Do you stare? Are you moved with pity? Are you irritated? Do you cringe with embarrassment when they try to communicate with you? On the over all, how aware are you about their plight? If you answered yes, to one or more of these questions, then you are as ignorant as I was. You need to read this carefully because it is very important.
People like this do not need your pity. They desire your respect and the need to be treated equally and accorded equal rights, far more than your alms. They do not need you act like they don’t exist. They actually do have a voice, albeit inaudible. Their hearts are bursting to tell you stories about themselves. They are quite willing to communicate intelligently with you, if you have the time and the patience.
Media personalities take group photo with WWDs
They have needs just like you and I and I see no reason why they should be deprived, discriminated against or stigmatised.
As soon as I walked into the conference hall where the Media Briefing on Women With Disabilities (WWD) held on Thursday, August 27, 2015, I knew I was about to learn something special.
It was an interactive session with change drivers which included bloggers, OAPs and writers. And I was one of those summoned to listen to what they had to say and lend my voice.
I met with a number of women whom I’d like to refer as physically challenged, rather than disabled. The word ‘Disabled’ does them no justice at all, as these women are far from being disabled. They’ve all recorded far more achievements than the average person who see themselves as perfectly whole.
Some of the women who shared their stories were deaf and communicated with us through sign language. Others had challenges with their limbs and were using wheelchairs and calipers. But they all shared one story in common. They were invisible in the eye of society. And at such times when they were noticed, society made no provision for them. There are no laws in the Nigerian constitution which solidly caters to the welfare of these physically challenged women.
It is bad enough that these persons are of the female gender which the African society sees as less superior. Therefore to be seen as female with a physical disability is more of a double curse in the African context than any sort of blessing?
So now, what is their fate? What is the Nigerian government doing to alleviate their problems? As an employer, would you give a job to a woman who is educationally qualified but physically challenged? Do guys ever fall in love with these women? Do they even have sexual needs and how are they satisfied? How do deaf women communicate with the rest of society who do not know sign language?
About 13 million women and girls in Nigeria are living with various types of disabilities. These women and girls (WWD) constitute about 45% of the estimated 26.5 million Nigerians living with disabilities who are also facing serious poverty, health and sexual and reproductive health rights challenges daily.
The Disability Rights Advocacy Center (DRAC) is one Nigerian organization that is tirelessly fighting for the rights of the WWD through their programme, Advocacy for Social Inclusion in the Health Sector; a four-year project which started running from 2014 and will end in 2018. DRAC is funded and strengthened by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In Nigeria, DRAC functions as an anchor organization with support from USAID’s Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement project.
Irene Patrick-Ogbogu, the Executive Director of DRAC says the project is aimed at facilitating the inclusion of WWDs in the development agenda with particular focus on access to healthcare. Patrick-Ogbogu through DRAC has worked with a cluster of civil society organizations to provide leadership for advocacy and engagement around the issue for inclusion in the health sector for persons with disabilities, as well as mobilize support for advocacy around the Disability Rights Bill.
In their August 27th Media Briefing, Patrick-Ogbogu who is a WWD herself, stressed the need for the Disability Rights Bill to be signed by the present government. One of the speakers at the event, Gboyega Aleshiloye explained that the proposal for the bill have been submitted to three presidents so far who have declined to pass the bill into law stating lack of funds as the reason.
Mr. Aleshiloye also said that the National Assembly has been very supportive of the bill and was involved from the draft stage. He particularly cited Senators Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman and Abike Dabiri-Erewa as giving the bill the most support.
DRAC is hoping that President Muhammadu Buhari will this time act on the bill by signing it into law.Signing off for now. Stay tuned as I’ll be sharing personal stories and experiences of some of the lovely WWDs I met.