Lucy Mulombi is the chair of one of few organisations of people with disabilities run by women, and chair of Kakamega County Disability Caucus in rural Kenya. Lucy took part in a programme run by the Sightsavers-led coalition Inclusive Futures and will join Sightsavers at the Women Deliver conference in Kigali from 17-20 July 2023.
Women are marginalised, and people with disabilities are also marginalised. So women like me can be hit with two sets of discrimination at once. We are less likely to be educated; have less access to health services; face more violence and sexual abuse; and we are often not given access to the decision-making tables. It’s even worse for those of us in developing countries. This has to change.
As a woman with a disability, I have struggled a lot with discrimination. One day I decided enough is enough. I decided I had to start advocating for the rights of other women and girls with disabilities. I have the spirit. That’s my zeal.
Using Women Deliver 2023 as a platform
When I am at Women Deliver this month, I will be saying that to achieve equality, more support should also be given to strengthen the capacity of grassroots Organisations of People with Disabilities (OPDs) which are women-led or women-focused and ensure that funding opportunities are made accessible to them.
Fortunately, as a small business owner, providing cereals, I came across a Sightsavers-led coalition, called Inclusive Futures. I took part in an inclusive livelihoods project that is supporting microentrepreneurs with disabilities to develop and grow our businesses.
It works alongside grassroots organisations like mine to address the fact that worldwide, 18% of women have a disability, yet millions across the world are unable to access healthcare, education, employment and political conversations.
During the livelihoods training, as well as learning how to manage finances and business marketing, we also learned about self-advocacy. It was through this training that I gained the self-esteem and confidence to approach institutions in the public and private sectors and ask them to give us business opportunities.
Nothing about us without us
How can we achieve gender equity if our issues are left behind to be picked up later?
As well as running my business, I am chair of two Organisations of People with Disabilities (OPDs) in Kenya where I use this training to make sure disability issues are not forgotten in the women’s rights movement, and also that women with disabilities’ issues are not forgotten in the disability movement. Most of the time, grassroots organisations are left out of national and international dialogues on women’s rights. But we advocate for more support for women-led or women-focused OPDs, so that our voices can also be heard, and we can meaningfully engage in those discussions.
When we are at the planning table, we can speak from an informed position, provide solutions and meaningfully participate in the decisions taken.
Let’s address this injustice and take action to be disability-inclusive feminists.
My work as a grassroots activist has taught me so much about how to advocate for the rights of women and girls with disabilities. It starts with encouraging them to come together and speak with one voice on the issues affecting us. It is important for people with lived experiences to share their stories and demonstrate why we deserve equity.
I lobby for women and girls with disabilities’ issues to be captured in county government budgets and for our inclusion in public participation and decision-making processes because we believe in nothing for us without us.
One of the organisations I chair tries to raise awareness about the barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls with disabilities and issues around gender-based violence. Sexual and reproductive health is a human right. But sometimes women and girls with disabilities face discrimination because people think they are not like other women.
So my message at Women Deliver, and beyond, will be: Let’s break barriers and advance gender equality rights, but women with disabilities have a crucial part to play in the gender movement – it will never achieve its goals if we are excluded.