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.

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(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.

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(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.

Sexual Violence in Kenya

Nearly one in three women in Kenya experience sexual violence before the age of 18 which is a distressing fact to live with. This a scourge in society which requires to be rectified and uniting together to take a stance against violence. However, due to the stigma and unwanted attention the women bring when reporting rape the figure is thought to be much higher. The lack of fundamental trust in the justice system and the police, results in perpetrators to escape punishment.

If we dig deeper into the statistics, the situation becomes even dire when sexual violence is studied for all Kenyans under the age of 18. The definition of sexual violence is to obtain a sexual act by coercion or violence; was experienced by 32% girls and 18% boys. The shocking statistic of this means one in two Kenyans before the age of 18, will have experienced sexual violence. The current population of Kenya under the age of 18 is 21 million which means statistically 10.5 million will have been affected by sexual violence. There is an epidemic growing inside our country and the problem will not disappear unless we, the people, stand up to this disease.

From this topic, the most at risk are the women and girls with disability. Women with disabilities are up to three times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse. They are easily coerced and taken advantage of due to their physical or mental limitations. WCC conducted its own baseline survey and from the report, which can be read by the link below, the women with disabilities were viewed as a curse or a bad omen. The consequence of this was the criminals who were responsible for the heinous atrocity, were never charged or prosecuted.

The cure to this abhorrent disease is through education and advocacy as well as a strong judicial process. We, the government and the people, must educate the children on acceptable behaviors and must provide a medium to those who are affected and above all else protect them. As Martin Luther Kings, Jr once said ‘The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’

For anyone interested in the full report on Gender Based Violence against Women with Disabilities click on the link below.

The Gender Based Violence Report

Economic Empowerment for Persons with Disability

The economic empowerment program was created in order support the women with micro financing loans. The idea behind it is to reduce the financial burden the women are facing. Other aspects behind this program is to educate entrepreneurial skills to the women as they put forward their business plan which will be reviewed by WCC before approving the loans. 

The loans are funded by the European Research Centre, from Geneva, with the aim of improving the lives of the women with disabilities and hopefully use this opportunity to escape poverty. One of the beneficiaries are the Embakasi Deaf Women Group who are made of up different types of businesses within the Embakasi Constituency in Nairobi County. WCC setup a meeting in order to ascertain ways to improve their projects and boost their businesses through the micro financing. 

Rosemary is one of the women who have benefited from the micro financing loan. She is a member of the Embakasi Deaf Woman Group and with the initial 10,000 KHS loan, she opened up a small store. As she progressed in expanding her business, she requested a new loan which she used to setup a photocopying business. From the micro financing plan supported by WCC and CERN, Rosemary now has financial security and has enhanced her standard of living.

Rosemary

Before this opportunity arose, Rosemary had difficulty in meeting her basic needs and her disability hindered her progress. When she was looking employment, her application was rejected as potential employers believed her disability would make her a liability. Not only did she face discrimination but had to deal with the harsh reality of society’s mentality.

Fortunately she is on her way becoming economically independent due to this program. Rosemary has become an inspiration to other members of the women group as she challenges them to take advantage of the economic empowerment program. Rosemary is one of many stories out in Kenya who have benefited from this and the women are repaying their loans in order request a new loan. This is to expand their initial business in order to generate an increase in revenue. Despite the challenges most of the women are determined and self disciplined in order to achieve financial security.

Embakasi Deaf Women Group

Embakasi Deaf Women Group

Scholarship Program for Persons with Disability

‘Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.’ These are the words said by a human rights activist, Malcolm X. Through education, can we hope to achieve social inclusion which Women Challenged to Challenge is an advocate of. One of the core values for WCC is promoting lives as well as bringing positive change to women and girls with disabilities. The scholarship program was initiated in order to bring awareness about disability as well as educate the generation on discrimination. Other reasons were to ease the burden on families who cannot support the children with disabilities. Leaving them behind would only stop the progress required for society to embrace disability and be open about the issues.

Sonia Scholarship Programme

The story of Sonia is only one of the children who have benefited from the scholarship program. She attends a school in Olkalau and is 8 years old. She was born with a rare case of severe flexion of the knees and club feet. Initially the hospital advised to amputate both legs after assessment. However, the reason her legs were saved was due to another condition called spinal bifida. The reason behind this is, the side effect which spinal bifida causes is impaired sensation; so the surgery would have made no positive impact on her lifestyle. The examination was conducted by Italian doctors who were volunteering.

