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.

News

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

Srijana KC smiles at the camera. She has long dark hair and is wearing a red scarf and green cardigan sweater.

Voices Unsilenced

Often dismissed as a personal concern, mental health is a societal issue, according to Srijana KC, who works as a psychosocial counselor for the Nepali organization KOSHISH. KC’s own history includes a seizure disorder, which resulted in mental health challenges. She faced prejudice in both educational settings and the workplace, which pushed her towards becoming a street vendor to afford her medications. Now with KOSHISH, she coordinates peer support gatherings in different parts of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.

Read more about Voices Unsilenced

Three fellows with the Disability Justice Project stand behind their cameras in a room. One is blind and one is low vision.

Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Last summer, the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”

Read more about Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Sharma sits next to one of his subjects - a man from the nomadic Raute people.

Beyond the Frame

DJP mentor Kishor Sharma is known for his long-term photography and film projects exploring community and change. Over the last 12 years, he has been documenting the nomadic Raute people in mountainous Nepal. With any project, Sharma aims to actively engage participants, sharing photography and videography techniques. In September, Sharma became a mentor to DJP Fellow Chhitup Lama. He was eager to connect “this idea of sharing the visual technique with the storytelling idea and the issue of disability inclusion.”

Read more about Beyond the Frame

Thacien Nzigiyimana stands in front of rubble outside one-story stone buildings.

‘I Am Left With Nothing’

Recent flooding in Rwanda has left many persons with disabilities without homes and jobs. “Sincerely speaking, I [am] left with nothing,” says Theophile Nzigiyimana, who considers himself lucky to have escaped the flooding. The flooding demonstrates the disproportionate impacts that disasters have on persons with disabilities, which will only intensify as climate change continues.

Read more about ‘I Am Left With Nothing’

Neera Adhikari types on a computer at her desk.

‘Leadership Training is a Key Focus’

DJP Fellow Sita Sah interviews Neera Adhikari about starting the Blind Women Association Nepal (BWAN) and the steps BWAN has taken to advance the rights of Nepali women who are blind and low-vision. Women with disabilities, particularly those living in rural areas, “face discrimination from family and society which prevents them from venturing outside their homes,” says Adhikari. “In a household where there are two children, one disabled son and one daughter, societal beliefs often favor sending the son to school while neglecting the daughter’s education.”

Read more about ‘Leadership Training is a Key Focus’

Satya Devi Wagle sits at her desk, signing papers.

Accessible Instruction

Nepal has between 250,000 and one million Deaf people, but most do not attend school. In many schools for Deaf individuals, education ends at 10th grade, and higher education is rarely available and often inadequate. DJP Fellow Bishwamitra Bhitrakoti interviews Satya Devi Wagle from the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal about the strategies, challenges and successes of her work on inclusive education. “Because hearing teachers are not competent in sign language, there is no quality instruction in a resource class in Nepal,” she says. “We are working … to create a Deaf-friendly curriculum.”

Read more about Accessible Instruction

fapjunk.com