As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, being a woman myself, I understand the significance of us working together to achieve parity as we demonstrate our dedication to a future generation of women. I know that women and girls, despite their origin, culture and interests represent “Infinite Giving” for others, the environment around us and all the different meanings of life. As such, International Women’s day is a time to celebrate our achievements, as we reflect on the barriers that women face and overcome economically, politically, and socially. It is a time when women around the world come together to give testimonies, share stories of empowerment and encourage each other that change is possible even during the current COVID-19 pandemic situation.
This year’s IWD theme is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. The theme speaks to me about celebrations of women and girls’ tremendous efforts worldwide, shaping an equal future during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my opinion, the real transformation the world ought to witness regarding women’s rights; should be recognised through individual achievements, common participation and collective efforts in the political, social and economic spheres. Let us not forget that in most countries worldwide, women still suffer disproportionately from poverty and its related ills, not having equal access to education, health among other services and the chance to become full participants in political life, which as you know, is everyone’s right and an essential ingredient of democracy. Despite all this, we should acknowledge women’s contributions to their families and societies in the midst of their requirement for improved equal rights and treatment. This year, as we celebrate women in various leadership capacities, I specifically celebrate the efforts of women and girls living with a disability. I recognise their hidden roles and the impact on their lives as they strive to achieve an equal future in a COVID-19 world.
Women and girls with disabilities are subjected to multiple layers of discrimination based on disability status, they often face double discrimination. They experience inequality in financial credit and other productive resources and rarely participate in economic decision making. And yet, investing in their economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equity and inclusiveness, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. I know that the informal sector contributes greatly to Uganda’s economic growth and GDP, and it is important not to undermine the economic value women bring to this sector. For example, in all Ugandan markets, women constitute a majority of the vendors.
In early 2020 CIG Uganda implemented a “COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund” that supported vulnerable vendors in the Nakawa Market. The Fund, implemented during the COVID 19 pandemic lockdown period, contributed to the improved social wellbeing of vulnerable vendors who were required to sleep and operate in the market for months on end, as they were locked down in the market. Which meant many women kept their children and babies with them, sleeping rough in the market. Among the beneficiaries were women living with disability. The CIG Emergency Fund allocated spending according to the choice of the beneficiaries. In the Nakawa market, the request had been for ‘shelter’ in the form of tarpaulins, given to the most vulnerable. I followed up on Nakiryowa Robinah, a single mother living with a disability who benefitted from the initiative:
“As you can see, I can smile, thanking God that I was among those who received the tarpaulin. My business has expanded; I paid for additional space (stall), and the tarpaulin stretches to cover the whole space. I have also topped up on the contribution I give to our PWD women’s saving group. Despite being difficult times in the COVID-19 situation, I am still taking care of the family’s basic needs. This month, my two children in candidate classes have gone back to school, and I paid the full amount of school fees!”.
It is clear that women living with disability live in more stringent social hardship than men with disabilities and women without disabilities. Their exclusion carries heavy financial and social consequences on their lives, hindering economic development, which erodes societies. Nakityo Sarah living with a disability is the daughter of a single mother who is a vendor in the Nakawa market. Sarah has always worked and helped her elderly mother at her stall.
“Thanks to my mother, who saw me through school, I am now a qualified teacher, but I still help at her stall in the market. It has been tough since the COVID pandemic hit us, but my mother tries her best to look after the family. On the leadership front, I am proud to say I was nominated unopposed for the 2nd term running as an LCIII PWD Women’s representative in Nakawa Division. I am hard-working and greatly support fellow women with disability, especially those in the market. My Advocacy message is for them to understand the importance of using any given opportunity.
As a young woman living with a disability, I am on a journey to change the mind-sets of fellow PWD women to strive and achieve the best we can in whatever situation, even in this COVID-19 era!”
Having a young lady living with a disability, with humble beginnings, a leader striving to achieve an equal future in the COVID world brings hope and a light at the end of the tunnel despite all the existing challenges. I applaud Ugandan women for having made great advances, including prospects for formal participation in the country’s recent democratic process. This, among other milestones, has promoted women’s visibility and voice in decision-making processes in the midst of a COVID 19 world. As we celebrate IWD this year, let us not forget that the existing inequalities that mostly disadvantage women and girls ultimately harm everyone in society.
On its part, CIG Uganda will continue to rally behind efforts to inclusively address the barriers women and girls face to achieve equality in all spheres.
Author: Sayson Meya – Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor at CIG Uganda