World Council of Churches

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

Disability and economic globalization

06 November 2004


By Dr. Elly Macha
P O Box 8801
Dar es Salaam
Tel: +255-744-892174
E-mail: emacha2000 (at)

The Millennium Development goals (MDGs) are the measurements set by the Department of Economic and Social Affirms of the United Nation to determine the level of achievement attained by the International community in an attempt to suppress different human catastrophes caused by the incident of uneven sharing of the fruits of Globalisation and social injustice prevalent in the developing world. In the United Nation Millennium Declaration, endorsed in 2000, 189 countries, both rich and poor, agreed to an unprecedented pledge to eradicate human poverty, promote development and support sustainable development. The Millennium Declaration sets eight MDGs to be achieved by 2015. These concern basic needs and rights of all people; to educate a family, put food on the table, earn a decent living, prevent and treat diseases and illness. These components for determination were defined in the year 2000 regarding the benchmark of 1990.

The Eight MDGs are:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce Child Mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development

in the UN Millennium summit of 2000, the progress in the implementation of these goals was evaluated with the view of singling out challenges that face international community in the cause of execution of the whole strategic plan. It is therefore the interest of this paper, to reflect to what extent the eight MDGs in one way or another encompass the rights and needs of disabled people in the developing world especially Sub-Saharan Africa with the view of identifying gaps and challenges particularly the effects and make some recommendations focusing on mainstreaming disability in the MDGs. The paper also discusses the way forward concerning the status of disabled people in relation to MDGs.

The Reflection of the Millennium Development Goals with the Disability Perspective
Experience shows that most of African countries tend to ignore the issues of disability. The concept of disability is yet being considered as a crosscutting and developmental one by most of the African political leaders. This is why in most of the local and international development policies and programmes the specific concerns of disabled people are not accorded reasonable attention.

Two factors are thought to be the reason behind this trend of an oversight.

Firstly, in the world cultural background, when human society was in primitive stage and the level of science and technology was still very low, an individual contribution in the production and reproduction process was highly appreciated. An individual could only be respected depending on the extent of participation in productive activities.

Disabled people due to their impairments and the harsh environmental conditions of the past world, could not effectively engage in productivity like their non-disabled peers. Under these circumstances, disabled people could not be accorded the same respect, which their counterparts non-disabled used to enjoy in the communal societies. Consequently, they suffered a lot of trauma due to the social stigma harboured by the communal family members towards them. For instance, some tribes in Africa and even some parts of Europe when a child is born with impairment was either killed so as to rid the society with the case or kept indoors for the rest of his/her life for fear of shame in the society.

This type of attitude is still prevalent even in out contemporary societies. For instance, a recent case of a Maasai child in Tanzania who was murdered in cold blood by his own father in collaboration with his friends, claiming that the presence of an impaired child in his family would make him poor since it would cause his herds of cattle amounting to 3000 not to breed (Nipashe Newspaper, May 19th 2001). The policy makers and designers of today are thriving form these very societies obsessed with this sense of stigma. Therefore, it is no wonder when they develop policies they tend to ignore the issue of disability.

The society has gone to the extent of devising scientific ways of terminating the lives of disabled people as evidenced in the Eugenistic movement that emerged in the 19th century. Richard Light (2001) writes "…millions of dollars have been invested in genetic research that has the goal of preventing the birth of disabled children. Disabled people particularly people with learning disabilities and mental illness are routinely subjected to untested ‘treatments' or, depressingly often, become subjects for medical research…"

This is to uphold the idea as put forward by Marta Russell (1998) that "the world would be better off without disabled people".

When science advancement which is a cornerstone of MDGs is used in this way we wonder what effects will it reflect upon disability and the MDGs themselves. In fact this greatly influences infringement of human rights of disabled people.

Secondly, most of the African leaders and technocrats still consider disability as a charity issue and therefore tend to leave the supporting role upon the donor community. But these governments spend a lot of money in buying ammunition, luxurious cars for the people in the super structure, and even establishing some unproductive projects which in most cases suffer natural deaths. They do not realise that they have got indispensable role under the law especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 that emphasises on respect of human rights and equality for all mankind, and the United Nation's Resolution of 1975 which calls upon all the member states to include disability in all of their developmental plans.

As a matter of fact, this oversight has adversely affected the access to various social services by disabled people in African countries. As a result of the absence of clear developmental policies that stipulates the rights and the needs of disabled people, they have fallen victims of illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, diseases, hunger and other social disasters.

Furthermore, the Bretonwood Institutions have instructed the developing countries to turn all the social amenities into market commodities, and due to the poverty confronting the disabled population; it is very difficult for them to have an equal and fair access to such social amenities. In fact, the lives of disabled population in Africa, especially in Sub-Saharan are really miserable and hopeless.

