Irene Ojiugo: improving the lives of women with disabilities affected by violence [21 Stories]

Author:CBM UK
Posted on: Thursday, 11th May, 2017

Irene Ojiugo is Executive Director of the CBM partner Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC) in Nigeria. She explains how women with disabilities face double discrimination  – as a result both of their gender and disability – and introduces a pioneering new CBM and DRAC  programme to support women with disabilities experiencing violence and abuse.

Irene Ojiugo at conference

I am very passionate about what I do because I have lived the experience. 

In Nigeria, women with disabilities are often more disadvantaged than men with disabilities because tradition and custom generally gives women lesser status. We face discrimination in many areas. 

 Many women with disabilities live in poverty so face more health risks and are often unable to obtain proper treatment. Lack of access to education and economic development opportunities is also a problem. I want to live in a country where we can fulfil our capabilities. I want to see change happen.

A partnership to overcome violence

With CBM, DRAC is setting up the first programme in West Africa to tackle the major issue of violence faced by women and girls with disability.

Violence against women with disabilities remains a key factor that undermines the ability of disabled women to participate as full and equal citizens in society.

Compared to non-disabled women, women with disabilities are not only at greater risk of severe forms of violence but are more frequently abused.

They have considerably fewer pathways to safety and are less likely to report incidences- yet programmes and support services for this group either do not exist or are extremely limited. These are major issues we must tackle if women and girls with disabilities are to enjoy their human rights in Nigeria.

There has been limited government and service sector acknowledgement of the extent of the problem along with inadequate research and scarce resources to support advocacy. However the signing of the 2015 Violence against Persons Prohibition Bill into law here in Nigeria provides a unique opportunity for intervening in this area.

So far gender and disability programming have been polarised and the intersect has not been recognised.

This project is the first time that it will be brought to the fore and the issue of violence against women will be viewed through a disability lens.

Ultimately we hope to reduce violence against women and girls with disabilities, and increase their access to justice using the strategies of advocacy, policy engagement, capacity building and public awareness.

Lost in the crowd

CBM has already partnered with the Disability Rights Advocacy Centre (DRAC) on a number of significant initiatives to get the needs of persons with disabilities recognised and respected. Advocating for legal rights, access to health services and for social inclusion through independent living is central to this.  

As I have said, everything we do considers both gender and disability. We  want to make sure women with disabilities aren’t left behind or relegated to the background anymore and that’s why we are so encouraged by the achievements of women like Apolmida Haruna. She’s benefited from DRAC’s programmes by learning more about herself as a woman with disabilities and about her sexual and reproductive rights.

Apolmida went on to establish an organisation that advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities and also provides free legal counselling for those experiencing violation of their rights.

All the issues that women face – sexuality, sexual and reproductive health and rights - we women with disabilities also face. But women with disabilities are being ignored in the mainstream women’s movement. Alliances are improving slowly but we have a long way to go, we are still lost in the crowd. We are women too, we have the skills, potential and we want to become more visible. We want to be given a seat at the table where decisions are being made, and we need your help to organise ourselves better. I want to see women with disabilities in leadership positions.

This is one of the 21 Stories. Read more stories celebrating those who have shaped our work


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