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.



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.



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.


5 WCC Partners

At the conference earlier last week it was made very clear that the problems faced by women with disability, particularly those trapped in a humanitarian crisis, require a network of organisations. So here is a summary of five of those;

1.Africa Disability Alliance

A great organisation which is the father of the Network of African Women with Disabilities. They work on advocacy and awareness across the continent.

2. Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya, APDK

Our local partners with whom we share the compound. They provide the major support for people with physicall disability in Kenya and here they have an adminstartive centre, a therapy centre and a small factory to manufacture wheelchairs of all sorts and sizes.

3. Women’s Refugee Commission

A New York based organisation which provides vital resources to allow us and our sister organisations to do their work. They are excellent at data anaylsis, training and co-ordination able in New York to see the moves of all the actors.

4. UN Women

Another major organisation which helps with resources and logistics. They have to be invited in but once so they can provide more resources, experience and connections than could be otherwise imagined.

5. International Rescue Committee

A hands on, boots on the ground organisation which works directly in refugee camps to provide safe spaces. Not only that they also work to distribute medical, food, and other resources directly from one-stop shops working towards making the camps safer for vulnerable women with disabilities.



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.

Public Transport in Nairobi

The matatu is many things. A magnificent chariot bedecked in wonder to some, a terrifying tin can which threatens life, limb and sanity to others they are the means of travelling through Nairobi. From Westland to East Leigh one has to use these great ships of the road to move about the city.

Visitors to this city find their carefree approach to driving, idiosyncratic designs, loud, fun music and cheap fairs thrilling, our social media intern included. For 50 shillings one can cross vast distances in sometimes surprsing speed, though more often in shocking sloth, in style if not comfort. This is the spirit of Nairobi made animate steel.

The pot holes of the roads transform the humble bus ride into a sea-voyage on a storm tossed ocean. It is perfectly normal to be thrown into the air. Nor is it unusal for the matatu to take a sudden, and frankly, startling lunge to port or starboard according to the whim of the road, driver or traffic. On the way in today our intern had a terrifiying moment where the bus kept going deeper and deeper and listing further and further into a worryingly large puddle.

This is not a means of transport suitable or even useable by all people. The steeps steps make the mere alighting impossible for those whose mobility is limitied. The rough driving would make for a frightening and dangerous ride for someone who is visually impaired. There is no space for wheelchairs. This creates a cruel cycle whereby those who are already limited in their movement are further hindered and so excluded further and further from interacting with the society around them.

This means that access  to jobs, employment or even shopping for basics  are severely restricted. Beyond this it means that meeting friends and family, or attending church or other organisations, things which support and enrich a life, is so much harder, if at all possible.

For these reasons WCC is looking into the available options to improve disability access, we hope to be able to report back with good news.

Our New Volunteers

Today marks the beginning for our ICS volunteers.  This programme brings young people from across the globe together to fight for a better world. Here are a few words from Oliver our English social media intern.

Oliver: I was so glad to get placed with Women Challenged to Challenge, it does great work for people who have been twice marginalised, first by their womanhood and secondly by their disability. Hopefully, I can bring some English flair to the social media pages and help them spread the word. Yvonne, our national counterpart from Mombasa, I know is going to do a great job in resource management. It’s  really important that we are careful about the little that we do have.

Women Challenged to Challenge the Field – Elizabeth

During our first ‘field visit,’ we had the opportunity to meet a businesswoman called Elizabeth in Shauri Moyo estate, just outside of Nairobi. Her inspiring story has led to the first of our blog posts on our ‘field visits.’ Elizabeth has a physical disability but nevertheless she operates a tailoring business that specialises in dresses and handbags. Her skill for tailoring was developed at tailoring school, where she met Jane (the WCC National Coordinator) and other women with disabilities from the WCC. Together they formed a lasting friendship that eventually saw her gain access to the WCC’s loan which helps women with disabilities make improvements to their lives through business. Alongside her business, we learned that Elizabeth also trains and competes in Paralympics events, representing Kenya at the national level. She has travelled throughout the African continent to compete in countries such as Algeria along with travelling outside of Africa to places such as India. Balancing her sporting life with her business proved to be a challenge which necessitated the hiring of an additional worker.

eliza 2Elizabeth (pictured on the left) with her vast amount of medals and trophies.

