World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Globalization and disability

06 November 2004




During the late 1980s and early 1990s, many African countries initiated drastic structural adjustments to their economic systems promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These "structural adjustment" programs throughout Africa in name of liberalization meant a shift to "free market" agreements usually preceded these programs locking in new liberal policies and further facilitating the flow of goods and services while opening new sectors to foreign business people. These policies fostered the continued and systematic plunder of natural and human resources in many counties. Governments as regulators of the economies and re-distributors of wealth have been disempowered. State enterprises and functions have been privatized and deregulated. Wages have been kept low and interest rates high.

Like, Renato Ruggiero, the former Director General of the WTO, compares negotiating international agreements to "writing a constitution of a single world economy." Globalisation process creates effective new international institutions to shape the market system in order give rise to more equal opportunities and outcomes, and to preserve the space for progressive social policies at a national level, which however are working against improvement of welfare of the majority. For instance, more business people and corporations are attracted to places and countries with low wages, low taxes, and low legislated social and environmental standards, thus creating untold inequality and confining the poorest including the disabled people to an even a peripheral national income and wealth. Besides, at the heart of this globalism lies the same idea of private capital that encourages full scope to pursue own interests, nationally and internationally. Globalisation can be seen to be creating new challenges, either in the shape of opportunities or new barriers to growth and progress in the world economy.

These programs have paved way to the globalization era, thus reversing long-held social policies, elimination progressive institutions, and reforming laws defending public ownership of resources. African countries, both in their national development plans and in international commitments have generally subscribed to the goals of universal social services and equal opportunities for all. While stability and sustainability are characterized by the participation of all members of society, inspiration of economic growth, income distribution in African countries has worsened during this era. The pie is bigger, but fewer marginalised people such as the disabled can access it. In light of this, the United Nations recognised the need for increased action to improve the lives of the poor segments in the world and has made some commitments. For the disabled people in the World, the UN has made some commitments which among others include covenants, conventions and declarations. These are:

Covenants:- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966); International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966); and the Convention on Human Rights, also known as the San Salvador Protocol (1988).

Conventions; - International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1966); and Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989);

Declarations;- Declaration of 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons: Declaration of 1983 - 1992 UN Decade of Disabled Persons; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) ; Declaration on the Right to Development (1986).

In addition to the above include the adoption of the 1993 UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (UN Resolution 48/96); and Adoption of the 1982 UN World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons. Meanwhile in a related vein, the African Heads of States declared 2000-2009 the African Decade of Disabled Persons. National efforts on the African Continent to achieve the objectives of this decade are being implemented.

1.1 Globalization, Social Exclusion and Disabled People
unregulated globalisation and liberalisation have been seen to reinforce social marginalization and exclusion of disabled people from the development process and inaccessibility to services and resources. No doubt universal declaration of Human Rights adopted by UN General Assembly by resolution No.217A(!111) of 10th December 1948, which recognised the freedom of individuals as well as their rights to equality, is a milestone in this are, but disabled people were not specifically covered by this important international declaration. This declaration did not include the prohibition of discrimination on the ground of disability specifically, even when disabled people constitute 10% of the world's population. This reflects insensitivity and apathy of policy makers towards the disabled people. Disabled people are excluded from secure employment and access to property, housing, credit, good education, health services, enjoyment of their own culture, and a clean environment. Social exclusion has thus, in turn led to a disruption of social cohesion.

To-date, the above have resulted into denial of opportunities in different spheres of life, discrimination on the ground of disability and their social and cultural isolation, let alone inadequate mobilisation and sensitisation about their potential and rights to development. These prevent full participation (economic, social, and political affairs) of disabled people in community and national development, thereby condemning them to object poverty and to peripheral living in society.

Development in African countries is without efforts to build social capacity, increase social cohesion, and ensure protection of human rights and the environment. Ironically, in the face of globalisation, legislators on the African continent are unable to exercise democratic rights to ensure everyone's needs are met. The process of globalization exacerbates differences in gender, race, culture and ethnicity, disability, age, and sexuality. This explains the current poor quality of life among disabled people in African countries, as they are comparative disadvantaged by the competition of the free market, thus undermining their rights, equality and dignity against the above, this paper discusses lowering legislative controls on social and environmental standards and impacts on disabled people and also provides the policy prescriptions necessary for attaining a socially inclusive development in this era of globalization. I show evidence that the effects are contradictory.

1.2 Poverty Inequality and Market Competitiveness
Globalisation has not affected, African countries the same, instead some have been hit severely experiencing their own reforms, cutting back welfare and unemployment programs, privatizing state enterprises, reducing the regulatory role of the state, and promoting international investment and trade above other domestic interests. Against this scenario, proponents of globalisation, still argue that conditions will improve overtime and that expectations are still high with the conviction that prosperity is on the way, to ne created by economic integration and more opening of economies. If anything, conditions are deteriorating and working against especially the marginalized in society. The income gap and poverty remains a reality in the Africans despite the fact that our nations have dutifully followed the prescriptions of the IMF, the World Bank, NAFTA, and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The neo-liberal form of globalization that dominates in the African states is neither the best nor the only way for Africans to integrate. Instead, globalisation gives a comparative advantage to the wealth - those with more capital, land, and skills - by increasing the concentration of these assets and favouring returns from capital over returns from labour. This inevitably leads to more inequality, even if the economy is growing. The poor people and the environment are bound to suffer when economic systems emphasize cheap labour and exploitable natural resources as key means of building competiveness. This becomes worse for disabled people as a marginalized and isolated group.

Many African countries have already committed themselves to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to eradicate poverty; providing universal access to education, health, and adequate shelter; promoting and defending the rights of all including disabled people; improving conditions for children; and respecting the cultural integrity of citizens. Yet the current path of globalized and liberalized market works against efforts towards these goals. For instance the neo-liberal approach directly confronts the structural obstacles to sustainable development and consciously hampers full participation of all members of society.

1.3 Globalisation and Disabled people's Employment standards
Proponents of free market argue that globalisation creates jobs and prosperity by increasing business opportunities. On the contrary, internationally set employment rights world over, have had negative impact on the exercise of the right association, collective bargaining, and the right to strike. In fact the working people in many countries world over have seen a tremendous loss of long-term, secure employment, which has been replaced by short-term, insecure jobs with fewer benefits and lower pay. The creation of and emphasis of the Morden sector has resulted into very few jobs, and promoted the expansion of informal sector employment, in which workers are excluded from benefits such as health plans, job protection, and social security because their jobs are neither unionized nor registered with their governments. This has disadvantaged the disabled people the more. Even the very few who happen to get work are disproportionately represented in the lowest-paid jobs with the worst working conditions.

While contributing economically both to their economies and to their families, as well as enhancing the competiveness of the forms for which they work, disabled workers and their families are nevertheless the victims of discrimination and mistreatment. They are caught between the desire of earning a living and the xenophobia of host firms to hire cheap labour services. In general disabled people are the last to be hired and first to be fired. Governments are forgetting their obligation to guarantee full social rights to workers, in accordance with international conventions, and to promote balanced social and economic development, which would reduce the suffering of disabled people in the first place as a special category of workers. In fact, employment growth especially for disabled people in this era is no better than it was under the so-called "closed" economies of the past.

1.4 Environment and Social Status
Globalisation has led to exclusive expansion and increased mobility and flexibility of capital. This has unduly created exploitation of natural resources and detracted the need to preserve them for the benefit of current and future generations. The model emphasizes production and marketing of commodities by the cheapest mens possible. This restricts the ability of most governments to legislate and act in favour of sustainability; by increasing the rate of deforestation, wastage and damage to the environment. The manufacturing sectors continue to pollute the environment with wastes from their production processes, and governments are reluctant to apply sanctions for fear of driving away investors. These all have had negative long-term consequences to not only disabled people's health but also the entire populace.

1.5 Globalisation versus Rights and Democracy
negotiating international agreements under globalisation, places restrictions on the actions of member governments. Governments seem to embrace a new internation approach of protecting markets and business people rather than human rights. Individualism, competition, and corporate power are replacing the values of solidarity, social justice, and democracy. Elected representatives of the people are abdicating control over important decisions that affect those to whom they are accountable. Instead, they are far-removed form the decisions that affect lives of the electorates.

