Disability has its own stigma, present in every society, but in parts of Africa and Asia discrimination towards disabled people can be particularly oppressive. In areas where research and technology aren't readily available people can't access explanations for conditions. This lack of understanding can cause misconceptions about disability, with devastating consequences. People in my village believed I was cursed by God and my family I and were greatly marginalised and forced to flee from the village, for fear that we would bring bad luck to the whole community. This stigma is often internalised by disabled people, stripping millions of their aspirations and agency. I remember so often when society told me that I would not make a good wife because I was different - this defined me because I couldn't do the chores expected of a 'wife'; walk long distances to fetch water or collect firewood. This disqualification left me vulnerable but I was lucky to have a family that cared and supported me to get an education and provided me with a safe environment.
Women with disabilities around the world experience much higher levels of violence, for longer periods of time and with worse physical and mental outcomes than women without disabilities. It broke my heart to recently read about a lady who was raped and her family were afraid to report the case because of shame on two levels; one that she has cerebral Palsy, two the rape itself. Where is justice for such women who suffer such brutal violence?
In some communities, it is believed that when a man has sex with a disabled woman without her consent he is doing her a favour because she is 'unwanted' goods. Disabled women are raising children in the streets where they are continually abused with no law to protect them. Dorothy, one of the disability activists we support in Gulu, says of Grace,
"Everything I do, I do it on my own. As a child, I was buying clothes and food for myself, doing everything for myself. Now, when I am sick, there is no one to care for me. That is what always makes me roll my tears."
"She is not living in a good situation. It's a slum area. The environment predisposes her to sexual violence. Anybody can come at night and just rape her and the story ends there. No one cares. So, it's really alarming."
Luckily Grace found help with the local network of disability activists funded by ADD International. They run programmes that support disabled women by educating them on how to stay safe and train local law enforcement in how gender-based violence uniquely impacts disabled women. But there are still millions of disabled women and girls suffering abuse each day.
This Must Change.
Development agencies, power holders and service providers need to build into their programmes the right protection for disabled women. It will require sustained global focus, momentum and action. But if we are serious about fulfilling the global aspiration to 'leave no one behind' then it must be done.
You can read ADD International's new report here.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email email@example.com