Nurse Rosebelle Mutuku remembers vividly the first time she encountered a patient with disability while on shift at the maternity wing of a local hospital. “She had her left leg amputated and needed a walking aid. The labor stage went well, but when it came to the delivery, the routine instructions that I would give to mothers while giving birth such as flexing of the legs and lying on the back proved difficult for her,” says nurse Mutuku. “I felt frustrated and helpless and had to seek help from the doctor and other nurses for a safe delivery.” 

 In 2020, UNFPA supported disability rights organization This-Ability Trust to conduct an assessment of healthcare workers’ skills on sexual and reproductive health and disability. The assessment established that many healthcare workers had sub-optimal skills to address SRH needs of persons with disabilities. This led to the launch of a five-week training course to equip healthcare workers with the knowledge and skills to provide rights-based non-discriminatory family planning, HIV and maternal health care, and gender-based violence response services to women and girls with disabilities.

This-Ability Trust Managing Trustee Lizzie Kiama and Project Manager Maria Rosa Cevallos award certificates to healthcare workers who have completed the course

Persons with disabilities make up 2.2% of the Kenyan population, a majority of whom (57%), are women and girls. Women with disabilities often face prejudice, stigma, and discrimination in accessing health services. Limited knowledge and understanding of the health needs of persons with disabilities by healthcare providers also hinders access to sexual and reproductive health services and information for women with disabilities. “Majority of health workers have inadequate training and professional development about disability, which impacts on the way they provide care to people with disabilities,” says This-Ability Trust Managing Trustee, Ms. Lizzie Kiama.

For Catherine Syokau, a 30-year-old mother of one, her experience while giving birth as a woman with a lower limb disability reaffirmed her view that more effort needs to be made towards an inclusive healthcare system. “During my antenatal clinic visits, I would get strange looks from other women in the waiting area. After giving birth to my baby, staying at the hospital was challenging because the beds and toilets were not modified for a patient with disabilities,” she says. Ms. Syokau believes that programmes that adequately prepare healthcare workers and facilities to serve persons with disabilities should be given priority as the country moves to implement universal health coverage. 

a man in a wheelchair with a woman in a mask
Catherine Syokau is a mother and an advocate for the rights of women and girls with disabilities

Anne Gitonga, a nurse at the Riruta Health Center in the Nairobi City County successfully completed the course on sexual and reproductive health services and disability. “The training opened my eyes on how to better serve patients with disabilities by ensuring that their rights and needs are respected right from the initial consultation to the administering of treatment,” she says. Nurse Mutuku is also eager to improve her service delivery with knowledge gained from the course. “I am now more aware of the changes I need to make in providing services such as family planning. This should be a private conversation between the healthcare provider and the client which can be facilitated by learning sign language, or preparing information products in braille,” she says. 
Fifty healthcare workers who included nurses, midwives, and clinical officers have so far graduated from the course. “The healthcare workers trained through this programme are not only able to provide better services to persons with disabilities, but they also acquire skills to advocate for better policies that promote inclusive and accessible healthcare for women and girls with disabilities in public health facilities,” says UNFPA HIV and Disability Program Analyst, Ms. Lilian Langat. 

Like every emergency does, the Covid-19 Pandemic has had a disproportionate and larger negative impact on vulnerable communities. The pandemic has affected people of all categories, but persons with disabilities have been hardest hit.

In addressing challenges faced by persons with disabilities during these difficult times, UNFPA Representative, Dr. Ademola Olajide and This- Ability Trust Managing Trustee, Lizzie Kiama, set out to Kisumu and Kakamega counties to assess the impact of Covid-19 on the community and identify feasible mitigating measures.

The team interacted with women and girls with disabilities, the County Government leadership and disability focal points to explore the impact of Covid-19 on access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. The main challenges, according to the women, are stigma, discrimination

and insufficient capacity by health personnel to attend to women living with disabilities.

“Physical distancing is nearly impossible for many who rely on caregivers. We need assistance from people to get dressed, move about and even wash hands in public spaces to keep COVID19 away,” explained Benter Bella, the Chairperson of the Women with Disabilities Organisation.

A visit to Nyalenda Medical Centre confirmed lack of sufficient disability friendly infrastructure like beds, sign language interpretation, ramps, bathrooms and toilets. The team was told that there has been a drop in the number of visits since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.

UNFPA committed to work closely with the Kisumu County Government and This-Ability Trust to ensure improvement of service provision to women and girls with disabilities. Priority will be given to ensuring

improved infrastructure in a pilot medical facility and training of the medical personnel to reduce stigma, and improve communication with people with disability.

UNFPA donated assorted COVID-19 PPE kits to the Kisumu Government through the Kenya Red Cross. The donation was received by the Kisumu County Deputy Governor, Dr. Matthew Owili, and the County Executive Committee Members for Health, Prof. Boaz Nyunya.

The County Governor who also chairs the Council of Governors, H.E. Wycliffe Oparanya, received the team in Kakamega County. Governor Oparanya explained the milestones his government has made in improving access to medical services especially for persons with disabilities. He acknowledged existing gaps in access infrastructure, data collection, as

well as medical personnel training in sign language interpretation and braille, which he attributed to budgetary constraints. Kakamega County is in the final stages of developing a Disability Bill.

The UNFPA will work in partnership with This-Ability Trust to support infrastructure improvement, digital data collection on women with disabilities, and training of health personnel. UNFPA Representative, Dr. Ademola Olajide noted that overall, UNFPA will aim to strengthen the health system’s response to sexual and reproductive health needs of women with disabilities through robust partnerships with counties and implementing partners such as This-Ability.

UNFPA donated dignity kits to women and girls with disabilities in Kakamega and Kisumu counties during the mission.

Climate change is a sexual and reproductive health issue for women with disabilities. 

Kenya, a country in the East part of Africa was vastly a savanna grassland area, with climate ranging from cool and wet in the highland’s areas, hot and wet in the lowland areas and hot and dry in the arid and semi areas. Between 2020 and 2022, 16 of the 23 arid and semi arid areas have experienced a drought, this led to a Presidential declaration of a national disaster in 2021. 

At least 2.1 million people are severely food insecure and adopting irreversible coping strategies to meet their minimum food needs. The counties affected include Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Kajiado, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera among others.

According to the 2019 National Census, 2.5% of women in Kenya had a disability. Stereotyping, stigma and unemployment are some of the challenges women with disabilities face every day. This Ability Trust and UNFPA Kenya  understand these issues and developed responsive interventions from a holistic approach. Our goal was no woman with disability be stripped of their SRR and  dignity because of the drought. We teamed up to donate dignity kits to over 100 women with disabilities in Kilifi and Kajiado County and provide mental health support for survivors of GBV. 

Our experience was that many women with disabilities often relied on informal employment such as farming. In Ganze,  Kilifi county, communities have not experienced rain in 3 years making it impossible to farm.  One of the women in our community meetings,  recounts how they have lacked water for prolonged periods meaning when they get water one has to debate whether to drink, farm or share with the animals. 

In pastoralists communities like Kajiado, the drought has led to increased cases of insecurity that has led to sexual gender-based violence on women with disabilities whose husbands have left their homes in search of pasture for the cattle. Water scarcity has limited access to safe water for drinking and for practicing basic hygiene at home, in schools and in health-care facilities. Health providers in Kajiado also attributed an increase in diseases such as urinary tract infections among women with disabilities.

In pastoralist communities, the responsibility to fetch water is a woman’s task. Most of the time, having to trek long distances and experiencing long queues, this becomes hard for women with physical disabilities. Additionally, when they get to the site, it is not always assured that one will get water. The introduction of eco-friendly dry toilets that used sawdust instead of water, is part of the innovations This Ability has implemented for women with disabilities. 

The culmination of inaccessible infrastructure, insecurity, drought and lack of income  by women with disabilities has seen an increase in cases of boda-boda riders sexually exploiting women and girls with disabilities in exchange for sanitary towels or food supplies. 

In parts of Kajiado that have access to salty water the option of reusable pads as an alternative to curb using dirty linen during menstrual cycle was offered. The pads are safer and minimize risk of leaking hence ensuring the girls continue to access school despite being on their period.

Our Mama Siri representatives in these counties hold regular community meetings to offer mental health support, sexual and reproductive and gender-based violence referrals and access to dignity kits to women with disabilities. 

Paza – Episode 5

PAZA Podcast

GBV during COVID-19: Exploring the realities of gender based violence among women with disabilities

Recorded Thursday June 25, 2020

Full Audio-Text Transcription

(MUSIC) Intro

Click above for Paza Episode 5 Audio file

Hi, I am Lizzie Kiama, welcome to PAZA! Conversations with women with disabilities globally. PAZA! a Swahili word meaning to amplify is an initiative by This-Ability Trust. PAZA! seeks documenting and creating visibility for the experiences of women and girls with disabilities

Join our conversation on Twitter @pazapodcast, you can also follow This-Ability of Twitter an Instagram @this_ability_ ke and on Facebook

Now, let’s get into today’s topic of discussion.

