HOCIC donated face masks and hand Sanitisers as well as dignity packs for women to help curb period poverty amongst People With Disabilities. The dignity packs consisted of a small carrier bag tagged ‘HOCIC’, a bar of soap, and two packs of sanitary pads, hand sanitiser, face mask, face towel, and a pair of underwear.

“We do not just distribute dignity packs without a session on menstrual health, so we ended up slotting it in and it was conducted by Fortune L Mpofu,” said Mhlanga.

In a presentation on menstrual health, Mpofu covered issues on menstrual hygiene and human rights, beliefs and myths and Taboos, inappropriate and appropriate hygiene practices and challenges faced by people with disabilities. She highlighted key factors that limit PWD’s access to sanitary wear.

“Women and girls disabilities may experience menarche and menstruation differently, and more negatively, compared to non-disabled women. These include frequent reports of painful periods, heavy periods, menstrual hygiene issues and mood and behavioral changes, linked to premenstrual syndrome(PMS)” mentioned Mpofu.

Access to information on menstrual health, lack of support, social exclusion indicated by inconvenient infrastructure, and economic shifts are some of the impediments to a healthy menstrual hygiene for People with Disabilities.

“Women and girls with disabilities  may be less likely to gather information about relevant topics as existing education materials does not include relevant aspects for women and girls with different disabilities or doesn’t cater  for different learning requirements. This group of ladies  continuously faces challenges  in accessing sufficient support such as health services, WASH infrastructure and volatile domestic economics that affects income patterns for PWDs and their families, consequently, poverty affecting their purchasing power,” Mpofu explained.

Whilst there are notable actions by government, parastatals, schools, corporate and NGOs to socially include persons with disabilities, the efforts are still minimal considering the high number of people who require those specialised services. Commendably institutions like Jairos Jiri have a radio show aired on the Great Zimbabwe University radio station that targets PWDs albeit with limited reach as it excludes those with hearing impairments. They are reaching out at ward and household levels within their reach to train on prevention of COVID-19.

Juliet Gombe, Jairos Jiri Programmes Officer for Bulawayo Office mentioned that the radio show is used to disseminate information on COVID-19 as an  information stop gap that has omitted PWDs. She stated that although such efforts exist, the impact is minimal because the variances of disabilities means there has to be customised vehicles of critical information, something absent from national to community level as Jairos Jiri cannot cover all the gaps hence the need for a multisectoral response.

“We have noted that there are no deliberate efforts that target people with hearing impairments, little to no braille at strategic points for those with visual impairments. Even in such cases, braille will only be accessible to the literate leaving another gap for those who are illiterate and visually impaired,”

JJuliet Gombe, Jairos Jiri Bulawayo Programmes officer

“Numerous organisation have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic through posters that have only been translated from English to Shona and Ndebele leaving out sign language. There is urgent need for pictorial messages that reaches to those who use sign language. Moreover, when PPEs such as buckets are distributed to communities, some of them are not disability friendly defeating the whole purpose of intervention which seeks to help communities cope, adapt and mitigate as material socially excludes. In some cases, PPEs are distributed without appropriate demonstration to PWDs. All these are important gaps that should be plugged if we are to defeat COVID-19,” she added.

Gender based violence was said to be on the rise during the COVID-19 lockdown period and is disproportionately affecting People With Disabilities. Conducting a session on GBV, Mhlanga explained the three major types of GBV, which are physical violence, sexual violence and economic violence, common symptoms, causes, effects and GBV and disability.

UN states that people with disabilities have more health-care needs than others both standard needs and needs linked to impairments and therefore more vulnerable to the impact of low quality or inaccessible health-care services than others.

On 13 August 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities (PWDs). The majority of PWDs are found in developing countries, Zimbabwe being one of them, where they experience exclusion, vulnerability to abuse and violence, lack of access to health services, employment, education, income, social support and civic involvement and are more likely to experience multiple deprivations as compared to their non-disabled peers.

 “As HOCIC Zimbabwe we need to have meaningful partnership with different groups and add disability mainstreaming into our programing, this will help us not get nervous when we are around different people.

Ellen Mhlanga

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