In a small agricultural county located six hours northwest from the nation's capital, the majority of women and girls with disabilities are not informed on where to seek help when they are violated. As a result they suffer in silence. Those that know where to get help are hindered by a lack of disability friendly services (i.e. no sign language interpreters, inaccessible infrastructure, negative attitudes by service providers, and high poverty levels). Therefore, the women with disabilities in Vihiga County, Kenya have very low self-esteem and do not speak out when their rights are violated.
As a result of the activities conducted by a non-governmental organization, women with disabilities were able to create linkages among themselves and are now connected with the health facilities, the GBV department, and mainstream women’s organizations.
During a professional exchange program to the U.S., Naomi Ruth Esiaba of the Kenya-based disabled women’s organization Disability and Women Development Strategies (DWDS), visited American counterparts working in her field. She learned that in order to successfully address issues for women and girls with disabilities you need involvement from a wider spectrum of people in the community. Since Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a concern among many people in Vihiga County, it was clear to Ms. Esiaba that there was an opportunity to link women with disabilities to the existing women's networks in her community. This linkage would have the potential to increase access for women with disabilities to resources, services, and social activities, and create more awareness on disability rights among the general population.
DWDS set out to educate and raise awareness among women and girls with disabilities and other people in the community. They brought together women and girls with disabilities for a discussion with key resource people such as health professionals, community based organizations, women leaders, human rights activists, and a counselor. The resource people, all of whom were non-disabled women, shared information on GBV and possible ways of getting help when violated.
A follow-up one-day workshop was held at a hospital and was attended by 20 women and girls with disabilities and other non-disabled women who are well informed in matters relating to health, human rights, women movements, and politics. Even Her Excellency the First Lady of Vihiga County, Mrs. Elizabeth Akaranga, honoured the invitation and attended the workshop. This was the first time she interacted with women with disabilities and she shared that the meeting was a priority:
“Since I had not had a chance to meet with such a unique group of women, I had to put aside all the other activities so that I can be with you and I am going to stay with you until the end of the workshop.”
Topics covered included women’s health, wellness, and safety with the aim to educate the women on their rights, where they could go for assistance when their rights are violated, and to also link the disabled women to other women’s networks within the county. The resource people also shared information on possible partnerships and that they were committed to continue working together.
Mrs. Dorah Ingolo, the County Chairperson of ‘Maendeleo ya Wanawake’, a leading national women’s organization, expressed concern that her organization had not been working with women with disabilities and acknowledged “we were not aware that people like you existed”. At the conclusion of the workshop, ten of the disabled women became registered members of women's organization. This was an unexpected outcome of the activities and an important collaboration among women with and without disabilities.
Disability and Women Development Strategies (DWDS) is a non-governmental organization that works to improve that status and quality of life of women and girls with disabilities in rural African communities.
Author: Naomi Ruth Esiaba, DWDS Representative