Lizzie: So let’s get into it. Thank you, ladies, for joining us on this podcast my name is Lizzie Kiama and I am the Managing Trustee at This-Ability Trust.

So I would like to thank you both very much for joining us this afternoon. And I guess I would ask you to introduce yourselves. Soneni, if you could just give us your name, your organization, if applicable, or the work that you do, very brief, and the country that you’re from, and then we’ll move on to Patience.

Soneni: Thank you so much, Lizzie; for inviting me to this space to come and share what women with disabilities have been experiencing due to COVID-19. I’m from Zimbabwe; I’m a broadcaster by profession,  I’m a speaker, I’m a poet and I’m also an ambassador for two organizations representing persons with disability. An international organization which is Action in Disability and Development and a local organization through the Ministry of Health in Zimbabwe Stop TB Zimbabwe, which basically is its own health matters. And I’m from Bulawayo, which is the second capital city of Zimbabwe.

Lizzie: Great, thank you. Patience?  A short description of who you are, where you’re from, and a little about the work that you do, or organization you represent?

Patience: I am Patience Dickson from Nigeria. I am from organization called Advocacy for Women with Disability Initiative; it is an organization that advances the cause of women and girls with disability, it’s also in national organization. I think just a few things about myself is that I’m the founder of this organization and I work closely with the government, I work closely with other stakeholders as well,  with MDAs like the ministries.

Lizzie: We wanted to also look at the leadership and the positivity that is the lives of women with disabilities. And with that, I think we would like to borrow from your lives and the leadership and innovation and creativity that you have lived life as women with disabilities and their resilience in that.

So I would start with you, Soneni. I understand you are known as being very modest in blowing your own trumpet and in the work that you do. But we all know particularly me on social media, I see you everywhere. So could you talk about some of your accomplishments, tell us a little more about what you’ve been doing and blow your own horn. Tell us about your work and who you are.

Soneni: Thank you, Lizzie. I believe that the most important factor, for someone with a disability, is first identify yourself; who you are while you are on earth. Why are in that particular area that you’re from? And why you carry that surname of your family? Once you understand that calling, then begin to pursue that. From as early as a little girl, I knew that I was going to be the voice of the voiceless because in everything that I did. I was born with a disability, even playing with my sisters, and my friends, I was always the one that is a speaker. If the girls are fighting, they would come to me and I narrate what happened. So I knew from that time that I was born to speak; and not just to speak nonsense, but to speak the truth to defend people to make sure that human right matters are always in the forefront for those that cannot speak for themselves. So, in simplicity, I view myself as a total human being. And particular being a woman, I see myself as a whole woman. And there is no difference between me and my able bodied sister. The only difference that we might have is the physical appearance and the height appearance. And yes, I do agree that the opportunities are totally different, particularly in the area that I chose; which is journalism and broadcasting, you will find out that the environment is not disability friendly. But that has not stopped me from pursuing my dream and my call – to become a speaker, to become a programme producer and to become the presenter of the programme that I want. So understanding who you are, and being faithful to the call, and also having some kind of faith and belief in yourself, why you’re here on Earth. That gives you the confidence to live another day, even if the world is against you. But you will know that you’re born for a purpose. And also having a family support; having families that believe in you, having colleagues that believe in you. Surround yourself with positive people all the time and link together and run for the common cause. It’s not easy being a disabled person, and worse being a woman, because you always on the secondary matter, whenever opportunities are there, you’re the last person that they think of. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from doing that. So, in a nutshell, I believe that I’m a game changer. I believe in myself and what I desire, and I believe it’s God’s call for my for myself, I run with it, and I know that is for the good and the cause for my country, my community and the world.

Lizzie: Wow. Thank you, Soneni. Patience, we know each other, we go way back in terms of our advocacy, but I think it would serve the listeners well, to get to know the powerhouse behind Patience Dickson. So please, could you maybe share the inspiration behind the initiative that you began the Advocacy for Women with Disabilities Initiative? What was the inspiration behind that?

Patience: Thank you so much, Lizzie. Like you rightly said, we’ve been working together for some time. The initiative I think is just built on experience of a woman with disability. It actually started from the experience of a girl child with disability, way back when I was very young. As a child, I didn’t have many opportunities; I just had few opportunities. I can’t say I wasn’t allowed to go to school, but I did not go to school on time. And I’m sure many of us know why – because disability in our own culture, especially in Nigeria, at that time when I was growing up, a child with disability was not actually seen as a child; she was seen as a different kind of child. And so as a different kind of child, that child is not allowed to also aspire to be like other children, in terms of education now. But I was just lucky, destiny played a good one on me and I was just lucky to have been found by someone who actually said nice things about why I should I should be educated and that was the power behind my life and it’s really pushed me forward. When I was registered in school, it was one the happiest moments of my life. And it brought me out to where I am today. That is why one of my whole philosophy is if you investing in a girl child with disability it is not a waste. It’s also definitely builds more on the women or that woman when she’s mature. Investing in this child, we definitely build a woman with disability.

And so that zeal, that passion in me, I said, okay, why don’t I gather around and look for women like myself – strong, educated women with disability like myself. And we came together and we started the initiative for women and girls with disability. And I tell you, it has been awesome because many of us have been able to work on ourselves. You have been able to work on our self-esteem and we have been able to build so many women especially those of us in the community, who are not educated, who does not even have an income, who have one issue or the other. So, the initiative is now becoming a powerhouse for women and girls with disability and so other people with disability who care to join us. So that is the inspiration behind my own life and also around the initiative, it actually based on investing in the education of the girl child with disability.

Lizzie: Wonderful, thank you, Patience. And thank you both, Soneni and Patience, I’m sure hearing about your personal experiences, your personal journeys, it’s going to be useful to a lot of our listeners. And useful in working towards shifting the medical and charity narrative that is prevalent when it comes to women and girls with disabilities.

Now, this particular conversation is supposed to, is looking to highlight the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I’m curious about your, the context in your particular in your respective countries. In Kenya, for example, on the 1st of April, our Chief Justice Honourable Moraga released the statement towards the fact that there has been a significant spike in sexual offences in many parts of the country during this period of the pandemic, and these offences constitute 35.8% of criminal matters being reported during this period. So I’m just curious, in Nigeria, in Zimbabwe, has there been an increase in Sexual and Gender Based Violence.  

Soneni: We have experienced a different type of Gender Based Violence during the COVID-19 for women with disabilities. We know that women with disabilities are very vulnerable to abuse, sexual abuse, and reporting is a great challenge. So you will never come up with statistics of women that had been abused, raped or being beaten up by their partners or family members or anything like that. But they tend to keep quiet more so because the offenders are breadwinners, people that they stay with or people that have confidence in. So what we have realized that in the city that I’m coming from we had a water crisis. This water crisis is where we have water cuts that would go for hours and later on, it would come in the midnight, depending on what area you’re staying in. So what we have noticed is that there are some women that depend on help from either their neighbours or their family members. And you will find out that there’s a there’s a different type of abuse, whereby women are saying they’re not able to go and release themselves in the toilet because how do you flush your toilet when you don’t have water? And you depend on someone? If the boucers, we call them the boucers, if the boucers come and it’s at midnight and you can’t will yourself to fetch water. So what happens, you have to depend on someone to bring that water for you.

Lizzie: Thank you, Soneni. I think in Kenya as well, we can resonate with some of the things that you mentioning. We keep hearing advice from the government, for example, you know, talking about sanitizing, talking about washing your hands. And the reality is, as you mentioned, access to clean water is not a reality for the majority and particularly persons with disabilities and women with disabilities who might be living in informal settlements, you know, it’s not a case where you turn on your taps and there’s water. And here you’re talking about rationing, but there are the informal settlements in Kenya where people have to buy water. So your income sources have been cut short, and then you’re supposed to choose between spending money for water or for food. So it’s a reality that the majority that live below the poverty line have to deal with on a day to day basis. So I totally hear you. I hear you there.

Patience: In Nigeria right now we are having issues and issues of rape and killings. Violence, domestic violence is taking a different tone; even families are part of it. You can agree with me that people with disability are very closely connected to family members, connected to neighbours, connected to friends, connected to colleagues, connected to people around them. And are the people who are always involved with violence and sometimes people with disability are not even able to flee from this violence because of our nature as women with disability. And even girls are even worse, because they are more vulnerable because they are girls and they have a disability, so they are more vulnerable.