As it is going to be explained below, even the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals have failed to accommodate disability issues in their specific targeted areas of their concerns.

The Millennium Development Goal 1:
Spells out targets and strategies to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. It critically analyses the magnitude and the extent of devastation caused by hunger and poverty. But nothing is ever emphasized that tries to articulate the needs of disabled people who are adversely affected by poverty and hunger. Poverty and hunger is being one of the agents that causes disability or render the lives of disabled people mch more catastrophic and miserable. It is indisputable fact that the connection between poverty and disability are so interwoven.

The root causes of impairment in developing world countries are such as malnutrition, poverty, landmines, lack of services, etc. All these hit the poorest people hardest. In fact, a considerable proportion of impairments in the developing world are a direct result of poverty, injustice, and exploitation by the developed world. For instance:

  • Over 100 million people have impairments as a result of malnutrition.
  • 250,000 children go blind every year through lack of vitamin A
  • 800 million people are at risk of preventable learning difficulties through lack of iodine.
  • Each year 100,000 women in Africa acquire impairments through childbirth complications.
  • 40% of hearing loss in children in the developing world would be preventable by early identification
  • There were 100,000 new cases of polio in 1994.
  • Six million people worldwide are affected by leprosy each year.

With this reality on the level of effects of disability and relation to poverty and hunger it becomes very hard to convince any developmentalist the disability could not be considered as a cross-cutting issue which calls for an urgent attention. In order for the Millennium Development Goal 1 to be complete it is supposed to be re-addressed and spell out specific plans to 9interven in the danger that face millions of disabled people as a result of hunger and poverty.

In the report of World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation, it is strongly emphasized that the new trend of globalisation should be the one which is focusing on the people, inclusive, which respect human rights for all people and make sure that it is for the benefit of all people and the disadvantaged groups in the society.

Goal 2 begins with a very encouraging statement that:

"Basic Education for all is a basic human right and is central to the world strategy for achieving other millennium Development Goals and reducing Extreme poverty". The Millennium Declaration and The Education for All initiatives pledge that by 2015 all children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete primary schooling. Children must be better educated to earn a decent living and become engaged informed citizens. Education also allows development in other areas to take root. Better education is essential for complementary good public health practices and for many other crucial development services. From Agricultural extension to job training.

Despite of this seemingly very formidable intention to provide primary education to a larger number of children by the year 2015's, still the same oversight recurs. There is no mention of a strategy to cater for the special educational needs in favour of disabled children.

Talking of inclusive education as it has been the notion nowadays. It was expected that this goal could state something on the affirmative action to formulate a particular strategy in relation to disabled children. Most of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa tend to presume that the role of primary education provision for disabled children is upon the donor community or the missionaries, i.e. it is a charity-oriented mode. These governments fail to realise that the provision of primary education for disabled children is a matter of human right rather than charity. For example: one of the condition of debt relief for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) is to use the money obtained out of that relief to strengthen and expand primary education. But, budget allocations are not realistic when it come to the issue of funding inclusive education whereby disabled children are expected to benefit from.

In Tanzania for example, the Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP) sets aside only US$ 100 per disabled child per year but, in actual sense US$ is not commensurate with the actual demand of he disabled child in primary school. Therefore, for this goal to do justice to disabled children it should be reviewed to encompass the rights and needs of disabled children.

Goal 3 emphasizes on the issue of gender and equality as a very important aspect for sustainable economic development. It also states that appreciating the issue of gender and equality is the observation of human right. The achievement of this goal is measured through three aspects, that is: Education, employment and political decision-making. The goal goes further to express he fact that some women suffer illiteracy, unemployment, and that they hold a very negligible position in matters of political decision making.

But all these aspects are suffered and its effects are felt even double when it comes to disabled women. Stereotypical attitudes have purnished disabled women to the extreme margins of society. Most of the problems faced by women in general have greater impact on the lives of disabled women. The intersection of impairment and gender involves the intersection of notions about gender roles and expectations (and power relations or inequitable authority and control between men and women) and notions about impairment " dialectically there is an association between the social forces that construct disability and those which construct gender.

The cultural and social construction of gender has led to the segregation of women in the division of labour so that the women's roles are seen as insignificant; and women's work is often not accorded its full worth. The same cultural and social constructs intensify discrimination of disabled women with regard to expectations of nurturance and participation in socio-economic, political and cultural spheres.

This goal should take into account the issue of gender and disability in all dimensions with the view to redress the gender inequality and segregation which disabled women face within their societies.

The aim of goal 4 is to cut child mortality by two thirds by 2015. within this goal specific strategy must also be put in place on the fact that disabled parents are over powered by poverty and ignorance which in turn expose their off springs into common six dangerous killer diseases to their children. The development of a health grown child depends a lot on how its mother is been prepared in terms of mental and physical capacity to bring up the child. A frustrated mother with the very low income and illiterate will not be in a position to effectively bring up the child into a full developed and active social human being.

