How our Ableist Society is making Women with Disabilities More Vulnerable
Disabled people in Rwanda are usually excluded from society. Looking at the grand schemes of things, one would suggest that society just doesn’t understand what disability is and how heterogeneous it is. Women with a disability are often perceived by their communities to be frail, useless, and, in certain instances, lesser humans and therefore face an increased risk of sexual and domestic violence. In addition, it is evident that women and girls with disabilities, who are less likely to defend themselves or seek support, are powerless which can be a strong driver of this repeated abuse due to their alienation; for example, they can be hidden away by their families and left isolated.
The majority of disabled women and girls have never been to school, so employment options are limited, and they are among some of the poorest and disadvantaged, with limited resources(UNWOMEN, 2020). They are also invisible and the most susceptible to gender-based violence and all unsafe conditions, such as the current pandemic, as they depend 100% economically, socially, emotionally on others for treatment and survival. In addition, this dependency results in them trapped by abusive spouses, caretakers, or family members.
Why is it happening?
In an outdated research study by the ministry of local government conducted in 2010, it is sadly true that persons living with disabilities are often subjects of stigmatization(Ministry of local government, 2010). It is important to note that within the last two years I have conducted research on disability, a common factor was the lack of research that truly provides an understanding of how social perceptions negatively impact the lives of physically disabled persons. I believe that this speaks volumes to why these abuse incidents are happening. It lives the question, How much of a priority is addressing disability awareness for the Rwandan society?
Nothing has really changed since that 2010 research in terms of social perceptions; I believe the lack of awareness and understanding is a significant factor for the existing high stigma rates towards disabled persons in this context. It is essential to determine that it is direct and indirect violence that women with disabilities encounter. The direct violence towards women and girls with disabilities being physical and psychological. Structural violence is characterized by social and cultural norms, behaviors, and prejudices acting in a broader societal context perpetrated by individuals. People can’t access information for conditions in places where science and technology are not easy to access. With detrimental effects, this lack of understanding may trigger misconceptions about disability. This alienation and the power imbalances between people with and without disabilities are related to disability-based abuse. Therefore, people with disabilities can be scorned or pitied but are not widely treated as people deserving of equal rights.
Who should be called out for this?
Rwanda’s primary institutional responsibility for disability rests with MINALOC, which essentially transfers the duty to The national council for people with disabilities. This council is a democratic body made up of three bodies from cell to the national level( Kidd and Kabare, 2019 ). The fact that institutional responsibility moves from a cell level to a national level proves that the community has a considerable part to play in the lives of disabled persons. Besides, it can also be observed that this can quickly become very bureaucratic and come in the way of addressing gender-based violence issues faced by women with disabilities.
For obvious reasons, 90 percent of women living with a disability in rural areas have not benefited from economic progress and access to education in the same way that women and men without disabilities have. Women with disabilities rarely hold positions of influence or have access to them, particularly compared to the number of women in leadership roles (Disability rights fund, 2019). This is a major issue because decision-making is entrusted to non-disabled women, who may not grasp or acknowledge the appropriate steps to represent, help, and support women with disabilities. Prejudice based on physical or intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional in Rwanda, according to the Rwandan laws. Even though Rwanda has a strong legal and legislative framework in place for disability, it faces challenges in implementing and enforcing These protective laws ( Kidd and Kabare,2019 )
Inclusion goes a long way in helping women with disabilities lead healthy and dignified lives. Surely, the government has great initiatives such as the Isange one-stop center, which allows for victims of gender-based violence to report their abusers and receive physical and emotional help free of charge. Even though this is great, How can a woman living in a rural area abused by her caretakers, with moving restrictions, be able to reach these services? This is why inclusion is very important, but there can’t be any inclusion if people do not understand the need for that inclusion.
However, as simple as it is to cast stones at the government and other decision-makers, it is critical to consider the multiple responsibilities that a developing country like Rwanda bears, as well as how their prioritization of funds, research, and empowerment programs for disabled women impact their ability to lead healthy and dignified lives. An investigational report by NUDOR reveals that the National Human Rights Commission, the institution responsible for enforcing human rights protection, is insufficient both in terms of human and financial ability to meet its responsibilities in full. ( The Implementation Of Rights Of Persons With Disabilities In Rwanda, 2018)
What can be done?
Unfortunately, too many current gender-based violence reduction programs do not take into account the particular risks and obstacles encountered by women with disabilities. These women are being left behind and at risk without specific consideration and solutions. It is important to consider this and reinforce existing programs or organizations through funding and other means of support. This would greatly contribute to research, investigation, and other programs that can help understand women with disabilities’ needs and increase accessibility to services across the country. To ensure that the complexities of Gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities are fully understood and discussed, the particular intersection of gender and disability must be investigated in greater depth.
Creating tools and frameworks that help to monitor for inclusion within institutions and service providers can be a clear statement that calls out stigmatization and helps inclusion to become a social norm within the Rwandan society. Nothing is changing because people are not called out for their discrimination or penalized for such behavior, for instance, when it comes to the employment of persons with disabilities.
