In recent times, IRLI has been working closely with the UK disability organisation Power International. POWER assists people with disabilities in accessing and promoting their rights, while further maximising their participation in economic and social life. POWER has an extensive array of programmes and partnerships throughout Africa and Asia, touching on everything from micro finance to rehabilitative, prosthetic and orthotic services.
In 2012 IRLI and POWER’s Legal Affairs Advisor, Anthony Cahalan BL, put together a team to form the Mental Health Working Group under the POWER Legal Advisory Network, which was established to support and supplement POWER’s human rights work.
The Mental Health Working Group’s initial brief was to assist in developing a new Mental Health Services Bill for Zambia. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was ratified in January 2011, however this is not enough to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities in Zambia. It is imperative for Zambia to domesticate the Convention into laws, policies and recognised standards. Over a number of years, the Zambian Federation of the Disabled (ZAFOD) has been working on drafting a Mental Health Services Bill to reflect both the spirit and intent of the UNCRPD, especially the empowering of persons with disabilities with the right to exercise their legal capacity. Into the future, development of regulations will be required to accompany the draft Bill. These will establish the actual framework for how the laws will be implemented in policy and practice.
Following the consultation, advices and redrafting of the Bill by the Working Group, it was decided that a lawyer was needed on the ground to support POWER’s partner, ZAFOD, in the process of getting the Bill before Parliament and advancing the development of mental health regulations to accompany the Act. Shauna Gillan (left) was our woman, and has been working in this capacity since the end of January 2013. Shauna is a barrister with a background in human rights litigation; she has previously worked in a number of African countries including Kenya, South Africa and Malawi. In addition to her involvement with the draft Bill, Shauna will be on hand to assist ZAFOD with casework, strategic litigation and capacity building.
POWER’s work in the area of mental health is progressive and gaining traction throughout Africa and beyond. IRLI looks forward to continuing to support this work, and develop the collaborative relationship with POWER.
Rachel Power, IRLI