Most disabled parents in Sub-Saharan Africa are found in peripheral areas where there is a great distance form their home places to the medical health centres where they could take their children for vaccination and immunisation. Under these circumstances it is quite obvious that the mortality rate of the infants of disabled parents is going to be higher than that of non-disabled parents.

When this goal considerers the reduction of mortality rate, specific emphasis should also be put on the issue of early intervention to spot out some avoidable impairments which could be cured in their premature stages.

Goal 5 aims at improving maternal health. Some 500,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth each year and over 99 percent of them live in the developing world. The goal emphasizes that maternal health is a matter of human right although to a great extent, this reality is not put in actual practice.

Still disabled women are at a higher risk that apart form their poverty and illiteracy, they are faced with intense negative attitude prevailing in the society. Some people especially in Africa tend to believe that disabled people are sexually abnormal. So it turns out to be surprising when disabled women are found to be pregnant. As a result of these attitudes they are always ill treated when they approach clinic centres or even when they intend to consult the traditional mid-wife. Because of this negative attitudes and ill treatment they face in the society, disabled women develop a tendency of avoidance. Therefore training and sensitisation of the society members on human right of disabled people is required as part of the millennium goal no.5.

Goal 6 is of specific interest on the scourge of HIV/AIDS, also malaria and other diseases. It highlights the rate and the magnitude of HIV/AIDS spread and infection among the human population in the developing world. Yet again the issue of disability has not been given its reasonable attention.

The goal suggests that education and training is the most appropriate method to combat the disease. But, it is very unfortunate that in the campaign against the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other related diseases, the needs of disabled constituency are neglected. For instance, the training materials are not in accessible forms like Braille for visually impaired, large print for low vision, sign language for deaf people, and sometimes the locations where seminars and workshops on HIV/AIDS are conducted are not accessible, making difficult for some disabled people to reach such venues.

With limited knowledge on the methods of prevention disabled people find themselves engaged in sexual relationships without an informed decision. Hence, they are always at higher risk of infection and according to the society's ignorance about disability, some people tend to believe that engaging in sexual relationships with a disabled partner is safer since disabled people are sexually abnormal, hence, free from infection. Therefore, some specific training strategy must be devised to intervene in the rate of infection amongst disabled people.

Goal 7 and 8 are collectively analysed, as they are general issues of the world concern. Environmental issue is a quite sensitive within this modern world of science and technology. It is holistic since it has direct effect to both poor and the rich. However, for all mankind living in secured and comfortable environment is a human right. And this goal should also very strongly emphasise for disabled people to be accorded the same right.

Goal 8 greatly emphasizes on region cooperation and relationship between developing and developed world. Debt relief which is the important aspect in this goal, should benefit not only the least developing countries, but within those countries, their most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens. If sufficient amount of developmental expenditures is going to be invested on th education of women and children, disabled and orphans, then the MDGs will be more realistic, inclusive and people centred ones.

In a nutshell, the eight millennium goals have sidelined the constituency of disabled people. This is an oversight which must be kept in check, otherwise the lives of the majority of disabled people will end up depending on charity and sympathy which is the source of their miseries today.

The Effects of an Oversight
Generally, the omission of the disability component found in the Millennium Development Goals will eventually cause a lot of harm to disabled people. Disabled people who are already in the blink of negative attitudes, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and killer diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, in the absence of any global strategy their current poor status will exacerbate. This oversight should also be recognised as a typical violation of human rights. If there is no intervention that seriously intends to include disability in all developmental agendas, the destiny of disabled people in Africa will never be realised.

African countries are poor, highly depend upon the international community and Bretonwood institutions for economic support, they are highly indebted in such a way that they might assume such situation as pretext for fail to adequately provide for the disadvantaged citizens. Therefore, the industrial world in partnership with the least developed countries must give more resources to such countries in order to foster development of disabled people and promote their human rights status.

Globalisation has set in motion a process of far-reaching change that is affecting everyone. New technology supported by more open policies, has created a world more interconnected than ever before. This spans not only growing interdependence in economic relations, trade, investment, finance and the organization of production globally, but also social and political interaction among organizations and individuals across the world. Globalisation has led to the increased material production, open more markets, employment, all of which are vry essential component in the poverty reduction. However, the current process of globalisation is generating unbalance outcomes, both between and within countries. Wealth is being created, but too many countries and people are not sharing in its benefits. They also have little or no voice in shaping the process. All of these effects of globalisation turn out to be so immense for disabled people since one aspect of globalisation is competition for market forces, technology and skills, labour market that demand high qualified personnel. For disabled people who have missed out these opportunities of acquiring sustainable professional capacities and economical power definitely going to be the losers in the struggle.