The time has come to acknowledge the challenges of globalization are a new and sustainable market framework commensurate to the twenty-first century society's values and needs to be based on the principles of democracy, equity and observance of social and environmental standards. We need to reject the neo-liberal approach, where the pursuit of profit regardless of social and environmental costs; and inequitable access to and the overuse of limited natural resources over rides.

2.0 Recommendations
Markets must serve human rights, and not vice versa. It is time for African governments to recognize their obligation to defend social and environmental standards ahead of the rights of business people. In order to enforce social standards, efforts to re-introduce and improve social and environmental standards should be stepped up, entailing the need for the introduction, implantation and monitoring of such standards in developing countries. For instance, responsible ministries should be made to prioritise and mainstream these problems and projects implemented to protect social and environmental standards not to impact negatives onto the disadvantaged in society such as the disability sector. Each day new policies are enacted. The justification for these actions is to satisfy a perceived need: in this case disabled people should seek for practical exercisation of equalisation of rights and opportunities with other citizens in the current shape of globalisation with a need to make people governments and other development actors more accountable; we need to put right past wrongs.

Before proceeding with new market agreements, governments should conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of existing agreements and take effective steps to change these agreements. Such a review should address the agreements' impacts on marginalised communities, development, democracy, the environment, health, human rights, labour rights, and the rights of disabled people among others. The review must be conducted with the full participation of civil society and DPOs. The Governments must re-establish their rights to regulate and direct markets so that they benefits rather than harm social and environmental sustainability.

Before any further market competitions occur, as affected groups of people, we need to insist that governments review their commitments under national, regional, and international human rights declarations and instruments. A new form of recognition of the responsibilities of disabled people among other vulnerable people in communities in which they live is critical. The voice of the disabled people must be heard or else prosperity for all will remain a myth.

Since Africa and the entire world in general is experiencing rapid social and environmental changes, which make marginalised groups such as disabled persons particularly vulnerable. In this changing scenario, there is a need to ensure that they have full access to their entitlements and to protect them for some of the consequences of rapid changes. Legislative support is one of the most important means of achieving this objective. Disabled people, their stakeholders and activist should be enhanced to start lobbying for inclusion, implementation of legislations on the rights and measures, but also allotting of affirmative action.

Development partners should carry out their commitment according to the UN declarations, treaties conventions and other charters established, by providing the necessary support for their implementation.

3.0 Conclusion:
The advent of globalisation, as advanced by IMF and World Bank has led to economic integration and restructuring, negatively effecting the market setting in which policy choices are biased towards competitiveness and the free flow of capital and away from rights and standards. It deepens the historical gaps between the rich and the poor and foster social exclusion, contributing to an unjust society for the vulnerable, disabled people inclusive. Campaigns for the protection of human right of disabled persons are quite recent as the case in many countries on the African Continent. Very few countries such as South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and a few others have some legislation for the protection of rights of disabled persons. These legislations mark a welcome beginning for the elimination of discrimination on the ground of disability and their social, economic and cultural isolations. But there is a long journey ahead in our efforts to work for societies and environments, which are sensitive and caring for persons with disabilities, but also to challenge the odds of market competition.

African governments should reject the approach, by which all in society compete at the same footing. A just market system must recognize those basic social and environmental standards and other measures for improving the welfare of disabled people. Instead, African governments have both an opportunity and a duty to take the approach: building capacity and skills, improving social and environmental standards and living conditions, and respecting and valuing cultural diversity and biodiversity in our region.

At this juncture, organisations both national and international in the area of disability should introspect and commit themselves to allow disabled persons to participate at all levels including decision making process which will have a favourable impact on the Governments to promote equality and participation. May I also call upon the service provider and development partners to join this long struggle nationally and internationally with us on equal terms respecting the rights of disabled people's organisations for a new societal order for disabled persons based on equality in place of discrimination, opportunity in place of deprivation and participation in place of exclusion? Disabled people demand the construction of a new model of development based on justice, democracy, and freedom. Only in this way can we avoid social exclusion and ensure a sustainable livelihood for all in society.

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