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Double, triple discrimination for women with disabilities


By Byron Mutingwende

Available statistics have shown that women with disabilities often suffer double or triple discrimination in society, a workshop by Deaf Women Included revealed.

In his presentation on issues and policy gaps affecting women with disabilities at a workshop held in Harare on 4 March 2019, Professor Lincoln Hlatywayo, a Senior Lecturer of Disability Studies and Special Needs Education at the Zimbabwe Open University bemoaned the fact that society often treats women with disabilities as helpless, childlike, dependent, needy, victimized, and passive.

“Women with disabilities have been described as being doubly marginalized on account of their disability and their gender. The same women have a triple jeopardy if they live in the rural areas.

Professor Hlatywayo said disability is exacerbated when society limits the activities of persons with disabilities and retards their participation in all spheres of life.

He said the environment contributes 80% to disability.  The society’s incapacitation to use sign language, for example, is a disabling phenomenon.

“Women with disabilities are not seen as fit to fill the traditional roles of a mother; be wife, homemaker, nurturer, or lover. Economically productive roles are not seen as appropriate for them either.”

The Zimbabwe Living Conditions Survey of 2013 by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ahowed that fewer respondents among people with disabilities attended tertiary education, but there were more males than females (9.8 percent and 5.6 percent respectively.)

For both groups, the literacy rate was higher among males than females. Employment was significantly lower among females, and there were more females who stated that they worked and woman housewives.

There is a plethora of barriers to inclusion for women with disabilities. These are the negative stereotypes from both a gender and disability perspective.

Poverty; discrimination; non-optional costs of disability; un/under employment; inequitable educational opportunities and outcomes; experience of and vulnerability to violence; inaccessible environments; and issues relating to transport, child care, attendant care, insecure housing and inflexible work arrangements topped some of the barriers  affecting women with disabilities.

There are existing legal provisions for the inclusion of women with disabilities. These include the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women of 2003; the Solemn Declaration on Gender and Equality in Africa of 2004; Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Gender and Development Protocol of 1997; and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development of 2008.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013), Chapter 2, National Objectives spells out gender balance as one of the objectives to guide the state, all institutions and agencies of Government.

Zimbabwe Gender Commission Act (Chapter 10:31), 2016 provides for a Gender Commission whose function include, inter alia; making of recommendations on the removal of barriers to the attainment of full gender equality; monitor issues concerning gender equality and to endure gender equality, to investigate possible gender violations, to receive and consider gender related complaints from the public and take appropriate action. However it is silent on people with disabilities.

Section 193 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (Chapter 9:07) reads: Detention of persons who are deaf or mute or both

  • (1)  Subject to section one hundred and ninety-two,in any criminal proceedings, if it appears to the court that the accused is unable properly to conduct his defence by reason of deafness or muteness or both, the court may, if it is satisfied, after hearing such evidence as the State may lead and such other evidence as the court may think necessary or desirable, that it is necessary in the interests of the safety of the public or for the protection of the accused that the accused should not be released from custody or should be kept in custody, as the case may be, order the accused to be kept in custody in some prison pending the decision of the President in terms of subsection (3).

Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD): Women with disabilities states:

  • 1. States Parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • 2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights and   fundamental freedoms set out in the present Convention

Agnes Chindimba, the Director of Deaf Women Included said there is need to discover the copying mechanisms that the women with disabilities are practicing in a bid to cover the gap that is brought to them by discrimination.

Her organization commissioned a study on barriers that women with disabilities face in accessing public services on an equal basis with their non-disabled counter-parts.

From the findings, they realized attitudinal barriers. One of the interviewed people said: “At hospitals, they think that if you are disabled you cannot give birth to a child. They think you are disabled the whole body that you cannot give birth on your own.”

Another adds: “You hear nurses say; You are blind and you keep giving birth giving us unnecessary work and on top of that you don’t even have ways of sustaining your family.”

Lindiwe Maphosa, the proportional representation Member of Parliament for Matebeleland South who is also a member of the Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development bemoaned discrimination against people with disabilities.

“It is unfortunate that at times society lookes at people with disabilities as outcasts who only need our pity and handouts. From this workshop, I realised that with disabilities have wonderful ideas and are innovative. There should be political will and respect of the constitution to help people with disabilities become an important part of society,” Maphosa said.

Doreen Phiri (45) who acquired a birth certificate when she was 40 years old said that despite society’s discrimination she learnt to read and write from home and learnt to produce some handicrafts that are helping her to eke out a living on her own.

“I am making bags and doing great beadwork. I produce skirts, dresses and bikinis from yarn. Through Facebook, I met Jeniffer Botha who stays in Pretoria, South Africa, and developed interest in my work. I sell my items at Number 71871 in Lobengula West in Bulawayo.

“Jeniffer visited me from South Africa and brought yarn for me to do some samples for her. For one bag she paid R300. For the first time I made her two bags and after she was impressed she gave me orders for six more bags. Persons with disabilities like me should not look down upon themselves. We should discover our own talents because this brings bout huge benefits,” Phiri said.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende