Human Dignity Acts in the Global South, A Picture of Symbolic Politics

Persons Living with Disabilities (PLDs) have in history experienced some of the worst forms of marginalization, low human dignity and disrespect all around the world. They have been described with reduced potentials and reduced living conditions, their integrity trampled on as though they were not “normal” people as we are; this marginalization has only pushed them into the situation of Prolitariat as Karl Marx puts it, the section of the society that has nothing to offer or nothing to take to the Market. As a result of these horrible treatments most, especially in the global south, have felt ashamed coming out to exhibit what they have got. But PLDs have got so much to offer. All around the world, in Music, Sports, Arts, Science, Education etc. a lot have gone out to change the status quo, writing their names in the world’s hall of fame. But where is our own dignity when we treated them like we did? Where lays our own reflection on morality?

In my previous Article I delineated the influence of the ‘Oppositional Movements’ after the second world war; the wake up call on human societies, that irrespective of our color, race or physical/sensory abilities we are equal in accessing social infrastructure (ref.: Protection of Human Rights, a retrospect of the ‘Oppositional Movements’). In the United States particularly and extending to most parts of Europe these movements led to the equality of blacks among whites leading to the freedom and independence of many colonized nations in the global south and the abolishing of slavery; equity for women and men; and the recognition of LGBTs. Even though until today blacks still face hatred in the predominantly white nations, with women becoming victims of misogyny, these Movements have become the rudiments that have shaped the ethics of human societies and their enormous impact on society cannot be overemphasized. The Movements not only gave access to the marginalized in society to rise up to their potentials but also led to the enactments of laws that protect persons with disabilities and persons with less abilities in many nations. In the USA the movements led to the passage of the Rehabilitation Law of 1973 and later the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) 1990, which gave expanded access to affected persons both in private and public life; in Great Britain, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which has undergone many Amendments; in Germany one can make mention of the Social Law Books 9 and 12 (Sozialgesetzbücher IX und XII) and now the German Federal Participatory Law (Bundesteilhabegesetz, BTHG 2020). These laws not only recognized disability rights as being human rights but also give them more opportunities to develop their potentials.

For instance, the BTHG 2020, which came into force on the 1st of January, 2020 places enormous power in the hands of Persons with Disabilities in Germany. I call this law “The highest Empowerment of Human Dignity”. Among many powers the Participatory Law puts in the hands of Persons with Disabilities, the law declares that “Menschen mit Behinderung” (Persons with Disabilities) will as of now be seen as “Menschen mit Beeinträchtigung” (Persons with Impairment). This means the law as of January 2020 begins to recognize a transition of the use in all scholarly articles as well as the everyday use of “Behinderung” to “Beeinträchtigung”. This is significant because not only does the new term reflect the ethics of the Disability Studies but also the medicine. People are diagnosed of Impairment, a sickness, not a disability. Disability is a social and environmental phenomenon. A person is disabled when existing and or non-existing structures hinder them to live an everyday normal life. The use of the terms “Behinderung”, “Behinderten” and “Behindert sein” are therefore unethical as already vehemently criticized in my previous article (Ref. “The Language of Disability). The etymology of the term “Behinderung” means more than just disability.

The enormous importance of the State in the intervention of social phenomena through the enactment of laws cannot be overemphasized. They spell out which support institutions should exist, empowers affected persons and open new doors for affected persons to live up to their potentials.

In most nations of the global south mainstream Disability policies target the eradication of discrimination, seek to encourage education of Persons with Disabilities and open up occupational opportunities (See: Law No. 4 of 1997 of Indonesia, Article 415 of Ethiopia, Disability Act 2012 of Malawi, Persons with Disabilities Act 2010 of Tanzania and Article 21 of Uganda). However, there is a huge gap between these policies and legislations and the implementation and reality experienced by Persons with Disabilities (Sophie Mitra, 2018: Disability, Health and Human Development). The wheels of transmitting the contents of these policies to the affected population seem to be slower than expected.

Moreover, most of these laws refuse to recognize Disability as a social phenomenon. For example, in the Disabilities Report of Indonesia (September 2014), Sri Moertiningsih Adioetomo, Daniel Mont and Irwanto submit that, Law No. 4 of 1997 of Indonesia defines a Person with Disability as someone with physical or mental “abnormalities” or “Disabilities” … that can potentially hinder or disturb their daily activities (article 11). The law however refuses to recognize the societal connection of a disability or hindrance. As stated earlier in this text, impairment in itself is not a hindrance but the lack of support mechanisms as well as societal discrimination and stigmatizations are.

It is therefore eminent to state that, these laws are not rights-based legal instruments. They are a parody of human dignity and only represent symbolic politics.

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