THE BLOG

Tackling the Exploitation of Deaf Women in Uganda

30/03/2016 16:55

all women everywhere

Deaf women in Uganda were missing out on so much in life that I was inspired to set up the United Deaf Women's Organisation (UDEWO), in 2002. As executive director, I've been working to support and empower women ever since - I want to see a society where we are treated as equals. There were more than 126,000 deaf people in Uganda in 2002, and many of those are women.

For them, a big challenge is sexual exploitation. There is a high rate of rape among deaf women and the perpetrators aren't brought to justice. I've met many deaf women who have summoned the courage to report rape to the police, only to be turned away because the authorities didn't know how to manage it.

A lack of communication lies at the heart of this inequality. I recently met with a girl called Nancy (not real name) - a 15-year-old currently attending a boarding school for the deaf. Nancy was refusing to return to her father's home at the end of term and I soon learnt that he had been sexually abusing her for years.

After arranging temporary shelter for Nancy, I met with her mother to try to understand why she hadn't done anything about it, despite her daughter previously opening up to her.

She broke down in tears. She was inconsolable. Even though Nancy had told her mother about the abuse, she had never understood and seemingly ignored it. This is why providing sign language training to families and communities is a key part of our work. Too often, I've seen the devastating effects that a lack of communication can have on the lives of both deaf men and women alike.

At UDEWO we tackle sexual exploitation by empowering women and informing them about their rights.

Just because a man forces himself on you, or offers you money, it doesn't mean you have to accept it. With a lack of communication and language skills, it can be hard for deaf women to comprehend what is right and wrong, so we provide training and counselling to make more deaf women aware of what constitutes abuse. We're also raising awareness and providing training to police, so they are better able to support deaf women.

Recently, 93 police officers around Uganda graduated in sign language through our project. They've even set up a WhatsApp group so that when a deaf woman reports a crime, they can send a trained officer to support her.

If the police fail to offer support, we report it to the media and expose them - while sending out the message that deaf women can no longer be treated as passive victims.

I'm glad to say I've witnessed positive progress in the last few years. As an educated and successful deaf woman, I enjoy meeting parents and challenging the stereotype that all deaf women are stupid, or kasiru as we are still called in Uganda.

I'm living proof that deaf women can go to school and achieve - and with more support from organisations like Deaf Child Worldwide, I'm looking forward to being part of a world where women aren't discriminated against, whether they are deaf or not.

Rehema Namarome started up Uganda's United Deaf Women Organisation in 2002. The organisation now empowers 3,000 deaf women and girls and works with Deaf Child Worldwide, the leading UK charity, to strengthen the social inclusion of young deaf women who are often vulnerable to stigma, abuse and sexual exploitation

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

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