Disability and Puberty

The onset of adulthood is not hindered by disability. As the body developed there will come a point where sexual maturity and adolescence is reached. This is a strange and confusing time for all parents and children which is why we must be frank.

Puberty usually begins around the age of 11, though slightly before and later is not too unusual. For boys and girls this means the onset of body hair and of oilier skin. This can mean the twin horrors of body odour and acne might develop but which can be dealt with.

The problem usually associated with boys with disability developing sexually is as they develop and explore their bodies, awkward outbursts of masturbation might erupt. It is healthy to explore the body, but clear boundaries need to be established. There has to be frank discussion between parent, elders, teachers and children over what is and is not acceptable. This must cover the notion of consent as well.

For girls, this issue does also stand and should be discussed. There other concerns for girls, the onset of menstruation needs to be explained as a healthy and normal process and the proper hygenic practices demonstrated.

A concerning practice has developed where disabled girls have had the coil forced upon them to restrict the possibility of pregnancy. This is invasive. Moreover it doesn’t protect the girl from STDs. It is much better to talk to girls about contraception and the mechanisms of sex.

The most important thing is support. This is a difficult time for everyone involved and so we must help each other.

 

 

Disability and STDs

The shock that people with disability can and do have sex is often met me incredulity by people who should know better.

This means that people with disabilities are often simply not taught how to have safe sex, nor the reprcussions of having sex. This means that there is a noteable risk for the transmission of STDs. Read this guide about condoms to learn more about safe sex, and how it can be fun.

Just as people with disability aren’t educated it is feasible that their doctor might simply not believe their patient is suffering from an STD. Given that certain diseases only show symptoms once the disease has progressed it is vital to get treatment. There is a stigma attached but many cases are treatable.

Finally WCC has heard of cases where girls were forced into having a coil or other device against their will. This will stop a pregnancy but won’t stop a person with disability catching an unplesant infection. The coil does have a role to play but only alongside other forms of contraception. Rather avoiding the issue of disabled sex it is important to be frank with your children, your parents, friends and lovers about contraception.

Birth and Disability

This is a double pronged issue. There are concerns with women of disability during pregnancy and with giving birth to a child with disability. That first issue is best tackled through two case studies;

WWC heard from one deaf lady the tale of her pregnancy. The woman was enjoying a normal and healthy pregnancy, however, she found it hard trying to interact with the health professionals because they couldn’t communicate with her, and so the lady did become disconnected from medical help. She also said that when the labour did arrive the midwives were particularly unhelpful and actually rude. There were some complications with the birth and a small medical procedure did have to be carried out, the lady was however unsure of what was happening all the while. WCC have been involved in training nurses in sign language, but there is still work to be done.

At the Network of African Women with Disability conference Grace told us about a tragic incident involving a woman with Albinism. Again the lady had enjoyed a normal pregnancy and in this case a straightforward labour. She was delivered of a child with normal levels of melanin. Elsewhere in the hospital a black woman had a child with albinism. The midwives tried to switch these children not grasping the genetics of the situation where is normal and possible for a parents with albinism to have coloured children, the same is true otherwise.

What is clear is that we need further education and awareness about reproductive health and disability, something which WCC is trying to do.

Yet birth involves two parties, mother and child, and we need to be aware of the issues around a disabled baby. It is often the case that a disability may not become apparent immediately or may develop over time. There is a need if your baby is showing signs of a disability to contact your medical officer and talk to them. However, the most important thing to do is love your child and support your child.  WCC can help you.

Disability and Sex

Let’s be frank. People with disability have sex. Each disability is, however, different and affects people in different ways and will impact in the bedroom in different ways.

Blindness and Deafness;

These do not pose a physical challenge to the actual act. However, it may make it more difficult to convey needs and desires.

Albinism:

There is no risk of catching Albinism from sexual contact, and the only impediment is societal prejudice.

Physical Disability:

Romina Puma has said it best:

“I know what kind of positions I like and which ones I can perform in for longer with my impairment. Just because you’re disabled it doesn’t mean that part of your life is over. I can have sex normally. Obviously, I don’t have the strength to do certain positions for a long time – but who does?

Sex is awkward for everyone – so it’s important to be open with your partner. If they understand how to pleasure you, it will help avoid people feeling awkward.”

Mental Disability:

Depending on the level of mental impairment there is an important issue with consent.  The medical profession has had to develop careful safeguards to perform procedures, and so it is particularly important that consent and what that means is discussed from a young age.

