Development’s Cinderella

This article written by Ruth Nyambura originally appeared on The International Political Forum: The Voice of Global Youth, but Ruth has offered to provide it for our blog! Ruth Nyambura is from Nairobi & holds B.A Degree in Mass Communication from Daystar University, Kenya. She works as a volunteer communications and advocacy manager for the Forum for Young Women in Politics (FYWP) & is passionate about development issues in the Global South with an obvious bias towards Africa, women’s’ empowerment and the emancipation of youth.

Every woman I know attests to the fact that they absolutely hate the time of the month when they receive their period. It does not matter whether you have access to sanitary pads and tampons, a hot water bottle and pain killers to lessen the pain of the cramps or just an avenue to channel the foul mood that most of us get in for example through music, reading a good book or watching a great movie. I’ve always thought that all women share the same terrible experiences during that time of the month until Hamisa Zaja, a 42 year old woman who has a disability told me the harrowing stories from the experiences of women with disabilities during their period.

At the age of 12, Hamisa became a ‘woman’, a term used here in Africa to depict the changes that occur in a girl’s body as she gets into the adolescent phase. At the time, she was in a boarding school and walked, as she still does with the aid of a waist high-caliper she places on her left leg. Ordinarily, the way the caliper has been designed pushes one’s underwear to the side and when she got began receiving her period, her underwear which holds the sanitary pad would get pushed to the side and the result being that she would be walking and blood would drip down and mess her clothes. The only way to spare herself from the embarrassment would be to sit perfectly still from morning to evening, not go to the toilet despite the discomfort and then at the end of classes, wait for all students to go away then she would wrap a shawl around her skirt that was full of blood since the pad had gotten full and walk slowly to the dormitories to clean up the mess she had created.

Up until my conversation with Hamisa who is a community mobilizer and a renowned defender of the rights of people with disability in Kenya, I had never thought about the challenges that face people with disabilities and more so women with a disability. I had never asked myself the difficulties exactly that blind women for example face in doing things which I consider simple like unwrapping a tampon and pad and using it during their period. While there are instructions on how long to have on a tampon or pad, as women we all know that this varies greatly and is strictly dependent on each woman’s flow and so for example in the case of a pad, how do they know when it’s getting full, a task that is fully dependent on eye-sight and that most of us take for granted? Living in a country with 5 million PWD, why did I not know anything about them?

Issues facing people with a disability are often referred to as “Development’s Cinderella”because of the way they are often neglected in the debate about equitable growth and development by almost all leading INGO’s, local NGO’s, governments, multi-national corporations and even the greater donor community. It’s almost like they don’t exist despite the despite the fact that they are so many in number.

In a post on Oxfam’s blog From Poverty to Power, the head of ADD Tim WainWright had this to say, “Around 1 in 7 of the world’s population – 1 billion people – are disabled. Few extended families will not have a child, a parent, or a grandparent who is disabled. And disabled people will certainly be a significant proportion of the estimated 300 million plus chronically poor stuck ‘below the line’ even if the MDGs succeed in halving poverty by 2015. This is because disability can trap individuals and their families in poverty – and living in poverty also means you’re far more likely to be born disabled or to become disabled. The figures bear this out: within this group there are staggering levels of unemployment (80-90%), literacy rates as low as 3%, and one of every three children not in school are disabled. This is before we even begin to consider the huge number of people whose lives are affected by disability – such as a child who has to leave school when her father becomes disabled through an accident at work.”

The shocking statistics do not end there; disabled women suffer twice the level of discrimination with gender based violence being 2-3 times higher than for non-disabled women. Literacy rates drop to a painful 1% for disabled women. The worrying thing is that almost nobody, and this includes both mainstream and social media, is highlighting these issues. This is despite the fact that all data that is available clearly shows us that without addressing the plight of PWD, there will be no real development and not just for the billion people with disabilities but for the 6 billion without.

This article marks the first part in a 3 part series that will seek to not only bring to the fore the issues around the world of disability ranging from but not limited to sanitation, fertility, education, HIV/AIDS, traditions and customs, political representation, economic empowerment and possible solutions to these issues so as to ensure the realization of equitable development and human rights for the billion people facing physical and mental disabilities.

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