Lizzie: But I’m just wondering, in your various contexts, what has been the reception of women with disabilities that take forward cases of violations, particularly sexual violations? Has there been quick action on the part of the police, for example? Do they have a culture of believing the witnesses or is it like Kenya when depending on your disability, then there is an extent to which the police can believe you and, they might need other witnesses to come forth.

Patience: In Nigeria we have the VAP Act, which is Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act. I think that is what many states are using even though in many states that have not domesticated this law. But that working for us even though it’s not really, really, inclusive of women with disability is still vague, and I see it in the general sense of all women and girls. So but that is enforced and that is what we are using. And then we also have the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability Prohibition Act that was just signed into law. And that is also another instrument that we are using in Nigeria. We just started using it both, we still have a challenge because it has not been domesticated. But by and large, like you have said, we still have issues around rape, violence, around testimony from women from girls or women with disability because like you rightly said in Kenya; and that is how it is in Nigeria. Because law enforcement agency actually do not believe the story shared by women and girls with disability because it’s based on perception and mindset that their testimony will not be good enough. And so just the mindset that they are girls with disability who will violate them? Who will rape them? There are better girls, they are beautiful girls around so who we go and rape a girl with disability? Who we go on raping a woman with disability? Who will take a woman with disability by force?

Soneni: What I believe we need to do as women with disabilities is to come forth and change the description of what is Gender Based Violence is. Because the world thinks that Gender Based Violence is beating someone blue and red. They think of able-bodied women only, and men as well being abused. So we need to come to a table and explain and define that when we say women with disabilities are experiencing Gender Based Violence what do we mean? Because every disability has one encounter of a different type of Gender Based Violence. And people need to realize that we have so many women that have been abused, and their cases haven’t been brought to the forum because no one is going to believe them.

In my country, Zimbabwe, yes, we’ve had some cases where people, either there’s a strong family member who believes that this girl was raped, so they take it up to the right to the top. But then what about those girls that do not have the backup system? So we need to align our laws, as activists as well, we need to start speaking out; what do we mean when we say Gender Based Violence?

We have issue with transport, I don’t know if it’s the same thing with other countries. So someone that is only a wheelchair, when she’s being lifted onto the bus, by a stranger or conductor, the manner that the person is holding the woman with disability has physical contact, and because you are helping I think I can’t speak up. So I have to keep quiet. But you do not have to hold my bums when you’re lifting me into the bus. You do not have to hold me close to you. This is my body and I have every right to protect my body. So there’s a very, very thin line between a normal way of carrying someone and abusing someone while you are helping them.

Patience: Yeah, I just also want to say that even abuse can also happen in the school system, especially in the institution where you have people who are intellectually disabled.

There are some special schools, we have special schools in Nigeria right now, and especially for those who have psychosocial disability. And a lot of abuse has been going on in those institutions. There is a School for the Blind in Abuja, where I resided in a few months ago, we found out that the girls being transported from home to the school were being abused in the bus by the bus driver; it has been going on for some time. So at a particular time, the girls raised an alarm, and of course, there was denial and all that. And then it was I found out that this man is actually related to the headmistress of the school. And that she tried to cover it all up. But when we find out, we took it upon ourselves to report the situation. And it was reported to the Human Rights Commission and I think this case is still ongoing right now. So this abuse can happen anywhere, like Soneni said, anywhere we have people not because they are people with disability, but people. It can happen anywhere but for women and girls with disabilities it is worse because they look at us like helpless people. And so it is worse, definitely. So we also need to, like she said, we also need to look at the different categories of disability.

Soneni: What I wanted to add, I don’t know if it happens in your culture, in our culture, my sister’s husband is automatically pronounced as my husband.

Lizzie: Oh?

Patience: Okay.

Soneni:  Yes. So what happens you, you have hearing impaired girls, that when they’re living with their sisters, the husband thinks that he’s got a right into that girl’s life. And because that child is not empowered, then you find out there’s a little physical touch. He is the person that will rape that girl and that girl will not say anything because it’s her sister’s husband, she is staying with the sister and because she also thinks that it is right, because it’s my sister’s husband. So we also need to break the cultural belief. How do we define culture? And how do we define abuse? We have girls who become pregnant and she won’t say who made her pregnant. We have so many single mothers that are hearing impaired, we have so many single mothers that are disabled, but it’s because of those hidden abuses, Gender Based Violence that takes place, they are not defined and we don’t explain it to the world to say this needs to come to a stop.

Lizzie: Culture definitely has a role to play in creating an environment where this abuse can thrive and fester in our communities.

(MUSIC) Interlude

Lizzie: Support for our work on the rights of women and girls with disabilities comes from both profit and non-profit organizations, including private well-wishers.  Next, we have an appreciation statement for one our donors. 

Partnership Donation Appreciation – UNFPA

This-Ability Trust thanks United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in conjunction with the Kenya Red Cross, for their Humanitarian Covid-19 Support of 200 dignity kits.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made life a lot harder for women with disabilities; access to basic essentials such as food, water, and generation of income is near impossible for them during this period. These kits will alleviate some of the challenges women and girls with disabilities are experiencing during this pandemic. The dignity kits will reach 200 adolescent girls in 8 counties across Kenya.

Thank you, UNFPA for your generous donation and for supporting women and girls with disabilities during Covid-19.

This message is approved by This-Ability Trust.

(END OF MUSIC)  End of Interlude

Lizzie: Welcome back. You are listening to PAZA! Conversations with women and girls with disabilities globally. Remember to follow us on Twitter @pazapodcast.

Lizzie: Gender Based Violence manifests itself in different forms and affects us, as you rightly said, both you Soneni and Patience, it manifests in different ways for women with disabilities. The specific disability and the interaction with that violence is also another unique experience.

Lizzie: Our work focuses on amplifying the realities of women with disabilities, let’s hear from Regina from Uasin Gishu County describing her personal experience with physical violence.

Regina’s recording – from Uasin Gishu

When I was in a relationship, my first relationship, the number of abuses and it was worse for me because, one, I am a woman with disability. So I went through physical abuse and it was hard because I didn’t get any support.  When I would just explain people saw it was right for it to be done to me because I am a woman with disability and being in the relationship it was like sympathy for me to be in that relationship, so whatever this man was doing to me people did not take it seriously. They didn’t even mind. It was like it was right thing being done to me, being abused. And then I am a woman, a woman married to a Kalenjin man, so it’s his right to abuse you, beat you properly, beat physical. So a number of times he would beat me up and it was ok to everybody. Nobody would help me. In fact I didn’t report to the Police Station because for me I felt it was right in some way. So I went through a lot for more than one year.

Soneni: Yeah, Regina tells the true story of an African disabled woman that is involved in a relationship and yet is abuse in that relationship, and nobody will believe you. But also trying to be a woman in the community making it at the same time, you have this abuse within your own, someone that says they love you, but then they go on to abuse you. I believe that disabled African women experience similar abuses, or they might be a bit different. The narration is exactly of the stories that I’ve heard for my country, Zimbabwe, where women go into marriages and they’re abused and they keep quiet. But until there’s that one angel that comes in, empowers that woman, and she gets out of that marriage. So it’s a true voice of reflection of the Gender Based Violence among women with disabilities as a whole.

Patience: There’s one thing that I always see especially with women who go through this kind of pain and torture that it’s not easy to break out. So let us come together in this campaign of breaking the silence. If we don’t break the silence, we won’t get perpetrators to book us, even if this perpetrator is our partner. Abuse is abuse. It causes a lot of pain and trauma on the victim, which is mostly the woman, it could also be the man; the victim could also be the man. Breaking the silence is key. We keep preaching that in our advocacy drives, for us to break this and make a difference we must come up with something tangible in our countries, in our communities we need to empower our women, empower our girls, so that when such things happen you think of the next step – and that is breaking the silence.

Lizzie: Just quickly, do you do you have any suggestions for a woman with a disability who finds herself in a situation like Regina’s? What would be the best way forward? What would be the course of action? What would be advice that you would give this woman who is being physically violated by their partner?

Soneni: My encouragement is get out of that relationship. Find someone that you can talk to. And these days we have the internet, where you can confide, there are so many organizations of persons with disabilities in each country that you can go for help. You can even go to the police, but don’t stay in that relationship, it is not worth it. Love is not like that, even if it’s a family member that is abusing you. Love does not abuse. My encouragement is find strength within you, speak for yourself. And once you break that silence, the entire world is going to believe you and they’re going to support you.

