Skip to main content
Chancy Patrick Namalawa looks off to the right.
Chancy Patrick Namalawa believes his loan application was rejected due to his disability.


Financial Exclusion

Play audio version

Persons with Disabilities in Malawi Grapple with Loan Accessibility

October 27, 2022

BLANTYRE, Malawi – A national effort to reduce poverty through the provision of small-scale loans in Malawi is not reaching persons with disabilities, advocates say.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Malawi is one of the poorest nations in the world, with nearly half its residents living below the poverty line. In 2007, the country worked with the IMF to develop the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy in an effort to promote sustainable local economic development. One of the plan’s core tenets is to improve access to financial services, such as loans and savings accounts,  particularly among marginalized communities. However, this effort – referred to as financial inclusion – has yet to reach persons with disabilities.

Despite the importance of small-scale loans in providing economic stimulation in poor communities, most Malawians with disabilities do not have access to them. In a 2022 qualitative study, nine out of 10 bank managers surveyed said the participation of persons with disabilities in financial services was low. “It is really a challenge for persons with disabilities to access loans,” says Chancy Patrick Namalawa, a person with a physical disability resulting from a spinal cord injury. Namalawa says he applied for a loan to start a business, but his application was denied by the loan officer, which he believes was due to the officer’s negative perceptions of persons with disabilities. 

Namalawa believes persons with disabilities have trouble obtaining loans partly because they don’t have knowledge of how financial lending institutions work. Symon Munde, executive director at the Federation of Disability Organizations of Malawi (FEDOMA), agrees.  

“Basically the biggest challenges is that our banking sector and financial sector is not very competitive in terms of taking on board persons with disabilities as people who can access loans,” he says. “The lack of awareness among persons with disabilities about microfinance service providers is another challenge.”

Munde also says that some of the officers involved in providing loans are biased against persons with disabilities. Bank officers sometimes assume that loan applicants with disabilities will not be able to pay back their loans and consequently reject their applications.

If persons with disabilities could access financial services and loans, they would be better equipped to contribute to the economic development of their communities, alleviating poverty, the 2022 study concluded. Part of making loans more accessible is educating persons with disabilities about how these financial transactions work, Munde says. “I think there should be quite substantive awareness of issues to do with economic empowerment in the country, more especially issues of the loan,” he says.

As for structural changes, Munde hopes to see banks in Malawi follow through on the national goal of financial inclusion. “The central bank, which is the regulator in the financial service sector, should be able to have some of the conditionalities that focus on disability inclusion, and Malawi micro-financial service network need to continue with the agenda it started then on disability mainstreaming,” he says.

As banks incorporate plans to make their services more accessible, Munde encourages persons with disabilities to develop confidence and involve themselves in business enterprises. He is optimistic that in the future, banks will recognize the benefits of providing loans to persons with disabilities. “I’m telling you that in terms of the money lending institutions, [they] will be looking for us instead of us looking for them,” says Munde.

Duster Lucius is a 2022 DJP Fellow and a 19-year-old disability youth activist who is DeafBlind (partial hearing, completely blind). He is a national youth coordinator at the Visual Hearing Impairment Membership Association (VIHEMA) in Malawi. @2022 Duster Lucius. All rights reserved.

Desmond LaFave contributed to this report.

News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice

Sri Sukarni sits in a motorbike sidecar, looking at the camera.

‘I Never Imagined I Could Do This’

Dissatisfied by the way local news portrays people with disabilities, DJP Fellow Sri Sukarni is determined to use her new video skills to share issues important to her community. At the top of her agenda is the lack of accessible public service buildings. “This is what I want to convey to the media, to the government,” she says.

Read more about ‘I Never Imagined I Could Do This’

Benedicta Oyedayo Oyewole sits in a chair, looking at the camera.

‘You Can’t Legislate Attitudes’

When DJP Fellow Benedicta Oyèdayọ̀ Oyèwọlé was a child, a pastor laid hands on her to “cast out the demons” and blamed her disability on witches. Today, Oyèwọlé is working as an advocate for Nigerians with disabilities to end discrimination: “It’s people’s attitudes that need to be transformed. You can’t legislate attitudes.” 

Read more about ‘You Can’t Legislate Attitudes’

Kinanty Andini uses a video camera.

‘Videos Are Like Art to Me’

When she was four years old, DJP Fellow Kinanty Andini drew all over the walls in her mother’s house. Now she’s using her creativity to make films that fight against mental health stigmas. “I want to show the society who we really are,” says Andini. “I want people to know that we are not what the stigma says about us.”

Read more about ‘Videos Are Like Art to Me’

Olúwáṣeun Oníyídé Olútòni stands outside, looking at the camera.

When Identities Collide

Olúwáṣeun Oníyídé Olútòni says that living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities has shaped the way the world sees her – and how she sees the world: “My disability, gender identity, and queerness are not separate parts of me. They are parts of what makes me whole.”

Read more about When Identities Collide

Cyprian Niyibigira stands, looking at the camera.

Shut Out

Accessible job opportunities are few and far between for persons with short stature in Rwanda, says Vice President of the Rwanda Union of Little People Manasseh Nzanira. A woman with short stature who has remained unemployed despite having a bachelor’s degree for over four years shares her story.

Read more about Shut Out

Chancy Patrick Namalawa looks off to the right.

Financial Exclusion

A national effort to reduce poverty through the provision of small-scale loans in Malawi is not reaching persons with disabilities, advocates say. A man with a disability recounts his experience applying for a loan, and a Malawian disability rights advocate shares his hope for equal loan access for persons with disabilities.

Read more about Financial Exclusion