Reflection of a Mandela Washington Fellow: Social Exclusion: An Expression of Inequalities

In the 20th century, a great educator, Paulo Freire, made a profound statement, one that points to the source of most human inequalities and injustice. He said “the greatest problem of humanity is dehumanisation.” No matter how we have defined this, denying other humans of their basic rights to education, empowerment, healthcare, shelter and a life lived to the fullest is man’s greatest limitation on humanity. Nelson Mandela’s words gave a clearer definition to dehumanization (which is most expressed as social dehumanization in this age): to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity; to impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanise them.

The United Nations reports that around 15% of the world’s population live with disabilities; with 80% living in developing countries. They are the world’s largest minority, yet many communities and governments in developing countries do not deliberately plan for them when designing and implementing infrastructural projects and socio-economic programs. Worst still, many programs targeted at persons with disabilities in developing nations do not involve the participation of persons with disability, nor their consultation. We probably often forget that disability issues are human right issues and they should be treated as such.

In Nigeria, where I work to empower young persons with disabilities (through Project Enable, an initiative I co-founded to promote the rights and empowerment of persons with disabilities in Nigeria), the rights of persons with disabilities remain unprotected. Many young persons with disabilities are left to beg and struggle through life. Thanks to a few States that have special people’s laws in place, however there are still lots of implementation gaps including financial inclusion, accessible quality education, special healthcare facilities, employment, accessible transportation, access to public buildings and social services. 

On Sunday, July 12, 2015, I participated in the Disability Pride March in New York City, organized in commemoration of 25years of signing into the law the American with Disability Act (signed July, 1990). It became clear to me that one of the indices of development is how much we are able to protect the special people in our society while creating equal opportunities for all. As we marched across the city of Manhattan, I came to appreciate better what it means to truly have an inclusive society. Don’t get me wrong, an inclusive society is not built in a day, but at least let us get started. And a good place to start is to sign into law Nigerian’s Disability Bill which is presently at the Senate.

Nigeria’s population (and Africa in general) is projected to increase exponentially in few years. This implies more population of persons with disabilities. Report also adds that one in every four persons is likely to have one form of disability or the other in their lifetime. Persons with disabilities are also human: with dreams, aspirations and a right to equal opportunities. When we do not protect them against discrimination and stigmatization, and create an inclusive system, we limit our community because they live a life of total dependence while also limiting their care-givers. Imagine when 15% of a population do not get a chance to contribute to the national development; that’s indeed a national loss.

Social exclusion is not an accident. Like poverty and slavery, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings. I challenge everyone to rise and become advocates for an inclusive society, one that is free of discrimination and stigmatization of disabled people. Let us challenge our government to put structures and policies in place that we might give equal opportunities for all. Could we be the great generation that Mandela asked us to be when he said: “sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great”?Would we be that generation that ends all forms of inequalities against persons with disabilities in Nigeria? 

Happy Mandela’s Day (July 18th)

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