Patience: And the only advice I have for Regina is for her to be happy. She needs to do the needful and the needful is, as Soneni said, get out of that of that relationship because remember when you are in a marriage that you are not happy, or when you are in a partnership that is not making happy, you are always sad and you always been abused. I don’t think it is fair for you to be there. I wouldn’t be there. I don’t know if it’s me. I wouldn’t be there. I will take a hike and leave immediately. Even there are even some religious bodies now that are against violence, they will preach it in the church to say if you are in a home where they are violating against you just leave, why? What are you doing there? There is nothing, there’s nothing there for you. It doesn’t hurt, it’s not supposed to hurt you. So be happy. Just go away and make yourself happy in any way that you can, so that you don’t experience such nonsense anymore. That is not why you are here on Earth. You are here for a purpose, and definitely hurting you is not part of that purpose. That is just my thinking.

That is why we need to be talking to people. Once you are talking to people, you are building this healing, inner strength, we are building the healing inner strength and also building support around you, around your family, around your friends who can help you where you are no longer there. So it is better to leave than to lose yourself or to lose your life. That’s the way I see it.

Lizzie: No, that’s true. I agree. I totally agree. I’m agreeing with everything you’re saying Patience. I’ve seen situations of perpetrators, you know, being very systematic in how they violate you. So it starts you know, probably with emotional violence that is, small, small things. So you think, oh, he’s not beating me physically so this is okay.

Soneni: If I’m in a relationship, and I’m your friend, I must openly talk about my relationship with my person, so that you can begin to sense if there’s something wrong in my relationship. But if we have secret relationship, and you don’t openly talk about your relationship, and you’re always covering for your partner, or you’re never out as couples or as partners, but you’re always protect, you’re always protected – there’s a danger in that, that’s why people discover things very late. It’s because they did they don’t have anyone that they’re accountable to.

So once you enter in a relationship, treat it normal. Talk about your relationship. Ask for advice from those that have been in a longer term relationship. Check yourself out, check the other person, if he’s got certain habits that you’re not sure of that has happened to you, if let’s say you’re in a wheelchair, he goes out he leaves you, check if that is normal or abnormal. Most of these things happen because people are not aware that it is wrong. They think it is right, he is doing me a favour, he loves me, that he’s protecting me, he’s saying I mustn’t go out with him, because people laugh at us when they see us when they see us together, so he’s protecting me. In the meantime, it’s just adding and adding and adding, he doesn’t give me money in the public because he doesn’t want people to talk about it. No. So let your relationship have an accountability.

 (MUSIC) Interlude

Lizzie: Support for our work on the rights of women and girls with disabilities comes from both profit and non-profit organizations, including private well-wishers.  Next, we have an appreciation statement for one our donors. 

Partnership Donation Appreciation – Kotex

This-Ability Trust thanks Kotex, in conjunction with Verde Group, for their Humanitarian Covid-19 Support in the donation of 20 boxes of sanitary towels for women and girls with disabilities. 

Women and girls with disabilities face challenges in accessing Sexual & Reproductive Health and this includes access to hygienic menstrual products. The sanitary products will reach 300 women and girls in 8 counties across Kenya.

Thank you, Kotex for your generous donation and for supporting girls and women with disabilities during Covid-19.

This message is approved by This-Ability Trust.

Lizzie: Welcome back. You are listening to PAZA! Conversations on women and girls with disabilities globally. Remember to follow us on Twitter @pazapodcast.

(END OF MUSIC) End of Interlude

Lizzie: Our work focuses on amplifying the realities of women with disabilities, let’s hear from Wanja from Embu County describing her personal experience with sexual violence.

Wanja’s recording – Embu

For me, I am epileptic. The first thing, my extended family, especially my cousins, started calling me a crazy woman, that I am bewitched. They would call the Wakorinos (a religious sect), they (the Wakorinos) would fill water in a tank and throw me in there claiming they are removing demons from inside me. Sometimes they would cook dog meat and force me to eat. My legs are usually in pain. Men rape me. And I have nobody to turn to. If I report to the chief, they all claim that I am a mad woman. At home I have nobody to trust, being viewed as a burden because for people with epilepsy we depend on daily medication. And if, for example, someone rapes me when unconscious after an epileptic seizure, I don’t know what was done to me, or any awareness of the act, until after some months when I noticed that I have missed my periods, and I found out I am four pregnant, like in the case of my first my born. I don’t even know where he came from or who his father is. I remember I was in Kerugoya, had lunch somewhere, I had a seizure, I don’t remember what happened next.

Lizzie: Guys, any reflections? Do you experience the same? Do women with disabilities with different kinds of conditions, do they experience the same kind of violations in your countries?

Soneni: Another narrative that is very close to the experiences of people with intellectual abilities go through. I can recall there’s one case that I know, I had a conversation with a woman with a mental condition, she lives in a village. She’s been raped by a local person and he still walks around. She was narrating that every time that she sees this man, she’s got so much fear that she thinks that he’s going to rape her again. Justice was not served for that girl because of a mental condition where she cannot testify because of a condition. So these stories are there, they are so real. And that’s why I keep saying if we have policies that protect our women, so that when they do report these cases it’s not going to be a matter of do I believe her, but it’s a matter of what the law says. So we really need to make sure that our law enforcement is very disability friendly for women with disabilities.

Patience: So apart from what Soneni said on policy, we also need to engage families to empower them, so that they can also we can also build a kind of trust in them. Then can they can be engaged. Some of us who are into this work where organizations or persons with disability or human rights advocates, I mean, people that have passion about this work can also lead so by the time we now have this kind of conversation around the families and how to engage them to build trust around them, to also make them know that this kind of thing doesn’t just happen. We don’t want it to happen in our system, in our community. So the family plays a very big role in the lives of women and girls with disability, especially when it comes to psychosocial disability. So we need to engage some of these families, to build trust in them. And, of course, I also actually believe in the fact that policies need to be a disability friendly because, of course, that is the key to the whole episode and the whole idea.

Lizzie: So from both of you, I hear that, you know, the experiences or the violations of women with disabilities are not unique to, for example, Kenya alone. These are things we can collect some of the same cases of violations in Zimbabwe, and also in Nigeria. So it’s not a unique experience to Kenya. And also, I have heard that, you know, there are several action steps that we can, we can begin to incorporate in our work to address some of these violations from advocating for policies but also to working with the communities and particularly the families and caregivers of individuals with disabilities. But I wanted to find out, what other advocacy strategies do you have in your respective countries? What has worked particularly in terms of advancing the rights of persons with disabilities? And what can we borrow from one another?

Patience: It took us about 20 years for the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability Prohibition Bill to be signed into law by this present administration. It kept jumping from one administration to the other until we finally got was we have been advocating for. And that is because people in the organizations of people with disability did not relent. So engaging people and organizations of persons with disability is key. That is what we are also talking about in this COVID-19, that is why during the lockdown period it didn’t go over well with many persons with disabilities because people with disability and the organizations were not really on board, on the table of discussions when preventive measures came out. In fact, people with disability we actually cut off. It was when we started to advocate and say, no, you cannot, you cannot cut off a community of persons with disability. Over 25 million people with disability, as estimated in Nigeria, can never be cut off just like that. And at the end of the day, the government started to bring us on board again. We now have preventive measures in sign language format, in some accessible formats, and things like that. So we are now being a part of the discussions and also prevention. I am not saying that we are there yet, but what I’m saying is that engaging the organizations of persons with disability is working for us in Nigeria.

Soneni: We’ve also been doing similar actions in Zimbabwe, like what Patience is saying, but we are running with PRPD, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one, Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where we are empowering women and girls with disabilities to identify who they are in their communities and empower them through workshops, empower them through training on how to speak with members of parliament to express their views. Because they voted for members of parliament so they should, members of parliament should take issues concerning persons with disabilities to Parliament, to try and solve some of the issues that are coming from the communities; such as rape, such as lack of food, such as lack of employment. I’m working with different organization, because of my background in what I do, I affiliate myself with so many organizations that promote disability rights movement, empowering the girl child on how to be confident, to speak for herself and also include families and educate families on the importance of persons with disabilities; that they shouldn’t keep them at home. But rather, they should treat them like any other children. If they have other siblings give them opportunities. If there’s education, you’re educating your children, don’t leave out a person with a disability but include them in highlighting issues of disability within a home community and also the country. So that is where we are in Zimbabwe.

Lizzie: I have truly, truly enjoyed this conversation. So, in parting, any last words that each of you has?

Soneni: I would like to say, remember disability issues or human rights issues, and every woman has a right to live. Every woman has a right to a voice, and every girl child has a right to education. And every girl child has a right to live a life, even with a disability. And during this COVID-19 let’s all remember, protect yourself to protect others. And coming from Zimbabwe, I say thank you Siyabonga, Tinotenda.

Patience: Thank you, Lizzie for inviting me, I really enjoyed myself. And I just want to end this by saying that the goal is not about making women with disabilities stronger, because they are already strong. But the goal is all about changing the mindsets and perceptions of people. So that they know that persons or women with disability are indeed women first before the disability; and that is what we are trying to, to bring on board change and make a difference.

