As a slave in your own family
There are over 500 million girls and women with disabilities in the world, in other words, 18 % of its entire female population. Discrimination and human rights violations are part of their daily lot in life. Because of their disability, they are deemed incapable of being mothers and wives. More often than not, they are forced to undergo abortions and sterilisation, they are being exploited sexually and have no access to healthcare and social services. The discrimination is systematic and takes place at home as well as in society at large. It is still not unusual for family members with disabilities to be kept hidden at home for years with no social contact. The situation of girls and women with disabilities in developing countries is bleak.
Heavy household work is part of the everyday life of women in developing countries. It is their duty to tend to agricultural tasks, to gather firewood, take care of children, to cook and to serve men. “It’s hard to imagine the multiple discrimination girls and women with disabilities have to endure because of both their gender and their disability. They hardly ever get to go to school, for one”, says Abilis project coordinator Tuula Heima-Tirkkonen. “ One must bear in mind that in developing countries where every fifth person has a disability, there is a surprising number of negative beliefs and attitudes attached to it”, she adds.
In Tanzania, Albinos have always been feared, just touching them triggers a curse according to local people. Attitudes and beliefs are so tightly embedded in people’s minds that even persons with albinism themselves take the story to be true and believe they actually bring bad luck. Clearly, more awareness-raising work is required. Albinos often suffer from visual impairments and blindness is a common enough outcome. Also, their fair skin needs to be particularly well protected against sunshine.
Through its activities, Abilis has contributed to empower and improve the quality of life of women with disabilities in the Global South. Different income-generating projects providing vocational training have been instrumental in boosting the self-confidence of these women – they can actually earn money themselves! Moreover, trainings related to sexuality and the understanding of one’s own rights have been of primordial importance. Women with disabilities too have the right to found a family – as well as to refuse having numerous children. Furthermore, training women with disabilities in sign language and braille has been a top priority.
Thanks to sign language the deaf can express themselves and share their thoughts. For them, learning sign language is a lot easier than learning to speak, considering that in developing countries hearing aids and cochlear implants are practically unheard of and hardly ever available.
Development cooperation by and on the terms of the persons with disabilities has brought positive results: their living conditions and opportunities for participation have improved significantly in many developing countries; however, a great deal of powerful awareness-raising is still required. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides an excellent platform for improving the position and enforcing the human rights of women with disabilities. Article 6 of the Convention enjoins the society and its actors to ensure the full development and empowerment of women with disabilities in order to guarantee them the exercise and enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other citizens. Article 25, on the other hand, specifies how to organize healthcare services in such a way that people with disabilities, children, girls and women included, are not discriminated. The convention is an important tool for persons with disabilities aspiring to improve their position in their own society.