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Upholding SRHR for women in their diversity; what is the intersection between GBV, HIV/AIDS , SRHR and Disability?

During the #16DaysOfActivism, it is critical to recognize the profound
ways in which gender based violence affects women and girls. Beyond that, it is
also important to amplify the experiences of women and girls in their diversity
and understand that women are affected differently depending on their
experiences and situations. On the international day of persons with
disabilities which falls within the #16DaysOfactivism, ATHENA Initiative as part of an intensive #16DaysOfActivism digital engagement strategy had a chat with Sarah Musau. Sara Musau is the Co-Founder & Programs Director of Gifted Community Centre on the unique experiences and needs of women and
girls with disabilities in relation to GBV and priorities that should inform
programming and policies. This was in addition to co-hosting a twitter chat to create space for a dedicated online conversation that brings in perspectives and contribution from other actors and young women

We are in the
#16DaysOfActivism, what are the unique ways in which women and girls with
disabilities experience #GBV and especially in the world of work?

It is unfortunate that women and girls with disabilities experience
gender based violence yet they rarely report to the relevant authorities. Due
to the vulnerability of women with disabilities by the virtue of them being
disabled, they are at a higher risk of being sexually harassed and
unfortunately this happens from their assistants and workmates/bosses. Since
they would like to be helped (case in point, a woman using a wheelchair will
need assistance to be helped to move around/ a person with visual impaired will
need a sighted guide/ a hearing impaired will need a sign language interpreter etc)
this kind of dependency most are times is abused. Those you would believe
should be of help are the ones abusing you. In addition, this vulnerability and
dependency has been used quite a lot to emotionally abuse girls/women with
disabilities. Unfortunately it becomes hard to report such cases as they are
dependent on their abusers to live (as most believe).

Furthermore, most workplaces are inaccessible, and therefore the need to
be supported to access some of these amenities such as toilets (where there are
stairs and one needs to be lifted), their right to privacy is violated where
many times they are touched inappropriately, and this continues to such an
extent that the perpetrators deem it right. Social stereotypes, and myths about
women/girls with disabilities such as sleeping with a girl with disability
cures AIDS has placed women with disabilities at very high risk as many would
to experiment with them. This in turn creates a lot of insecurities,
stigma, and many times depression to women with disabilities, which in the long
run affects their work performance leading to losses of their jobs. 

What are the gaps and key
barriers in the GBV response for women and girls with disabilities?

For women
with disabilities, their disabilities are seen first before recognition that
they are first women . This has been a big impediment to GBV response where
women with disabilities are concerned. F
to the relevant authorities, to the duty bearers, to other women. It is worth
to note that there are many projects running in Kenya  and beyond focused on women and GBV,
but unfortunate that, hardly do they involve women
with disabilities, and as much as the GBV awareness creation is made through
mainstream media and other mediums, a big number of women with disabilities are
illiterate and also cannot access these mediums.  Women and girls with disabilities are a
category of people that has for decades been excluded and overlooked in GBV, HIV/AIDS
response and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Programming. This
exclusion has exacerbated and normalized the barriers they face to accessing information,
services, treatment, care and support. Poverty, increased vulnerability to
sexual violence and abuse, limited access to education and health care, and
lack of information and resources are some of the major barriers women with
disabilities are battling with.  In
addition, lack of accurate data on the number of women with disabilities in
Kenya is another challenge since for our rights to be fully respected,
protected and provided, we must count. Some of the structural challenges that
compound the situation is the fact that GBV response service providers lack
knowledge about disability, are misinformed and have negative attitudes towards
women with disabilities which limit them even to seek their services. This is
in addition to already  inaccessible
facilities, lack sign language interpreters, and information provided not in
formats accessible such as Braille or audio.

What are the key enablers to young women with
disabilities in accessing HIV/SRHR services?

Women with
disabilities need to first be recognized as women. The terminologies used to
describe them matter a lot, and so is the need to belong. Women with
disabilities want to be involved, and included in the decision making table to
contribute to the policies that concern their bodies/lives. They would be able
to access SRHR when the facilities are accessible, the service providers are
well trained on disability issues, when the society accepts them as they are
and the need to recognize and respect diversity.  In addition, they need information, they need
education, they need empowerment, they need independence, and they want their
dignity upheld to be able to gain the courage and serenity to think of seeking
of SRHR/HIV services.

 What does
the end of #GBV mean to you and other young women and girls with disabilities?
What is your top priority for this

It means
being recognized as women who have a right to choose what to do with their bodies,
and their choices/decision respected. It means being included in that decision
making table, and given the microphone to say as it is, and contribute in that
policy. It means other women without a disability recognizing, respecting and
involving women with disabilities in their GBV based programs. It means an end
to dependency which in turn creates a sense of independence and choice to live
fully. It means being able to work with others and their spaces respected, it
means no more threats from caregivers/assistants. It means living a holistic
life. My top priority is to ensure inclusion and participation at the decision
making tables, where women with disabilities say it as it is and their voices
amplified. We are already doing this at Gifted Community Centre, where we give
them a chance to be speakers during our Live Twitter Chats, and other offline

 What role
can everyone play to accelerate progressing ending GBV for women and girls with
disabilities? and why
should our efforts to eliminate gender based address the needs of women and
girls with disabilities?

Everyone can contribute to ending GBV on women and girls with
disabilities by first making the environment accessible to enable women/girls
with disabilities access the facilities/professionals who respond to such
cases. Everyone need to recognize and respect that a woman comes first before
the disability and thus more awareness needed on this, and respecting women
with disabilities despite. Everyone needs to reach out to girls/women with
disabilities at their communities and encourage them to report any case of GBV.
Empower women/girls with disabilities to remove the dependency they have on
their abusers. Celebrate them on whichever milestone they make however small. Give
them a chance to air out their views, do not judge them, let them put a full
stop then take over from there. Unless, we respect, protect, and provide for
the rights of women with disabilities in regards to their bodies/lives, then
sustainable development goals will remain just a song. Everyone matters. Leave
No One Behind.