Lizzie: Thank you both. This would not have been as vibrant as it was without your voices. Thank you for agreeing to be part of this and contributing all your energies towards this, I’m truly appreciative. I hope you would join us again. And I hope we can continue the conversation on social media. And if you have an idea for another conversation that we could all have, please reach out.

 (MUSIC) Interlude

GBV Resources:  Toll Free Helpline 0800 720553 and 0800 730999

If you or anyone you know is experiencing or has experienced any form of Gender Based Violence please toll free number 0800 720553 managed by the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW) or toll free number 0800 730999 managed by the Directorate of Community Policing, Gender and Child Protection to seek immediate assistance.

Again, if you or anyone you know in your community is experiencing or has experienced any form of Gender Based Violence please call 0800 720553 or 0800 730999.

Stay Safe out there.

This message is approved by This-Ability Trust.

(MUSIC) Outro

Lizzie: I am Lizzie Kiama and you’ve been listening to PAZA! Conversations with women and girls with disabilities globally. You can also follow This-Ability of Twitter an Instagram @this_ability_ ke and on Facebook

Join me next month for another stimulating conversation. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter @pazapodcast to continue the conversation on the experiences of women and girls with disabilities. Until next time, stay safe.


Paza – Episode 4

PAZA Podcast

Sexual and Gender based violence in the global pandemic: Exploring the experiences of women and girls with disabilities

Recorded May 8th 2020

Full Audio-Text Transcription


Click above to listen to episode 4

Hello everybody thank you so much for joining our conversation in PAZA. PAZA a Swahili word meaning to amplify is an initiative by This-Ability Trust seeks to document and create visibility for the experiences of women with disabilities globally. We look forward to hearing from you, so remember to show your support and feedback on your social media platforms to continue this conversation please follow our Twitter page @PazaPodcast.

For more content on This-Ability’s work and projects please follow This-Ability on Twitter and Instagram: @this_ability_ke and on Facebook:

Now, let’s get into today’s topic of discussion. 

Lizzie: Good afternoon, everybody. We’re very pleased to be hosting the fourth episode of the PAZA Podcast. And today’s topic of conversation is Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) during COVID-1: Exploring the Experiences of Women and Girls with Disabilities, and on today’s conversation, we have amazing speakers that represent communities of women with disabilities in the counties, and I will allow them to introduce themselves. Easter, do you mind going first?

Easter: My name is Easter Achieng Oketch. I’m the Executive Director of Kenya Female Advisory Organization (KEFEADO) and we work in the western Kenya region, that’s about 14 counties in western Kenya. It’s my pleasure to be with you here today.

Lizzie: Thank you very much. Fridah?

Fridah: My name is Fridah Wawira Nyaga I work with Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW). I am the Program Officer, also the Communication Officer. I am based in a Narok but our head offices are in Nairobi. We are in six counties in Kenya where we are implementing various projects.

Lizzie: Thank you very much. And my name is Lizzie Kiama and I am the host for this podcast. I am also the Managing Trustee at This-Ability Trust where we work to advance the rights and inclusion of women with disabilities in Kenya. So, ladies, shall we get into it! Easter, could you tell us how KEFEADO works specifically around issues on sexual and gender based violence.

Easter: KEFEADO which is, Kenya Female Advisory Organization, has worked in this area of women and girls empowerment for a long time, and we use an intersection of an intergenerational approach, which means that we look across the board – who is at community level, who is a female, and how then they engage with different issues at community level. So, one of the things that we have done is that in our different programs within the schools where we work and within the communities where we work and within the different institutions we’ve worked with, we have realized that there’s been a lot of issues of gender based violence within communities and in different forms. So that different forms of Gender Based Violence which have noticed is FGM within Mt. Elgon, where we worked, and even in Kisii. And also there is high level of Sexual and Gender Based Violence which happens at community level.

One of the things we notice during this COVID period is that it has increased and the levels of violence which we are looking at, apart from just the sexual violence which is being perpetrated, we are also seeing physical violence, we are also seeing economic violence and we are also seeing a bit of the mental issues which are coming from those close issues. So mental violence, emotional violence is also being seen. So those are the issues which we are dealing with during this COVID period on how to engage with different people, and particularly with women and girls with disability who, unfortunately, are not reached out to even by the different gender based violence groups, and thus are not being addressed wholistically. Thank you.

Lizzie: Thank you, thank you, Easter.  Fridah, could you possibly could you tell us how the Coalition on Violence against Women works, particularly the projects you have with women and girls with disabilities? Could you speak on that please?

Fridah: Thank you so much. Coalition on Violence against Women is a nongovernmental women rights organization that exists to champion the rights of women and girls to be free from all forms of violence. We are currently implementing two projects that are targeting intellectually challenged women and girls. The project is titled “Enhancing Access to Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence Victims with Intellectual Disability”. The project is being implemented in Kiambu, Nairobi and Narok counties has been funded by African Women Development Fund. So what we do in these projects is that we enhance public knowledge and awareness on the rights of persons with intellectual disability. Through this I mean we conduct community dialogues or community conversations about the rights of persons with intellectual disability.

The second thing that we do is we work hand in hand with the National Council to facilitate the registration of intellectually challenged women and girls in the furthest to reach community. That means that we conduct registration exercise, hand in hand with the National Council of Persons with Disability in the furthest to reach areas. Like in Narok County, whereby, it’s quite hard for persons with physical, mental disability to get to their offices, so we facilitate their movement. The third thing that we do is we provide court representation to survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence with intellectual disability. So this means that we offer pro bono services – we have a database of pro bono lawyers that we work with and in case there’s a case that has been forwarded to us involving someone with intellectual, and intellectual I mean mental disability, we’re able to offer pro bono services. We give them psychosocial support and also we give them transport to go to the court. Another thing that we have been doing in this project is that we do a lot of lobbying, especially with County Health Committee in the various counties that we are implementing so that we can lobby for an inclusive legal aid policy, sexual and gender based violence framework.  Such as, in the lobbying meeting that we had in Narok, it was an advocacy meeting with the County Health Committee to lobby for exemption of medical assessment fees for intellectually challenged women and girls. Another thing that you’re doing in this project is that we sit in the Court Users Committee (CUC), where we discuss matters on enhancing access to justice for intellectually challenged women and girls. For instance, in 2019 through the Court Users Committee COVAW was able to push for an open day, a CUC legal day and also we are able to push for a Judiciary Service Week, where they prioritized 48 cases of survivors of Sexual and Gender based Violence that had been pending for quite some time. So that is basically about our projects on access to justice for girls and women with intellectual disability.

We have another project that we are about to start next week, it’s from Humanity Inclusion, it’s a seed fund and it is in response to Covid-19 pandemic. So we will be providing food package, sanitary towels, airtime, tissues, soap and masks to at least 100 families with girls and women intellectual disability. The second thing that we’ll be doing in that project is that we will be having a back messaging to general public on educating them on safety measures during Covid-19 and issues to do with prevention of sexual and gender based violence. We are currently conducting a mapping exercise of 100 families with intellectually challenged women and girls from low income earning areas in Nairobi,  that is, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Dandora, Mweki, Kiandutu. So that is basically the two projects that we have that are targeting women and girls with disability.

Lizzie: Great. Thank you. Fridah.  I just had a follow up question. The first project you were talking about, among other things, it also looks to create, generate knowledge and create awareness in the community. So I’m just curious, particularly in the counties that you work in, what has been the community perception of the groups of women, particularly the women and girls with intellectual disabilities? What was the existing community perception?

Fridah: The first thing that I would say is that there is a lot of stigma, discrimination towards women and girls with disabilities, especially in Maasai Land, whereby, women and girls with disability as viewed as a curse or bad omen. It’s quite sad to note that even in the most interior parts of Maasai Land, in Narok, when a woman gives birth to a child with a disability, they are stigmatized and some parents end up throwing these children in the forest. They are not dressed, they are not fed. Another issue is the communication barrier, you find that girls and women intellectual disability may not even know if they have been sexually abused, not even know how to report. And lack of family care and support, whenever an incident is reported or occurred, you find that no one believes them. This leads to frequency of occurrence, for instance, I was abused as today and even last week I was abused but when I come and share with you that I was abused no one believes these people with mental disability.

The other thing is institutional failure, you find that that even the police officers, we don’t have trained police officers, we don’t have gender desk, specifically dealing with persons with mental disability. So there’s a lot of communication barrier, stigma and discrimination. When you go to the hospital in Narok County, most of the hospitals or health facilities they don’t have a sign language interpreter. So there is a communication barrier between a person with mental disability and the health professional so you find that they are not able to access sexual and reproductive health services.

Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you.  Easter, going back to what KEFEADO does around sexual and gender based violence, I just would like you to go deeper, not necessarily how COVID has increased of GBV, but what was the current situation even before COVID of women and girls with disabilities?

Easter: One of the things which we are looking at is the same thing that Fridah is saying, which is the lack of service and the lack of structures which are put in place to respond to issues of gender based violence even in the reporting structures. For example, one of the things which we are looking at is that within the referral pathway, when anybody who has a disability would go and report, because of the discrimination of women with disability, if you went to report an incidence of sexual violence, somebody perceives that maybe it was a favor because people are profiled differently.

One of the challenges is that profiling then ensures that the discrimination is never reported because of lack of access to information and access to those kinds of spaces. So one of the things which are also looking at is that within these particular spaces, when you go and report within the referral pathway, we do not have enough structures to respond. For example, if you go to the police station, and if you are having hearing impairments, do we have a sign language interpreter, they’re not often there, so you cannot report. So you have to get someone else who probably might be the perpetrator or will be at a cost to you, who is the survivor. And one of the challenges which you’re also facing is that, for example, if you go and report and you are visually impaired, when you’re writing your statement, how many how do you write your statement? How do you ensure that your statement is well recorded? And part of it is that then when you’re required to go with an aid, what if your aid is the perpetrator? We have had incidences of the police not actually recording what you’re saying as a survivor, so part of it if you’re not able to verify those statements, then it becomes a challenge. So when you need aids within those structures, then it becomes a challenge. And it becomes even worse because we have women and girls, we work with women and girls with disability from rural communities, where there are issues of even hiding them is supposedly very normal. So part of it is that even getting access to these structures where you can state what is happening is a challenge.

And we have seen increased levels of violence and in certain spaces where we are, particularly with the women and girls with intellectual disabilities, we are seeing repeated sexual violence against those particular women. In one of the cases which we are trying to handle now is where a mother is a trader, and has two girls with intellectual disability. Immediately she leaves to go for work, they are violated repeatedly, and they also have children who are also with intellectual disabilities, which means that she’s very constrained. So part of those challenges which are faced within community levels is that unfortunately, government is not really looking after the protection services for this cohort of persons, particularly women and girls with disability in the spaces wherever they are. So the challenges which we note are that we are trying to then push this agenda.

We are also part of the support by Humanity and Inclusion to look at how even to get shelters, and even when we get shelters, are the people within those shelters able to deal with the different disabilities which will go in there. So for example, the women and girls with the intellectual disability need specialized care, are they able to support? Do we have personnel within those structures who are able to support those kinds of women or girls or sometimes there are people with multiple disabilities, who are able to support them within these particular spaces? Because apart from the households where we see and the areas where these things happen, we have also noticed because we work in institutions where we have children with disability. And we also notice that learning institutions are also spaces where there’s a lot of sexual violence against women and girls with disability. So one of the things we are saying is that the structures which are in place do not wholistically protect women and girls with disability from violations. Even in terms of seeking social justice; because in terms of social justice, people tend to think about asexuality so you will not be believed so easily.

Part of it is the bit of where we are talking about the sexual rights of women and girls with disability, people think that you deserve it or you somebody did you a favor, which is a violation of the rights. So the social justice issues which come at community level, and then the legal justice processes. Now, in terms of getting access to justice, even within the court of law, it takes a lot of time. One of the challenges which we face is that some of the girls and women who come from very poor background, so the economic issues, then constrain them from attending court processes. And because you have to keep on travelling to that particular court process, as in your come from a poor background, then you are also constrained within the spaces. So a whole myriad of things which then shows, one is the social discrimination at community level, where the economic issues which then predispose some of these women and girls to the challenges that they’re facing. The issue of the social discrimination, and then the areas where then patriarchy then happens, apart from that issue of that one is that we have also seen that, apart from the sexual violence, early marriages are also done. Because in our spaces where there’s the issue of wife inheritance, there will always look for a girl with disability to be the one who is inherited. So part of it is also the rights on issues of early marriage and the marital rape which is faced within those particular places. So there are many challenges which need to be addressed and it is important for us to raise this issue when you’re talking about gender based violence, because one of the things which hurts me most is the invisibility of the data on the violence which is perpetrated against women and girls with disability. Within Kisumu County we are looking at the data from the Gender Based Violence Recovery Centre, and it’s silent. There’s silence on it, you can’t see that data. So it means that people are subdued so you cannot address the issues which are required even within those spaces to have sign language interpreters, to have examination beds which are commensurate to the different disabilities, like the physical disability which is needed during examination. So part of it is that we also have to talk to ourselves as people who respond to issues of gender based violence. That why do we think that data should make women and girls with disability invisible, they shouldn’t be invisible, they should be visible so that their needs are addressed.

Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you, Easter. And just to touch on what both of you spoke about, you’ve talked about invisibility, Easter, you’ve talked about invisibility which then spreads and shows itself in the lack of policy, the lack of implementation and also in our programming. But also on the other side, Fridah, you’ve talked about, you know, knowledge creation, awareness creation, I’m just wondering, at what point do we begin to see a difference because we as NGOs, as nonprofit organizations, we invest quite a bit in awareness creation and for me and maybe this is a personal fight, maybe I should stop fighting this fight. I feel like everything is rooted in the unconscious bias. We walk around on our perception of disability, you know, our experience with disability, the non disabled people and even disabled people themselves, there is this negative perception we hold very dearly. And that comes out as unconscious bias, which then magnifies the invisibility, it magnifies the lack of specific language in our policies, and also trickles down to our programming. So I’m just wondering when we are working around awareness creation, what do you think that we need to do differently in order to bridge this gap of invisibility?

Easter: My take, I think you’ve done enough awareness creation. Part of what we are looking at is that beyond just awareness, there are policy issues which we need to demand for. And it means that who is sitting in the room when the policy issues are being discussed. So in terms of for example, we have various sexual and gender based violence policy documents and who it’s supposed to target. So part of it is that the policymakers, are the duty bearers actually been to task. So, part of it is that in terms of what we are looking at is that we need to be able to start tasking duty bearers to actually listen. If you look at the history of what the women’s movement has been able to do, is to be able to put enough pressure. So are we able to start developing a movement beat, a very pulsating movement which they are asking you to bear us to actually the answer to the questions. One of the challenges which are faced is that sometimes women’s with disability organizations and individuals are also invisible within the disability movement itself. So part of it that the patriarchy within the disability movement means that women issues are subdued by other disability issues. So for example, in the response, people are not even talking about the sexual violence, people will talk about economic issues, which then targets the other gender. So part of it is that how do we rally women within the movement in the disability movement to be stronger, to capacitate them to go beyond awareness and start sitting on those particular policymaking spaces and demand. So how do we also capacitate because one of the opportunities we have, for example, we have a senator, a nominated senator who is sitting at a policy level, Hon. Danita Gati. So how do we target such persons like honorable Danita Gati, to push beyond just policy development to policy implementation? The challenges we face is that we have very nice disability policies even within the county with no implementation framework, and with no financing framework, so you have this disability board within the county and maybe at national level with no money and no other resources to be able to move. So even within the counties we need to target the disability boards and ensure that they implement the policy and ensure that the visibility of the issue of disability is actually budgeted for. Then we will ensure that we go beyond just creating awareness to implementing whatever frameworks which we really need to implement and ensure that we have activities which are targeted to alleviate the challenges which are faced particularly on the issue of gender based violence against women and girls with disability.

Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you very much.  Fridah?

Fridah: In regards to the question that you have asked, I think we need a very well coordinated GBV response team at county level, especially among the justice actors, hereby I mean like, at the police station when a case is reported, let’s have a gender desk, not police stations have gender desks. When the case is taken up by the prosecutor, let’s have someone who understands persons with disabilities. In the courtroom, let’s have the magistrate with intermediaries in this court whereby persons with special needs can express themselves and be understood so that we can enhance access to justice. Second thing, NGEC has a policy model, but in Kenya very few counties, I don’t know how many counties, but very few of them have county specific sexual and gender based violence policy. So I think we need to borrow a lot from the NGEC model on SGBV so that we can tailor-make those policies and then we lobby for gender responsive budgeting. When counties are doing budgeting lets ensure in our lobbying they put resources in place. They put resources to put up shelters and infrastructures so that women and girls, survivors of gender based violence can seek refuge when they are faced with violence. Thank you.

Lizzie: Thank you very much, Fridah. Thank you. Do you mind tying into what Easter was saying in terms of the need for a movement of women and girls with disabilities and maybe touch on the experiences that women and girls or disabilities in the counties where you work in, and how feasible it would be to include them all. How strategic it would be to include them in a movement building process?