Despite her physical disability, Elizabeth is the sole bread winner in her family and has a daughter who entirely depends on her for her upkeep. This is a tremendous task, but one in which Elizabeth has sought to overcome using her champion mindset which is channelled from her sporting life. Elizabeth’s tailoring business was started from her living room at home and slowly progressed into her own small shop nearby her house, which enabled her business to pick up. The shop is located along the Shauri Moyo Estate main road and attracts a wide range of customers from business people to college students. In fact, Elizabeth embarked on a project to make college bags for students and received some media attention from her success. We found that Elizabeth’s real selling point is her friendly and customer-orientated nature which allows for customer retention. Her customers not only come from within Shauri Moyo but also from different parts of the country. She often receives orders from churches, schools and friends and has continuously built a series of strong rapports with her customers which can be felt throughout the business.  She is a real inspiration that perseverance and determination to make something from your life despite your hardships, can pay off.

eliza 1 Elizabeth at her workplace in Shauri Moyo.

With this being said, Elizabeth’s moving story cannot be complete without mentioning some of the challenges she has faced and is still experiencing.  One of the main struggles has been the attitude the community has towards persons with disabilities. People often doubt the ability and expertise of a business that is managed and worked by someone with a disability. Whilst Elizabeth has been able to transcend this stereotype, in many ways it still remains in the community and this is something that needs to be tackled through education and community engagement.  Additionally, another hardship faced by Elizabeth is juggling her business with her Paralympics career. Her training and travels have often meant that sometimes she is not available in the shop when customers request her personal service. Although she has another worker, some of her customers specifically request her service. There is also a lack of space in the shop which can be a hindrance to productivity levels. However, together with the WCC we are in the process of reorganising and structuring the business so that Elizabeth is able to flourish and make the most out of her situation. As Elizabeth said herself, “Being disabled does not mean you cannot do things that able-bodied people can do.” By sharing her story we can make a difference to her life and others with disabilities.

Reproductive Health – A Cause for Concern for Women with Disabilities (WwD’s)

Following meetings centred on reproductive health, Women Challenged to Challenge (WCC) has produced reports which highlight recurrent themes that need to be addressed at the community and national levels. Reproductive health is of vital importance and to none more so than women with disabilities (WwD’s). It is an issue that cannot be taken lightly.  From our work on the ground, which includes interaction with women and parents in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Reuben dealing with disabilities, we have encountered a population that is suffering. There are continual instances of ignorance and negligence by family members and professional service personnel who often consider reproduction for WwD’s as a taboo. This stigmatization highlights that WwD’s face preconceptions and language barriers which ultimately cause them to suffer ridicule and emotional and physical pain. Through spreading awareness and providing solutions, we can tackle this growing problem that plagues Kenya.


The community level 

Addressing issues at the community level is of the upmost importance. This is because social acceptance is key for WwD’s to maintain and develop social well-being. Our findings at WCC have indicated that reproductive health issues are inadequately addressed at the community level and women with disabilities prefer to give birth using traditional birth attendant’s in spite the advent of free maternal services due to attitudinal barriers. The attitudes of many professional service personnel, in particular nurses, are extremely distasteful towards WwD’s. Nurses tend to neglect the basic human needs of such people and so, WwD’s suffer.  There are language barriers too between WwD’s and nurses. Deaf women experience a tumultuous relationship with many nurses as they are not able to communicate and express themselves fully. This brings in the need for more nurses to undergo sign language training so that WwD’s, in particular the deaf, are able to get efficient reproductive health services.


(WCC reproductive health workshop focusing on the problem of language barriers between WwD’s and nurses)

During WWC’s field visit, our interview with Caro shed light on the stigmatization of nurses towards WwD’s. Caro is deaf and was treated very rudely by nurses when she became pregnant. Her baby became ill and it was not till after 4 months that the nurse diagnosed her baby with autism. There was a severe lack of communication between the nurse and Caro. Caro did have a second pregnancy in which she gave birth to a healthy baby. This says a lot about stereotyping by nurses and this certainly must stop so that WwD’s are given the same reproductive health rights as those who do not have disabilities. It must be said though, that there is an improvement in nurses undergoing sign language training. The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) for instance has trained 127 nurses on sign language. This is a small improvement in an issue that permeates Kenyan society. In fact, KNH only has 2 deaf nurses. Kenya should borrow from the Ugandan example in which it is compulsory for medical practitioners to be trained in sign language. The situation in Kenya reflects the need for more trained nurses to deal with the scope of WwD’s with reproductive health problems.

