Challenges of living with disabilities in Nigeria

Ese Ajuyah
Posted July 31, 2016 from Nigeria

When SHE speaks the earth moves underneath me, the heavens shake above me; my heart melts within me.-Anonymous

In 2015 I part of a team working on a proposal for women with disabilities which targeted three geopolitical zones in Nigeria. The project design revolved on training women living with disabilities on gender issues and how to respond to violence against women with components aimed at economic empowerment. Knowing we could not design a project without the contributions of the project beneficiaries we had to involve them in the initial project design in order to identify their unique needs and develop a programme in line with the solutions they proffered.

I facilitated several of the meetings with the women which still remains an experience I treasure dearly for words are not able to describe how I felt listening to the heart rending stories these sisters shared. Our discussions revolved around sexual and gender based violence, social definitions, education and access to opportunities. The meeting was highly informative and reconstructive. It redefined me as a development worker and most importantly as a woman.

I was confronted with the stark reality of the vulnerability of these women who were not able to move around freely. Every movement they made was with a lot of effort and difficulty. Yet they were determined to speak and make a change for I saw intent and purpose in them as we discussed. They spoke like they really wanted to be heard. They wanted a change and knew the only way they could get it was to speak and they did speak.

Social definitions were a big issue for women living with disabilities because stigma is all she knows or may ever know in her lifetime. Social stigma is her every day reality. Society defines being a woman and because they do not fit into these definitions they live with stigma for not being able to 'fit in'. Something she has no power to control or make a choice over. “We are regarded as being less human because we live with disabilities. Society has defined for us who and what we should be”. These were words spoken by one of the women. Her eyes brimmed with tears when she spoke.

Also while violence against women is a social menace many societies are grappling with, the woman living with disability is twice THE victim. Her challenge makes her more vulnerable to violence. They have high rate of prevalence as victims of domestic violence. Their spouses abuse them regularly psychologically, emotionally and physically. “My husband beats me regularly. He knows I am powerless. He tells me all the time he is doing me a favor by being married to me. Every time he says that to me I feel worthless” Yet these women choose to remain in these abusive relationships because they do not want to lose identity as a married woman. That is one form of social recognition they don’t want to part with.

On sexuality women living with disabilities are not regarded as sexual beings and have most of their sexual rights trampled. The power to decide on their sexuality is taken away from them. “We have feelings; we want to enjoy being a woman and be able to express our sexuality”. Women living with disability are very vulnerable to rape as one of the women lamented that being raped was regular when she was growing up. “I had a teacher who molested me sexually. He would take me to a lonely place and ask me to touch him. We women living with disability are very vulnerable to sexual abuse. Growing up years is very challenging for us. Men even see it as doing us favors when they sexually violate you as a girl living with disability. Even when we raise the alarm we aren’t taken very seriously. Their actions speak as though we are to accept the sexual abuse we have experienced as a gift”. These women do not negotiate for anything in their relationships with their partners. They are prone to being raped by their spouse or partners who do not see them as having any right to deny them sex whenever they desire it from them.

Another pertinent issue we discussed was on abandonment, the situation where their partners leave without any form of economic supports leaving the vulnerable woman with the sole responsibility of taking care of their children alone. In their desire for love, acceptance and companionship many of these women have fallen victims to this. They are mostly poor women struggling to survive with little means of livelihood and cannot provide for even basic needs i.e housing, feeding, education. Life is more challenging for them and their children who mostly are not educated, they cannot afford to send them to school. “Our children lose out on the opportunity of becoming educated”.

Access to opportunities for women living with disability is very low. Even though there are legal provisions for persons with disability but in practice there are still very evident gaps. It’s easier for a man living with disability to access opportunities than for the women. Even our men do not give us room to partake in available opportunities and this is why women with disabilities are not economically strong.

After a whole lot of effort to make the programme a reality we were not able to succeed on that funding cycle. The experiences however impressed on me the need to help women living with disabilities amplify their voice for change.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 9

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leila Kigha
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

This is quite a touching story Ese!

The reality of women living with disabilities in our society. Something they had no power or choice over , has become a stigma that is being used to define them.

Its quite sad to notice the immediate family of these women are the perpetrators of this ill. Why will a man marry a woman and abuse her? why will a teacher, who aught to train, molest his student?

like you said , though there are laws regulating these, the reality on ground is very different, these women are still being treted like objects of no value!

so sad you could not get the said funding but keep up the good work, it will surely come and i believe the difference will be felt one step ata a time!

cheers!

Drew Dakessian
Aug 04, 2016
Aug 04, 2016

Ese,

I am so happy to see that you did submit your story and that it was chosen by our editors for a community spotlight. In my opinion, we need more stories like this one: stories centered on issues of disability justice for women. Thank you for doing so by sharing your first-hand experience. We can all benefit from reading this piece. 

Ese Ajuyah
Aug 05, 2016
Aug 05, 2016

Dear Leila,

Thank you for sharing my thoughts on the challenges of these dear sisters.

I sure am looking out to see how and what kind of opportunities can be made accessible for these women and how they can be empowered to speak on their rights Thank you again.

Regards,

Ese

Ese Ajuyah
Aug 05, 2016
Aug 05, 2016

Hello Missquoted,

Thank you on your encouragement to share this story on these wonderful sisters. It is because of you this story was shared on the community spotlight platform on World Pulse.

I look forward to generating more positive interventions and outcomes for them by sharing their experiences and issues thereby amplifying and engaging more voices for change.

Thank you again,

Regards,

Ese

Tan Ching
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Women with disabilities can still work...they should have been given jobs that permit them to work within their capacity and learn a decent living.

Marital rapes are still not illegal in many countries worldwide.  There should be better laws to protect women and to give women more equal opportunities in life.

Kadidia Doumbia
Aug 08, 2016
Aug 08, 2016

Dear Ese,

Women, especially African women have a hard time to be respected as human beings and citizens. The African society is hard on people with disability so if you pair this with a gender issue it is the worst situation one may experience.

It si too bad you did not get the funding you needed. Nevertheless, keep on trying I am sure that you will finally succeed. There is a huge need in the population with disabilities and they cannot be left behind.

It was a great project.

Adanna
Aug 11, 2016
Aug 11, 2016

Dear Ese,

Well done and thank you for sharing your story and reminding us of the challenges that women with disabilities face in Nigeria. 

Women living with disabilities need our support and speaking out on the challenges they face is one of the ways to get more global attention.

JANEKALU
Sep 02, 2016
Sep 02, 2016

Dear Ese, Your story is pathetic. I can feel their pains.even a health woman in  Nigeria suffer pains talkless of when you are disable that is double pain.Keep the good work God will see you through.

Cheers

Mwaka
Sep 02, 2016
Sep 02, 2016

your story is really interesting to read; many are the times when disabled women  are denied to utilize their capabilities because of their state.

disability is not inability and disabled women normally have ideas that can impact a positive transformation in all sectors of societies.continue raising their voices so that the abuse and marginalization of the disabled can be brought to an end.