Fridah: Yes, I would say that women and girls with disability, I agree with Easter that they need to be included in key decision making areas, especially during COVID-19 response. Let’s see women with disabilities in key decision making area so that they are able to talk on behalf of other women because they are the only ones who understand the challenges that women and girls with disability are facing. But currently we don’t see representation of women with disabilities in these key decision making areas at county and national level. So I totally agree with Easter

Easter: Part of it is that, one of the things we have to state is that we are tired of tokenism. The bit of tokenism is that within the spaces, in the room and you’re allowed in, usually it’s a tokenistic affair and supposedly a benevolent thing which government doing. Part of it, for me, we must resist that tokenism and ensure that that the resources, which are going into those particular spaces – the shelters, which you’re talking about, the rescue centers, which you’re talking about, must be wholistically funded and we have to be able to see them actually working. For example, one of the things we are saying is that policies are developed and it is assumed that everybody can read those policies. Yes, we can read but sometimes what you’re asking for the policy document to be done in Braille, for example, how much will it cost a county government to ensure that that policy document is in Braille. We have a Sexual and Gender Based Violence Policy within Kisumu which we are hoping to roll out to talk about these particular issues. But what we’re looking at is public participation, for you to be able to participate in those processes of even allocating resources, how many spaces are actually conducive for women and girls with disability to participate? Then you can’t put your voice in those particular spaces and that means that always that your voice is not in those particular policies.

So I’m also calling us to action as a movement as a women’s movement, how we push an agenda so that those policy frameworks are actually responsive to the different disabilities that we have. For example, whenever we go for public participation, and you’re talking about documents and allocation of budgets, even for shelters, we never even have sign language interpreters sitting in those public spaces. So it means that even if I had an issue, if I am a woman with hearing impairment I will not be able to sit in that space and be able to be heard. So much of it is that how do we then ensure that we are creating spaces as a women’s movement and demand for those things to be there consistently. That service delivery must be there consistently and that they are not supposed to be tokenistic that one day it is there the next day when you’re almost making a decision, then it is not there. So beyond the physical access, we also want the access to documents, which are then responsive to the different needs. And even with girls with disability within their own institutions how do we then respond to that? So for me, we need to question the movement and ask the movement that who have been left behind and how far behind are women and girls with disability in the women’s rights movement?

Lizzie: I think my question would be why is it so easy to forget that disability groups exists? I think some things would not fly in other sectors. So for example, you would not have a health policy or an education policy, unless this happens I’m not privy to that information, but would you have an education policy without an implementation plan and a budget attached to it?

Easter: Of course we have, we have a gender mainstreaming policy and one of the things we talked about is that gender mainstreaming policy must include issues of diversity and disability needs and it has to be budgeted for. So part of what Kenya is good at, is that we are very good at doing policy documents, tick the box, the policy document is there. How it will be rolled out? How it will be implemented? No one ever thinks about that. So part of it is that the implementation framework of this policy documents is what we also need to track. For example, the Constitution was very clear, certain things were supposed to be done within certain frameworks. So even in our policies that we are looking at, how is the policy framework supposed to be implemented. For example, if they’re supposed to be 47 shelters, that is at county level, we can have 47 shelters at county level and then at national level. We talk about shelters, but no implementation framework to say that by when are those things supposed to be done? So part of it is that then we become very comfortable with the other issues, and not considering that these issues are important. So we must then ensure that within our framework we are very strategic and very calculated in targeting to see when it’s being implemented, how much is being done, and then target at county level and national level. At national level there’s the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council, we can push that agenda so that they speak about it because NGC is there, the Council of Governments sits there, the Treasury also sits there. How do we push our agenda to national level? At county level, how do we target the County Budget and Economic Forums and ensure that the persons with disability who sit within those forums understand the context, the gendered context of the needs of women and girls with disability? Then we will move, then we’ll have budgets and then we must check whether those budgets are actually given or they disappear. So it’s a bit of work, but it’s doable.

Lizzie: Do you have an empowerment program within KEFEADO? And if you do, could you talk about its importance in terms of fighting against SGBV?

Easter: Yes, we have an employment program within KEFEADO where we talk about the community empowerment program. And the work is done by ensuring that at community level community members are empowered to voice their issues. We work with what we call Community Own Resource Persons who are diversified and include the women and girls with disability. So when you talk about inclusion, we also talk about the issues of inclusion of sexual minority groups within this particular place because they are the ones who are left out of them of the power structures. So the Community Development Program looks at that and we engage with community members at that level through that particular program. So we have those Community Own Resource Persons who there once trained even on issues of paralegal training, are then able to take up these issues and take issues up to court. And within the schools and community linkages program, that’s another program, that’s how we work with people in schools, and in institutions of higher learning. So within those spaces we give the talks, we speak about the issues of rights, the constitutional framework, how to be able to get your rights and then create the linkages. So the linkages with different arms of government, whether it is the Department of Health, whether we need to sit with the governor, we’ll find out how to sit with the governor at one particular place so that we can get budgets, access to assemblies and those kinds of things. So we have that community empowerment program, which even gives people knowledge on where to go. We tap into what they’re doing and then refer that to that particular place. So our programming is based on the issue of community engagement and the fulcrum of community voices being part of it. So that is how we have managed to engage with our schools who work disability within the county and also at national level. And we use different skills like using art; we have used art to also engage with children. So for example, in Kisumu, we used wire art to engage with children with visual impairment at Kibos School for the Blind. So that when they’re able to feel the messages and use messages so that children participate in those messages. For example in Bondo in Nyamonye School for the children with disability, we used painting, so that they are able to then participate in those conversations in their own way. So part of it is that how we use innovative measures, so that then they can speak but they can also learn at the same time on the challenges that people face.

And one of the challenges which we are faced which we also need to address is that sometimes the issue of not thinking about the sexual maturation of children with disability. Because of the discrimination they face there is delayed development and engagement in the school. So they are also adolescence and some of them are adults within institutions of learning we never considered this, so part of is that we also talk to the schools or how to engage them on sexual maturation so that they do not face unwarranted sexual advances and are able to protect themselves. So the language which we use is also something which we need to look at when engaging with the children in schools who face gender based violence, and also children out of school, who are discriminated against.

Lizzie: Thank you. Thank you. I’m just curious to follow up on the employment program, have you had cases where the community supports or intervenes on behalf of a woman or a girl with a disability in instances where they are not considered a credible witness violation of a sexual violation that has happened?

Easter: Part of it is that in terms of their various ways in which even you bring in a counselor because a counselor is able to see things which a normal person would not see. So how do you get counselors who are able to be able to gauge, for example, during this COVID period, a girl with intellectual disability was actually defiled in Kisumu. The reaction to the person who was thought to be the one who was defiling, when that person walked into the room based on the reaction – because when everybody else was in that room the girl was very calm – but immediately this person came into the space the girl became agitated. So part of it is that also training counselors to be able to pick up certain issues, and even within all the different spaces, how do we get counselors to be able to work with the different disabilities? Even with intellectual disabilities, how do we get them to be able to gauge what it is and use different methodologies?  That is why we have been insistent on how do we work with a gender based violence recovery centers to be better equipped, to have that trained personnel who are able to work with the different persons who walk in there. So how do we get them to be able to have counselors who can be able to work with women and girls with intellectual disabilities so that they’re able to get to express themselves? So that training is required, but there are few trained people who are able to do that and that’s a gap which we need to also tap into because then they’ll be able to work. So that means it’s a protocol with within health facilities, for example, that it is a requirement. 

Part of what we are also doing is to push the service charter to be also inclusive so that when the service charter in a health facility says that this is what they will do, we ask where’s that Washington short set of questions? Do you have issues to do with disability within your different departments? So those service charters if they are queried can then include some of these things within the health facility and community level, and then people will get to know how to engage.

Lizzie: Now, let’s talk about this specific context of COVID-19. Could you touch on, and I’ll start with you, Fridah, could you talk about what the experience of women and girls with disabilities in the counties that you work in? And what strategies COVAW is adopting to support them in this particular context?

Fridah: As COVAW we have seen an increase in the number of SGBV cases being reported to us, especially in the areas that we are working in. And some of the strategies that we are using is that we have our toll free number  where the community members can report any cases of SGBV and we share that number towards the end of the podcast. The second thing is that for us, our work is continuing, even though the government has restricted people holding meetings for more than 15 people, we are doing radio shows, radio shows is what is working for us. Like today we had a radio show in Narok County whereby we engaged Sidai FM targeting communities in the marginalized areas. So the conversation must continue even if these meetings are not happening and they must continue through this radio shows. The third thing we are using as an organization is the bulk messaging. We have a database of our beneficiaries so every once in a while we are send information, a message passing information on 

COVID-19 prevention measures and mitigation of SGBV. Because most of all of our beneficiaries, like in Kwale they were depending on tourism industry but the tourism industry have been closed and in Narok county it’s the same thing, where there still depending on the tourism industry. So we are offering food packages, the one that they have said earlier 400 families in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya where we work targeting low income areas. Thank you.

