THE BLOG

What It's Like for Young Women With a Disability in Uganda

16/03/2016 08:37 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 09:12 GMT

all women everywhere

Here in Uganda, the general attitude towards people living with a disability is negative. They are called "'Kateyemba'", meaning 'The Unable One', suggesting they can't help themselves. It's a nickname that instils a sense of hopelessness in a person.

In the African culture, if you bear a child with disability it seems like a curse. Parents ask, "What did I do to deserve such a child?"

But if the situation is difficult for men with disabilities, the challenges are even greater for women. By far the worst is the prevalence of sexual abuse. Men take advantage of their vulnerability; they often come at night under the cover of dark to harass them, sometimes even impregnating them and providing no support.

I run a project that provides training, skills development and helps find internships and job placements for hundreds of young people with disabilities. One of my daughters in the project was raped during the night, became pregnant, and doesn't know who the father of her child is. At first she was afraid to tell me; I wish she had, we might have prevented her unwanted pregnancy.

Sadly, sometimes these girls don't recognise their treatment as abuse; they think the man loves them and has feelings for them, but to everyone else it's clearly abuse. None of the men ever marry these women. Instead, they impregnate them and leave them with responsibility for the child.

When we began the Connecting the dots project, we had several girls who we identified who were assessed, and given admission letters. But they'd fail to show up for the training, and we'd find out they were pregnant.

Another great challenge for the women I work with is overprotective parents. One girl who's part of the project is 25 years old and unable to interact with other people, to express herself; her parents have hidden her away so much.

At first parents did not want to release their children to us to go for training. It has been known for people with disabilities to be killed in sacrificial rituals. So when we proposed to take young people away to board for three months while training, some parents naturally hesitated. And so the intake was low in year one.

Others would be too afraid to leave the home; we had three girls who were used to crawling and afraid to been seen by the wider community. (Many young people in Uganda with physical disabilities have never had access to a wheelchair so they're forced to get around by crawling.) We encouraged them, told them we'd provide wheelchairs, and that they'd be in the company of others who also crawled. It was almost always the women who faced the greatest challenges to attend the training. We've learned how to solve most of these now.

The programme I run is called Connecting the dots because youth with disabilities in our communities are like dots - they stand alone. But this project is connecting these dots; they become attached to one another, develop relationships and are one community.

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I'm so proud of the participants of my project - male and female. When I see them happy, their confidence growing as they open up and make friends, I thank God. They understand what the project is trying to achieve, for them as individuals and within the wider society.

It's only very recently that people have begun to see what people with disabilities can do, and so attitudes are beginning to change.

Generally, unemployment is a challenge in Uganda. And if it's a challenge even for able-bodied people, for those with disabilities, with the kind of attitudes people still hold, it's even worse.

The opportunity to demonstrate what they are capable of has been life-transforming to the young women I work with. For example, Sylvia joined us at a time when she felt hopeless after losing her sight. Her husband disowned her and took her two daughters from her. She had no belief in her own abilities when she joined us, but was willing to try.

In the short time Sylvia has been part of the project, there's been a great change. She's now a happy women, she's always cheerful because we've shown her she's a special person; that even when you've lost your sight you are important to other people.

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I am slowly beginning to see the attitude of the community changing. Employers are now accepting these youths to work for their businesses, where before they'd insist they were useless, and that is an attitude change. We spent time advising these employers on how to work with a person with disability and proving what they are capable of.

We have empowered these youth with skills, and knowledge on their rights. They now have a place in the community. When you are empowered with knowledge, you will never be vulnerable. This is especially important for young women with disabilities, who are doubly discriminated against because of their gender and their disability, and so are particularly vulnerable.

I want to see the policies, the sweet policies we have in Uganda, turn into reality. When you read the disability policy it is really wonderful but you see none of it implemented and translated into reality. If they were, all Ugandans would be equal, protected and valued. That's the change I wish to see.

For International Women's Day and throughout March Sightsavers is encouraging people to read and share the stories of my project participants so that their voices are amplified to a global level.

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 ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about