District Disability Forums in Malawi - Emerging Strengths and Weaknesses
Global priorities for disability are shifting away from medical intervention to a social, human rights-based approach. As a result, more attention is being paid to disability as a function of society, rather than as the inevitable consequence of having a physical or mental impairment. In Malawi, changing legal landscapes have created a political climate favorable to promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, at least on paper. Implementation of the legislation, however, is slow and enforcement difficult because of a lack of communication throughout levels of government, and little funding. Using a grassroots approach to make change starting at the local level is one approach to increasing the inclusion of persons with disabilities across the country. The Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi (FEDOMA) created District Disability Forums (DDFs) to empower grassroots advocates to make change within their communities, working from the bottom-up for access to the social and economic freedoms codified by the central government. This case study uses two examples to demonstrate the gains in social capital strength made by the DDFs, leading to positive programmatic outcomes. However, the examples also demonstrate emerging weaknesses for the DDFs, particularly barriers to project implementation caused by a lack of physical access to remote areas, an especially challenging issue for persons with disabilities. Finally, we discuss future paths for the DDFs to continue building on strengths and address weaknesses, including the creation of sub-district forums in an effort to further decentralise advocacy work.
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