Lizzie: Thank you very much, Fridah. Easter?

Easter: Actually similar, it’s like we sat and agreed as women’s rights organizations. We are actually using similar things, we have ensured that we have the food packages and we are taking them to the sub county level. We are utilizing radio to be able to speak about these issues and ensuring that in terms of the radio we are also including women with disability to be able to be visible in that conversation. In terms of economic empowerment, because COVID has messed up people economically, so within the spaces which COVID affected there’s increased violence within the households. And it means that we need to also ensure that women with disability and able to recover for the ones in business. So we have actually put in a small package, which we call economic recovery package because women who used to work in markets, who used to do their business cannot do those businesses anymore. So we have said that in terms of this interim process we put in an economic recovery package so that they are not disabled in terms of their financial capacities. And that one will ensure that within three months, based on the status of COVID, we will still be able to ensure that they can start their recovery period and not face economic violence which they’re facing within their households. And we’re also ensuring that they are visible like we are going to be doing masks and I think that is the program you’re going to be doing with COVAW with support of HI. For the masks, the training on the development of masks is done by women with disabilities so that they can have money during this particular process. So engagement on that will then ensure that they’re able to respond.

There’s what we call the humanitarian response, Kisumu, Siaya and Homabay, we are grappling with both COVID and flood, so have also  asked that that the humanitarian response must also have disability issues included. It wasn’t included totally and it is something which we need to look. In emergency response, does it mean that that the people who with different disabilities do not have challenges? Or are they left? Like when in Ahero, who takes care of them? So part of it is that we have asked the people in humanitarian response to be very cognizant of issues to do with disability and ensure that when meetings are being done persons with disabilities are present. When the first meetings were done person with disabilities were not present and people went on as normal, that it’s okay that you don’t, you’ll be talk for. So what we raised during that particular meeting was to ensure that they were included in the next meeting. But in the next meeting, as usual, it was a male person who only talked about businesses, but he said that we are seeing issues that the household level. So part of it is that then we said that we need women with disability organizations included and now they have been included but we are still not seeing that data which informs how many of the households which are women led have actually been targeted. We have not seen the response on the data which talks about the defilement cases and the rape cases which we have seen. The emerging challenges we’re seeing in the camps is that the camps are not segregated. It means that in terms of the camps, the violation the sexual violations are also increasing within those particular camps. So those are some of the things which are emerging which we are dealing with and we are hoping that we can get protocols, quick ones, to ensure there is something on segregation, to ensure that the reporting framework during this period of COVID are also addressed. So those are some of the things which then we are doing during this period.

Lizzie: Wonderful. Gosh, you guys are doing quite a lot, quite a lot. We are working on collecting, what do you call it, support from private sector and I think since you’re already working on the ground, it might be interesting to figure out how to disburse this because they are providing supplies but not the logistics part. And of course, we cannot travel.  But I wanted to explore whether you think there are any opportunities to or any learning that we could derive from this context as a nation, but also you know, from one another?

Easter: My learning is that things can be done differently. We never thought we would be doing Zoom, we always used to travelling; it means that we can do a whole lot of different things and influence. Part of what I would like us also to do is that there are briefs which you can develop to government, both at county and national level, and also share those briefs on what needs to be done. So how do we do those briefs, particularly concerning the issues of SGBV and women and girls with disability and ensure that they reach the different places of influence and ensure that, for example, the State Department of Gender then picks it up as an issue. There are things which you can we can actually do and put pressure at policy level, which we then can review. I’ve been part of processes where everybody keeps on looking at the Ebola and other pandemics, and part of it is that even in those particular pandemics the issues of women and girls with disability were still very muted. So we have an opportunity to ensure that we can raise our voices and it’s a low hanging fruit. So for me, that’s something we can start doing while we push for those food baskets at community level, sanitary towels, those kinds of things.

Lizzie: Thank you Easter. Fridah?

Fridah: For me. Yes, there is a lot of learning especially on use of ICT. As a country, we should have a national GBV help line that is very well sourced to operate 24 hours that offer psychosocial support and care as soon as referral for survivors. In that it’s online based and anyone from anywhere can call without incurring any cost. The second thing is that we are learning is to need alternative safe houses and shelters for survivors. As Easter was saying earlier, we have good policies and we need the government to actualize them. One thing that we really need the government actualize during this COVID-19 period is that we need alternative safe houses and shelters for survivors of GBV. And the last thing that I’m learning individually is that self-care during COVID-19 is very important; take care of your mental health because we are getting a lot of news from here, there. So take care of your mental health, go for a walk, and listen to a podcast like this one. Check out how your beneficiaries are doing and lend a listening ear. I think we have a lot of learning from COVID-19

Lizzie: Thank you.  I especially like the mental health one and listening to a podcast like this, very useful learning. Now in closing, you’ve talked about some key messaging in the entire discussion, but specifically what would be some key messages and strategies that we could recommend to the government around SGBV, specific to this current pandemic, but also post COVID?

Fridah: If I should go fast, there is an advisory note that COVAW and other women led organization drafted early last week and is actually available on our website. We’re calling on the government to respond to GBV issue during COVID-19. And one thing I would say is the government needs to increase provision of financial support to vulnerable households to ease economic threats, especially to vulnerable female headed households. Yes, I know they are doing quite a lot, but we need to see more, more in terms of financial support to these vulnerable households. The second thing is that the court should prioritize handling domestic violence cases as urgent cases. Remember in early April the Chief the Chief Justice noted that there was an increase in GBV cases amounting to about 35% of all cases that are being reported in court. So there is need for court to handle domestic violence cases as urgent cases.

Lizzie: Thank you. Fridah, Easter, do you have any thoughts?

Easter: I think we were also part of that drafting which was done by CREAW, we were part of that drafting, and it had a lot of very key issues which then need to be railed around. And one of the things which came out very clearly was the issue of the marginalization and the invisibility of issues to do with disability. So it would also be great if then, we have also a face. We talk about “nothing for us without us”, where is the face of women with disability in these particular spaces? There were also certain things which are being drafted by feminist organizations across the world, the issues of disability also came in there. So I think that one of the things which you can do is that let us use online platforms, and more of this, to be able to ensure that those documents can be shared within the disability movement, so that we localize it in spaces where then the local persons can be able to speak about them, and then put to task the duty bearers to be able to act on their asks. So if we are able to do this within the next few weeks, then I think we’ll be able to then ensure that within each county and at national level, the asks then becomes similar and it becomes a pressure point – when there’s enough pressure then people can’t ignore.

Lizzie: And I need to apologize, I should have checked in with you in the beginning. How are you both? How are you guys doing it in this situation? Both of you, from a mental health standpoint.

Easter: We do self care part of it. And actually one of the things is that, for example, Urgent Action Fund is actually doing activities which then include different organizations to be able to just to dance or listen to music or to clap or do something. So that is something which is done, like today, actually immediately after this, you choose music, do whatever you want, but at least within a collective, so that you are also able to share your experiences. So part of it is that even as a collective of women, what are we speaking about? How are we supporting one another? How do we check in on one another, so that then we don’t go…it’s a very challenging space at this particular moment because people are not used to it and it’s something which we need to tap into. And I think we can do things, even if it’s a weekly thing or if weekly is too much, then every two weeks, something can be done. So Urgent Action Fund is doing something great, so you listen to music and just chill with your people, do a chill spot and you can do you can detox kiasi.

Lizzie: That’s nice. Fridah?

Frida: For me self-care is very important. Don’t be confined in the house. And I mean don’t go out, don’t go out, but it’s good to take a nature walk within your home area. Yes, and listen to good things.

Lizzie: I just want to thank you both for joining us. If there are any last thoughts, any parting words that you would like to share now would be the time before we close. I’ll start with you, Easter.

Easter:  Self Care is critical, and we will survive COVID-19 all of us, together we can. And take care of yourselves.

Lizzie: Thank you. Fridah?

Fridah: Allow me to share our toll free number just in case.

Lizzie:  Yes, of course. Yes.

Fridah:  So we have a toll free number that we recently launched and its operating 24/7. And the toll free number is 0800 720553.  Let me repeat 0800720553. Thank you for having us.

(Music) Outro

We’ve come to the end of our session for today and we’re so grateful for your participation. Let’s remember to continue the conversation on our social media platforms if you would like to join the conversation as a guest speaker or discussant please get in touch by sending an email to remember to like and share our content on Twitter @PazaPodcast. For more content on This-Ability’s work and projects please follow This-Ability on Twitter and Instagram @this_ability_ke and on Facebook Speak soon and stay safe.

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