The Significant of Mainstreaming disability in Millennium Development Goals
Apart from all the issues that influence attention in Africa such as hunger, poverty, peace and security, HIV/AIDS, the issue of disability would always and still remain paramount in the agenda. Let alone the issue of poverty which is one of the source of disability, there are issues of civil wars going on in some African countries whose consequences is a creation of more and more disabled people, also the presence of landmines which are scattered across Africa with the specific intensity in Angola, Mozambique, Egypt, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Sudan, just to mention a few, brings in hundreds and thousands of disabled people. In addition, the contemporary civil strives and the acts of terrorism have a great contribution to the increased number of disabled people.

Therefore, failure to include disability component in the Millennium Development Goals is neglecting the truth which, if is acted upon, a sweetable ground for change would be created. This population of disabled people which is left unchecked is full with mental and physical capacities which if harnessed will play an integral part in promoting development and economic sustainability in the developing world. In spite of the fact that disabled people are 10% of any given population and 20% of the world's poorest, the society must understand that they are in irreplaceable part of 100%. No one is prevented from being disabled, it is a misfortune that might befall any human being who is physically fit; so when the policy makers design programmes and activities which are expedient for disabled people, they actually create the environment that might positively benefit them in the future, because no one knows who is next in the list.

Disability is a cross cutting issue and policy makers should always avoid blanket statements because there are certain marginalized groups in the society which due to the nature of their biological, physiological, geographical settings, ets. Might always be given less attention when it comes to the issue of resources and services sharing.

To make the Millennium Development Goals realistic with the view to address the problems facing disabled people in Africa, there must be a close link between such goals and The African Decade of disabled people. All of the initiatives by the United Nations must reflect these two programmes.

The African Decade is about social change. Change in the way disabled people perceive themselves and their capabilities; change in what we expect form governments, donors, countries, civil society and the corporate sector; change in the way we relat to each other. And that kind of change calls for dialogue and sustained engagement. Therefore, the challenge is to have the political will to commit necessary resources for implementation of the Decade programme and human rights instruments, and for effective communication with disabled people in Africa. However, Millennium Development Goals can only be achieved if disabled people are recognised as being among the poorest of the poor. And if development, from birth onwards and at all levels is based on human rights.

The entire population of disabled people is expecting a world in which they can take their rightful place as proud and participating citizens. They want that world today; tomorrow is too late. Many people tell us that disability is too specialist an issue, that services for disabled people are too costly, for disability to represent what they would call a realistic component of today's development programme. If disability is a human rights and developmental issue, the fact that there is no choice for the United Nations and donor community but to include disabled people in its development programmes is true of each and every one of us in the African continent.

We seek a process of globalisation with a strong social dimension based on universally shared values, and respect for human rights and individual dignity; one that is fair, inclusive, democratically governed and provides opportunities and tangible benefits for all countries and people. A vibrant civil society empowered by freedom of association and expression that reflects and voice the full diversity of views and interests. Organisations representing public interests, the poor and other disadvantaged groups are also essential for ensuring participatory and socially just governance.


Action on Disability and Development & Disability Awareness in Action (2003) Left of the Agenda?: Mainstreaming Disability in Development. A conference Report London

Allen T. and Thomas, A. (eds.) (2000) poverty and Development into the 21st Century. London, Oxford University Press and The Open University Press.

Degener, T. and Koster - Dreese, Y. (eds) (1995) Human Rights and Disabled Persons: Essays and Relevant Human Rights Instruments. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London.

Information Centre of Disability (2004) Mainstreaming Disability in the Electoral Process. Paper presented at the Meeting held at Episcopal Conference Centre 26th August, 2004 on "Access of people with Disabilities to the Electoral Process" Dar es salaam Tanzania.

Macha, E. (2002) Gender, Disability and Access to Education in Tanzania. PhD Thesis, University of Leeds.

Miles, S. (1996) Engaging with the Disability Rights Movement: The experience of Community - based Rehabilitation in Southern Africa. Disability & Society vol. 11 no. 4

Nipashe News Paper (May 19th 2001) Dar es Salaam Tanzania.

Nyanje, p. (2004) Globalisation Report proposes Parliamentary Group. Guardian Newspaper, 25th February 2004, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Stone E. (ed) (1999) Learning from Action and Research on Disability in the Majority World. The Disability Press, University of Leeds

United Nations (2000) Millennium Development Goals. UN, Geneva. "Democratising Globalisation Democracy". Statement by his Excellency Benjamin Mkapa, President of Tanzania and co-chair of the World commission, Presenting the Commission's Report to the Third Ordinary Session of The Assembly of The African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 6th July 2004.