by Terry Gitau
“I have to be lifted up by men to get in and out of the vehicle. Some of them touch me inappropriately.” “At one time a matatu tout asked me, “Si wewe hufurahi ukishikwa shikwa (You must be happy when men touch you all the time.)”
These are just some of the horrible experiences that many disabled individuals, especially women, can attest to have been through. Unfortunately, many persons with disabilities have to silently suffer this physical and sexual abuse while the rest of society either is aloof, or simply is not bothered to help or even care.
A recent study by the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya – a women’s rights advocacy organization that works for gender equality through legal aid- reveals that disabled women are up to 3 times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than their non-disabled counterparts.
Held annually, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaign is an annual event observed from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day since 1991. It’s a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. The theme of the 2017 campaign was “Leave no one Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls”. Ability Africa Magazine together with Hope Foundation for African Women and Women and Realities of Disabilities Society (WARD) with funding from African Women Development Fund (AWDF) collaborated to observe the campaign period with the theme as;
“Leave no one Behind = Women with Disabilities (WWDs)”
In Kenya, this also included a dinner gala at the Nairobi YMCA on 1st December 2017 where over 50 people and over 10 organizations attended to share and create awareness through speakers on topics of disability mainstreaming in their circles and organizations
“Treat the world as a doctor and you as the patient’ one of the speakers used this analogy to encourage members attending to embrace the spirit of telling their stories in writing.
The period also provided an avenue for women and girls with disabilities to share their experiences with violation of their body and rights and how to show leadership in claiming their rights by speaking against gender-based violence issues, stigmatization and discrimination. According to the United Nations, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to be subjected to forced medical treatment and reproductive health procedures without their consent.
Back in the 2008 campaign, participating organizations such as the Coalition on Violence Against Women in Kenya, FIDA-K and others recognized the challenge of addressing the problem where there exists no data that separates violence against the disabled from the rest of the population.
At the dinner, many testimonies highlighted the widespread and horrific nature of the abuse that women with disabilities face which is unfortunately unaddressed, and these challenges have to be dealt with. For instance, there is a need to collect data on the number of women with disabilities who access services and programs for preventing violence against women and serving victims of such violence and use this data to develop more inclusive initiatives. Furthermore, it was recommended that there should be the creation of accessible channels, by relevant authorities such as the police for reporting about all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities such as sign language interpreters in police stations and accessible reporting desks.
Non-state actors or stakeholders should ensure that all research, actions, and advocacy related to violence against women incorporate the forms of violence identified by women with disabilities including psychosocial disabilities, psychiatric assault, and fully investigates the experiences of these women.
Healthcare workers should educate parents, partners, nurses, caregivers and other healthcare service providers to deal respectfully with disability and offer quality care when their help is required. Train communities on how to include and communicate with people with different types of disabilities to avoid isolation of women and girls with disabilities. They should also disseminate information in formats that are accessible to people with learning and sensory disabilities, such as through Braille, sign language, and easily understood language.
The Judiciary should actively include diverse women with disabilities in developing and implementing programs, policies, and protocols for service providers, law enforcement officers, and other personnel who work with women with disabilities.