 

People with disability can also be sexy. Look at this photo shoot assisted by the UK charity Scope.

Disability and Reproductive Health

The  topic of reproductive health and disability is taboo. It is unspeakable and unspoken. That is wrong. Scope, a UK based charity have compiled an excellent guide to the topic. Here is our introduction to a week of disability and reproductive health.

 

  1. SEX

Yes people with disabilities can and do have sex. Every disability is different but they do not necessarily hinder an active sex life. What can hinder sexual relations are misinformed attitudes on disability.

 

  1. BIRTH

This is a two sided issue. We heard from a deaf lady who throughout her pregnancy was maligned by midwives and other health care professionals. WCC have, however, helped train 127 sign language midwives. We also heard from a Lady with Albinism who birthed a child with usual levels of melanin, elsewhere in the hospital another woman gave birth to a child with albinism and the medical staff tried to swap them. Some disability is inheritable, but we need better understanding about it.

  1. STD

As with birth there is a lack of understanding and acceptance about disability and sex. Therefore when a person with disability does contract a STD it is far more likely to be ignored or misdiagnosed.

 

  1. PUBERTY

Puberty hits us all hard. Some harder than others, and the strange developments which come with the onset of sexual maturity can be frightening if not properly articulated. So it is important that these changes are communicated early and clearly. It is also important that boundaries are established. It is normal for teenagers to start exploring their bodies, it is unpleasant if they do that in a public place and that has to be made clear.

 

  1. CRISIS

Two weeks ago WCC hosted an international conference on the place of women with disabilities in crisis areas. It was made sadly and repeatedly clear that women with disability were particularly vulnerable in these crisis zones. Moreover our own research has shown how vulnerable women and girls with disability are to sexual assault. This was compounded by the disbelief of the authorities when confronted by these assaults. We need to do more to educate our children on consent.

 

After the Battle

Last week during the meeting of The Network of African Women with Disabilities a consistent theme was the need to rebuild the lives and societies which are shattered by the outbreak of hostilities. The horrors of the conflict and persuction are followed cruelly by subsequent hardships which themselves will take time to overcome.

In the immediate flight there is the need to provide a safe space for these women. On the way through these areas of conflict medical supplies must have been limitied, access to food and water as well, and the means through which these might have been acquired are sometimes too terrible to consider. These concerns do not dissapear once a refugee camp has been reached, and it is important that we and our network partners provide a safe space in those camps as well as making it as easy as possible to access the neccessary supplies.

Our partners in the International Rescue Committee are doing great work across multiple camps trying where possible to make the safe space a one-stop shop for all the health, nutrional and care needs. This begins a long process of rehabilitation and social re-integration, and the work of such charities is vital to bring the human touch. In Ethiopian camps one of the ways in which women with disability were included was through their involvement in coffee ceremonies. A small but important step towards total inclusion.

Yet there is a life outside the camp and beyond the crisis as some of our delegates were testament to.  Their stories of renewal after harrowing experience moved the conference. They had found a role for themselves, and so must we help others find theirs.

We were asked to write down our hopes for the next ten years and someone wrote that they hoped to see no more camps and instead empowered women. Therein lies the future. The path out of this misery lies within, having survived the turmoil of a forced exodus an inner steel must be present, a steel which needs revealing and that is the mission which WCC is trying to achieve.

5 Changes We Want to See in 10 Years

During the Network of African Women with Disability the meeting was asked to imagine a change they wanted to see in the world in 10 years. Here are a rundown of the best;

1.Increased disability access.

This is something which we are working towards now and is vital to allow people with disability take their place in the world.

2.A world free of camps but full of empowered women

We leave in the worst period of forced migration that has ever been. We need to act now to stem the grind of war and climate change and create a better world. The way forward lies in women doing their bit.

3.Increased visibility for those with disabilities.

More and more people with disability are taking a prominent role across politics, media, industry and commerce, we need to keep up the good work.

4.For sign language to become far more wiespread.

It is a great sadness that such a useful language, one which not only enables the deaf to communicate but also people who do not share a spoken langauge, is not taught with mainstream education. This needs to change.

5.For a Cape to Cairo Railway which could cross borders and be boarded by anyone regardless of race, gender or disability.

Rather than Cecil Rhodes’ fantasy this was suggested as a great symbol for a united Africa, finally free from the shackles of war and now open to peole of all creeds. We have seen already how difficult it is to get around Nairobi, it would be a giant leap forward to be able to travel the stretch of Africa without let or hinderance.

