By Collins Yakubu-Hammer
Abuja – Dr Alves Jorge, Head of Division, Social Affairs, ECOWAS Commission, has called on governments in the region to promote equality of treatment and opportunities for physically challenged persons, to enable them contribute to economic development.
Jorge made the call while delivering a keynote address at the “4th Edition of Deaf Women Health Awareness Week” to commemorate the UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities on Wednesday in Abuja.
He suggested that equal treatment for persons with disabilities in the labour market would boost economic development, adding that it could be done in partnership with members of UN, organisations of People with Disabilities and other stakeholders.
“One out of every seven people in the world has a disability and the vast majority of them are of working age, but most of them do not enjoy the right to work.
“More so, the exclusion of physically challenged persons from the labour market can cost economies up to seven per cent of Gross Domestic Product,” Jorge said.
According to him, it is estimated that persons with disabilities make up 15 per cent of global population “about one billion people”.
He noted that they represented one of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in the world.
“With 80 per cent of persons with disabilities living in the global south, one in five of the world’s poorest are persons with disabilities.
“Inspite of this, policymakers and implementers for a long time have neither recognised nor prioritised this issue within international development and poverty alleviation effort.
“Many countries have adopted and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) adopted in 2006, yet it is clear that more needs to be done to religiously implement them,” he said.
Jorge, however, stressed the need to focus on skills and talents and what still needed to be done so that the right to productive employment and decent work is fulfilled for every person with disability.
“This is the message of hope from ECOWAS, message of commitment, solidarity and call for action.”
Similarly, Mrs Hauwa Shekarau, Country Director of IPAS Nigeria, in her keynote address said intervention for physically challenged persons especially deaf women, could not achieve its purpose without inputs from deaf women themselves.
“In 2015, Ipas was able to identify communication gap as major challenge faced by deaf women, which had greatly served as barrier to them accessing reproductive health information and care.
“Globally, there is an increase in the need to improve access for persons with disabilities, including deaf women, to sexual and reproductive health services and information.
“But studies have shown that they still face a plethora of challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
“Government and development partners especially in developing countries have failed to offer affordable and accessible sexual and reproductive health services particularly for persons with disabilities,” Shekarau said.
She noted that Ipas in 2016 established partnership with the Australian High Commission through its Direct Aid Programme, to ensure the availability of sign language interpretation within the health system in the Federal Capital Territory.
She explained that some successes were recorded in the one year intervention project, where Ipas was able to train sign language interpreters, with 57 deaf women benefiting.
However, she said during the implementation of the the project some deaf women could not pay for the health services rendered including laboratory tests and drugs.
“I, therefore, urge all stakeholders to extend their support to improving on access to reproductive health services and information for deaf women by institutionalising the provision of sign language interpreter services in the health system in Nigeria.
“Improving access to reproductive health services and information for women is a worthy investment for national development,” Shekarau said.
Earlier, Ms Cleo Wilson, the Australian Deputy High Commissioner, said women and children were in the majority of persons with disability in the world.
Wilson stressed that the High Commission had passion for people with disabilities especially deaf women.
“Australian High Commission is in total support of deaf women and we are supporting eight hospitals in the area of sign language interpretation in Abuja.”
She stressed that the commission would continue to do its best to ensure that more deaf women had access to sexual reproductive health services and information.
Also speaking the wife of the Sokoto Sate Governor, Hajiya Maryam Aminu Tambuwal and founder of ‘MMAWT Legacy Initiative’ represented by the Executive Director of the organisation, Hajiya Aisha Ibrahim, said the initiative was doing a lot for persons with disabilities.
She maintained that it would continue to do more to contribute to the development and well being of women and children, especially those living with disabilities.
The National President of Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (DWAN), Mrs Adedoyen Beyioku-Alase, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari, to sign into law the Disability Bill to ensure that their rights are protected.
“I appeal to the President Buhari, to please sign the Disability Bill into law in this his first tenure, so that we can be legally allowed to enjoy some rights.
“Deaf women are suffering, especially in the area of accessing health care services in the country. It is not easy. All we need is for the bill to come into law and be implemented.
“We have suffered discrimination and unequal treatment in hospitals, market and many places, due to our inability to speak, which is due to no fault of ours,” she said.
The high point of the occasion was a drama presentation on the challenges faced by persons with hearing impairment by students of Abuja School for the Deaf, Kuje.
The International Day for Persons with Disabilities is celebrated annually on Dec. 3.
It is a day set aside by the UN to commemorate the progress and increase in awareness of issues of disability.
NAN also reports that the commemoration will continue on Dec. 7 at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, with free medical services organised by DWAN. (NAN)