This year the club feet were straightened and although the legs are not as straight as someone her age, she can have mobility unlike before. With the aid of crutches she can move and walk without assistance, at the same time the cast on her feet allowed better stability. The physiotherapist has been advising on her progress and the good news is that in time Sonia would be able to walk without crutches but with intensive physiotherapy. However, due to her condition her legs would not be proportional to her body as Sonia grows up.

Sonia & her Mum

Through the Olkalau rehabilitation centre did WCC discover Sonia and her story. The rehabilitation centre enables the children with disabilities to learn and provide a comfortable environment. The idea behind it is to achieve education whilst the children are recuperating from the surgeries. The centre are run by nuns, with parents able to bring children every September to alleviate the various conditions that the children have, through operation. However, the process requires an interview as well as an assessment from the Italian doctors. The examination allows the doctors to determine which children can be operated on. The following children who can be operated are contacted through their parents and thus the children are admitted.

In Sonia’s case, WCC paid for the school fees and the surgery was scheduled in Kinangop Catholic Hospital. This procedure was to straighten her legs out. After the procedure she is transferred to the rehabilitation centre to start attending classes as well as start the intensive physiotherapy. Once the child has completed the physiotherapy, they leave the rehabilitation centre to join another school. There are several reasons for this and one of them is to create room for other children who require surgery and needs a place to recuperate. The other important reason is to allow the child to go into a school where they can adapt and join a public school which would benefit them in fitting in with society.

Sonia & Maryann

In terms of her academic performance, Sonia is not detracted from her condition and from the teacher’s feedback she is very inquisitive. The school will also administer preparation to Sonia about Spinal bifida and the necessary bowel training required in future. This is to prepare for the time when she leaves the rehabilitation centre and be confident on handling her conditions.

This is one of many stories out in Kenya which the WCC have helped and would continue to do so. Providing education is a fundamental right for all beings and no child should be left behind due to their disability. Hopefully in time this issue would no longer exist in Kenya but there are still work to be done to achieve this goal.

Action on Climate Change

Climate change is dramatically impacting the environment. The debate about it continues but the effects can be seen and most affect those in dire situation. In order to combat this, through funding from Volunteering Services Oversees (VSO) in partnership with WCC the climate change project was set up. Various projects were set up in Kenya which the WCC has identified will promote within the community. These objectives are to highlight climate change and how to promote an income generating project. The women with disabilities were shown how planting trees would result in a sustainable environment. The premise of this is to grow the trees and in future sell the trees to either the government, forestry service or to lumber companies.

The team of WCC and VSO volunteer went around Kenya in order assist in education and promotion of this method. The Kenya forest service were the main stakeholders in educating the community as well as providing the seedlings. The VSO funds allowed the WCC to facilitate the purchase of the seedlings from the Kenya forest service. Not only this the wheelbarrows, watering cans, rakes, watering cans, water tanks, water pipes and many others were brought to ease the implementation of the project.

Nyeri Disabled Women Group

Receiving the Tree Seedlings

Tree Seedlings Ready for Plantation

Tree Seedlings Ready for Plantation

In Kakamega a district officer was in attendance and even participated in the workshop of the climate change. This support showed commitment to the project from the government which helped brew excitement into the community.

Planting Tree Seedlings in Kakamega

Planting Tree Seedlings in Kakamega

The long-term goal of this project is to allow communities to become self-sufficient; at the same time impact the environment in a positive way. There have been numerous challenges to this project but the main theme seemed to be lack of commitment by the group as well as adverse weather. Other challenges were women were not allowed to own land and plant seedlings.

In future the main issue to address is to educate the community on discrimination which are ingrained due to cultural beliefs. Support from government would also allow a better involvement from the community and perhaps increase in this project from the women’s group.

In conclusion the success of this project hinges on the pledge from the women’s group; WCC as well as VSO can only educate and facilitate the programme.

WCC goes digital

Welcome to the new WCC website!

We are very new to this, and trying to keep costs down by doing everything ourselves, so we’d love to hear you thoughts as we start to add posts and photos over the coming months. What would you like to see on our website?

You will also be able to connect with us on social media:

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