It is imperative to provide safe houses around the country where women can access care and shelter from their abusers in order to provide emotional support and security to victims. Safe houses should be supplemented by safe spaces where disabled women can openly express their feelings, needs, and voices and empower one another.
Disability and Poverty are closely linked, and the social alienation of people with disabilities, especially women and girls, magnifies the challenges they face in leading healthy and dignified lives. Another way to address this issue is to increase the economic freedoms of women and girls with a disability, which will raise their status and allow them to be less dependent on their families and caretakers, therefore, reducing incidences of abuse.
Supporting Families and caregivers of these women through financial aid or initiatives can significantly minimize the difficulties that come with caring for a disabled child, whether it is financial or through stigmatization that they may face. As a result, families will have more resources to care for their children, pay medical bills, and engage in other activities.
What can I do about this?
A lot still needs to be done to change negative perceptions in society towards people living with disabilities. Even though you might feel like this is overwhelming, your support can go along way to help women and young girls with disabilities. You can start by donating to a cause. Some organizations out there are doing significant work with women who would benefit greatly from your donation, whether financially or through volunteering. Also, you can create a social movement for social change and inclusivity with different projects dealing with advocacy, disability awareness, or support existing ones such as HandyLead on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Ministry of Justice. (2007, May 21st). LAW N° 01/2007 OF 20/01/2007 RELATING TO PROTECTION OF DISABLED PERSONS IN GENERAL. Amategeko. https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2019/11/Rwanda_Law-Relating-to-Protection-of-Disabled-Persons-in-General.pdf
Ministry of local government (2010). census of people with disabilities in Rwanda. [online] Kigali. Available at: http://file:///C:/Users/kezal/Downloads/report-census-pwd-01janv11.pdf
Kidd, S., and Kabare, K., 2019. Social Protection And Disability In Rwanda. [online] Developmentpathways.co.uk. Available at: <https://www.developmentpathways.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Social-Protection-and-Disability-in-Rwanda.pdf>
Nudor.org. 2018. Report On The Implementation Of Rights Of Persons With Disabilities In Rwanda.
[online] Available at: <https://www.nudor.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Rwanda-alternative-report-on-the-implementation-of-the-CRPD-Final-Signed-by-NUDOR.pdf>
Disability rights fund. (2019, 3 1). Voicing Out. disability rights fund. https://disabilityrightsfund.org/our-impact/our-stories-of-change/voicing-out/
Raushaun, D. R. (2016, March 11). IS RAPE SANSKARI TOO, NOW? Good years. https://www.godyears.net/2016/03/is-rape-sanskari-too-now.html?m=1
Finn, R. (2020, N.A N.A). Nothing About Us Without Us 8×10 print — disability rights print, disability ride, wheelchair art, disabled print, fine art print. ETSY. https://www.etsy.com/listing/871977245/nothing-about-us-without-us-8×10-print?epik=dj0yJnU9eVl2TTA5UXVCc0lhT01nVEJ6RldCTFA2NEMySWJieWwmcD0wJm49cHNOYlpNSUdkMDJTUTFaWHRqMVh1dyZ0PUFBQUFBR0JneHRr
McFretridge, G. (N.A, N.A N.A). Creative and Aesthetic Illustrations. FUBIZ. http://www.fubiz.net/2016/01/01/creative-and-aesthetic-illustrations/
UNWOMEN. (2020, May 29). Rwanda: Prioritizing grassroots organizations to protect the most marginalized women. UNWOMENHQ. https://untf.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2020/04/rwanda-unabu-prioritizing-grassroots-organizations-to-protect-the-most-marginalized-women
Rwanda National Police. (N.A, N.A N.A). ISANGE ONE STOP CENTER MODEL. Darpg.gov. https://darpg.gov.in/sites/default/files/Rwanda.pdf
As the activist Vanessa Nakate likes to say, a sum of million actions started from one. This is a matter whose solution begins with an individual’s mindset shift. As Rwandans, we still underestimate people with disabilities’ potential and sometimes the abuse rises from such ignorance and also some families failing to treat them as other humans. The call to action is doable. I, personally, am encouraged to give as little support as I can and collectively this could result into a massive contribution if we all take action.
This was so much insightful… I also believe conversations around disability issues should be given better premium at all works of life… Thank you for this @Lena
This is very eye opening. I would also like to think that including such topics in the feminism agenda in African countries as a frontline would bring much needed attention as we have seen it happen with other minority groups.
The lack of research around issues such as disability is a projection of how the well-being of individuals with disabilities is dismissed in society. It is sad but hopefully, the more we have individuals who advocate with people with disabilities, the more awareness and interest will be created in others to finally give attention to the need for the well-being of people with disabilities especially women and girls.
I strongly agree that the lack of awareness and understanding leads to the ongoing challenges that persons with disability face in general. Although there are already national and altogether organizations for Persons with disabilities, their support and commitment towards creating opportunities for these people as other citizens or improving their lives in the society is not enough because it scales down to families, friends, local leaders’ participation etc. as well to make that happen. Each individual’s contribution matters to create an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities in Rwanda or elsewhere.