This issue brings to light the argument that many nurses do not view their job as a calling but are rather motivated by money and ulterior motives. In a profession that cares for humanity, we should see the treating and care for WwD’s as a responsibility. There is a drastic need for improvement within the community level in order to thwart stereotyping and allow for WwD’s to gain the necessary reproductive health services they require. Through engaging the community, this will then place pressure on the Kenya’s local governments to help improve the situation. In fact, it is evident that many cabinet secretaries are disinterested in the issue of sign language training for nurses. Therefore, it is a must to engage the community and help give WwD’s the reproductive rights they deserve.


Vulnerability of children and women with disabilities.

Parents that have children with disabilities also exhibit problems relating to reproductive health. More often than not, many parents do not know how to handle certain situations. Following WCC’s visit to City Primary which has Special units that cater for autistic and mentally challenged children, we spoke to parents and they voiced any concerns they had. Masturbation was a key concern; parents noted that teenage boys engaged regularly in this behavior. They were advised to find a way to communicate calmly with their children: to find ways to distract behavior, to find out what triggers behavior, to understand that behavior change takes time, to communicate in non- verbal ways, to seek medical attention if necessary and to not hide their children.


(An educating talk with parents about dealing with reproductive health issues for children with disabilities)

The issue of hiding children with disabilities was found to be an issue of concern. Parents would often feel shame when seeking medical attention for their children with disabilities. To ensure the overall well being of children with special needs, family involvement and cooperation is required. This could be in the form of psychosocial and non-judgmental support, which would ensure parents managed their children and mitigated against inferiority vs. superiority complexes at the family level. In order to achieve this, WCC would advocate the use of meetings and support groups as structures to deal with the concerns of parents. In fact, referring back to Caro’s case, there was a large amount of stereotyping. People would often talk behind Caro’s back about her giving birth to a child with a disability. In this way, it is necessary for more women to share their experiences through the platform of meetings and support groups. This would then lead to meetings at a national level which are necessary to tackle the problem. It is through the sharing of experiences that we can begin to talk openly and start to progress as a society.

The role of institutions

The role of institutions in educating and providing information to and about WwD’s is of vital importance. Through institutions, WwD’s can make informed decisions in dealing with reproductive health issues and organizations can tackle the problem of stigmatization towards WwD’s. WCC convened a 2 day workshop, which aimed at bringing together various stakeholders such as: representatives from the Ministry of Health, (MOH) The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD), Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC), Pumwani Maternity Hospital, VSO Jiotolee, Nurses Trained on Sign Language, Nairobi County Psychosocial support and women with disabilities with the aim of discussing reproductive health rights vis a vie disability. Each institution has a role to play, for instance NCPWD’s is the state organ mandated to oversee disability rights and ensure smooth implementation of the same. Whilst the Ministry of Health tries to ensure that people with disabilities are treated equally and have the same access to health care. The KMTC on the other hand trains service providers on sign language use as well as advocating against forced sterilization. Sterilization of WwD’s without their consent is a growing problem that challenges the rights of equality and freedom that WwD’s should possess. This was the case for Rebecca, a young married woman living with disability and who is a mother of three. She sought to deliver in a government facility where she had been attending clinics. She kept on being referred between the labour ward and maternity ward. After prolonged labour and a humiliating treatment she underwent a cesarean section and was told to sign documents before undergoing the procedure without been adequately informed.  She later realized she had been sterilized. This was done without consultation with her next of kin. She later indicated that she wished to have more children and this was impossible. Eventually her husband walked out on her. Rebecca’s case highlights the importance of providing accurate information to WwD’s and quashing stereotypes, which should be a must for institutions. Institutions represent an important way forward to educate WwD’s and all those involved in the lives of WwD’s to respect their rights to the same level of reproductive health care for all.

In sum, there is a need to target reproductive health issues at the community level. More nurses must be trained in sign language in order to address the needs of WwD’s. At the same time, the issue of the vulnerability of children and women with disabilities can be addressed by educating parents through support groups and awareness programmes. The need for non-judgmental support by family members and professional service workers cannot be stressed enough. It is through this that we as a society can begin to diminish stereotyping WwD’s. Institutions have a vital role to play in this, and through such structures, accurate information can be provided on reproductive health.  After all, the Constitution of Kenya guarantees the highest standard of living for all human beings and it is time to make this a reality for WwD’s.