 

The Network of African Women With Disabilty

WCC is not just an organisation focused on Kenya. We have our eyes cast across the great continent of Africa and even beyond. Nor are we alone and last week we had the great pleasure to host the annunal meeting of the Network of African Women with Disabilites. This conference brought together a group of empowered women to discuss the way forward for African women with disabilities, particularly those in conflict zones.

This meeting was driven largely by the Network, the African Disability Alliance and the Women’s Refugee Commision. It was the consistent message from this meeting that if women with disabilities are twice marginalised, then the problems faced by these women are compounded in areas of Conflict. Not only are there the obvious increased difficulty of access to vital resources but also hidden dangers like the loss of care givers and the strain placed on those already limited resources by an increase in disabilities.

During the conference the sad fact that never has humanity been so engaged in conflict and the flight from persecution. The number of people classifed as refugees has never been higher and this leaves women particularly vulnerable to the ravages of that situation. Those with a disibility are especially vulnerable. They simply cannot run away as quickly  and are more dependent on the society structure around them. This is one of the great struggles of our age.

There are people doing something. The Women’s Refugee Commision is working, collating data and co-ordinating with a host of UN Agencies and organisations on the ground and the hope is that we should  be able to act effectively with this sad situation. Such groups as International Rescue Committee are doing vital work assessing the needs on the ground and providing safe spaces within the camps.

As a charity well aware of the needs of women with disability it comes down to WCC and those in the Network to provide the information, the support and the visibility required to protect, assist and empower those women who find themselves swept up in the tides of conflict. It is a task which will take all our experience at home and which too will make us stronger to empower at home.

 

 

 

 

Peanut Butter, Chapatis and Women Challenged

One of the major income streams for WCC is a peanut butter business. This should, in the coming weeks, be more widely available. The production site has recently been given the thumbs up and with some minor changes to packaging and marketing we should be good to go.

However, this is as much a human story as an economic one. Mama Bwayo runs our peanut butter operation as well as a busy canteen beside our office inspite of her disability. She began making the peanut butter on a project helped by WCC working with a blind lady, in time Mama Bwayo came to run the operation. The WCC wanted to raise some cash whilst also empowering women with impediments.  This idea of empowerment and finacial achievement has been grasped fully by Mama Bwayo.

After finishing making the peanut butter Mama Bwayo found that she had time spare.  Though rather than be bored or go home early she decided to set up shop and has a regular and steady stream of lunchtime customers queueing for her traditional food.

She also does a roaring trade in breakfast chapatis making 40 or so, I suspect many more in reality, by hand everyday. These chapatis are almost the first thing people talk about when they discuss the WCC office, they featured in my introductory meeting and in the handover document that previous volunteers produced. They have a toothsome texture and a certain smokey character. They are particularly good with green grams, (stewed mung beans) and are exactly what is needed for lunch here.

Despite having a leg impediment her disability has not stopped her enterprising spirit.

WCC and Economic Empowerment

It is a sad fact that Women with disabilities are more likely to be the victim of economic hardship than Men with disabilities.  It is also true, and the root cause of this poverty, that Women with disabilities are more likely to be illiterate and otherwise unskilled having had their access to education hindered in their youth and discriminated against in their later life. This is wrong, and WCC have taken up this challenge.

Literacy rates among women and girls with disabilities are exceptionally low. Along with this, disabled women are excluded from other employable skills as well.  The education of a girl with disability is not a priority in many families. They see no value in investing a girl with a disability and as they often say:  ‘No one will employ her anyway’.

This creates a culture of dependency where these women and girls are dependent on family members or begging for handouts. Furthermore this financial exclusion from health care. With no means of earning the money for clinical fees these women, and their families, were having to go without. WCC is changing that.

Having seen the need for women to have cash in order to pay their medical bills, amongst other costs, WCC has set up an Economic Empowerment programme. This began with a micro-finance project to enable women to fund their own business ventures. This aimed to reach 300 women and has so far reached over 90 across numerous ventures, from the peanut butter makers next in the site next door, to poultry farming and tailoring.

This is in addition to providing business support with the help of our VSO volunteers who have been able to assist several businesswomen. Previous teams have helped to create business plans for burgeoning businesses and one of current interns is beginning to build up a social media strategy.

The outcome of this has been to empower those whom WCC has come into contact. They are now much closer to being financially independent. They have all opened bank accounts and have adopted saving culture as a result. As such they are now able to pay school fees for their children and any medical costs. This is in addition to showing that a disability does not mean social exclusion, nor even financial dependency.