PARALEGALS AT THE FOREFRONT OF ENDING GENDER BASED VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS WITH DISABILITIES

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In the community, people aware that tampering with women with disabilities comes with serious attention.

From L-R: Ms. Enike Small (white t-shirt), Mr. Ayiki Issa, the Sign Language Interpreters and a NUWODU staff

Enike is a woman with a physical disability, a paralegal, and a member of the Village Health Team from Tukaliri parish, Koboko district. Before the implementation of the project ‘strengthening structures to address Gender Based Violence against women and girls with disabilities’, Enike shared that “there were many cases of Gender Based Violence against women and girls with disabilities in the community, there was no evidence that women and girls had gatherings as women with disabilities” because of the “challenge of poor mind-set in women and girls with disabilities”, women with disabilities also “faced discrimination while in groups of persons without disabilities”.Joining the Village HealthTeam “made her realise that women and girls with disabilities had suffered a lot.” For example, “there were a lot of rape cases of women with disabilities involving men without disabilities.”

With the implementation of the project, women with disabilities were able to identify themselves as women with disabilities and built a stronger voice that gave them the advantage. “The project enlightened women with disabilities that they could do things on their own”. There is “mind-set and attitude change towards women with disabilities. There is “fear in the community about inciting GBV against women and girls with disabilities” and “increased levels of respect towards women with disabilities as they are treated with dignity.” Whereas the Corona virus (COVID-19) has led to spikes in Gender- Based Violence in some districts, in the parish of Tukaliri, “few cases of violence registered because the various trainings relaxed the issue, most of the trained individuals passed the knowledge gained onto the community”, she said.

As a woman with a disability, Enike mentioned that she is benefiting from the mind-set and attitude change towards women with disabilities because she is “working on Village Health Team and is accommodated on the team as a woman with a disability”. Her inclusion on the Village Health Team is not the only step towards inclusion that her community has taken. The local government of Koboko put in place “inclusive criteria that all persons with disabilities and women with disabilities be included in the groups of the local government office to benefit from local government programs”, while “the produce office of the local councillor sees to it that persons with disabilities are included in the distribution of produce” such as maize and beans.

Being part of the Village Health Team has supported her work as a paralegal in that she is “at the forefront of giving medical aid to women with disabilities, serves as a reporter of health news and drives, and takes responsibility to seek health services for the chronically ill women with disabilities and those with mobility challenges.” Enike’s advocacy as a paralegal is also beginning to show rewards because her “advocacy has led to the implementation of affirmative action for women and girls with disabilities that need medical care” and the addition of disability sensitive health equipment such as adjustable beds for expectant mothers with disabilities. In her own words, “these beds shall be budgeted for in the next financial year.”

Her only challenge in the execution of duties as a paralegal is the lack of transport which “makes it hard to move around the community and follow up cases”, she said.

Queen Sunday is a woman with a physical disability and a paralegal from lurujo parish, Koboko district. Out of the 21 women chosen to take part in a skills training for making low-cost stoves and brickets by Partners in Community Transformation Uganda (PICOT), she was the only woman with a disability representing Lurujo parish. She went on to train 29 people in Lurujo parish. Among these were 5 persons with disabilities. 3 women with disabilities and 2 men with disabilities. “The group of persons with disabilities is doing better because I’m the one heading the group”, she states with a smile on her face.

Ms. Queen (L) demonstrating the materials that can be used in the low-cost stoves

Although she has not been called to train other people since the initial training, Queen has been called upon by 4 specific people within her community to go make low-cost stoves for them and one of these is the Local Council 1 Chairman.

Besides her role as a trainer in low-cost stove making, Queen is also a paralegal. She said that before the project ‘strengthening structures to address Gender Based Violence against women and girls with disabilities’, there were lots of cases of GBV in the community. Girls with disabilities had no access to education and that only children without disabilities were educated. Rape was high among girls with disabilities because they were ignored by the community and occurrences of violence were treated culturally.

The situation turned around with the implementation of the project. “Women and girls with disabilities feel high. Community values them, they are treated as high value in the community”, “there was establishment of structures that have helped prevent GBV against women and girls with disabilities”, and “cases have reduced since the training”, said Queen.

When asked about COVID-19 and its effect on GBV within the community, Queen pointed out that there were no increased cases of GBV because “the project has strengthened the capacity of local levels from the parish to the sub-county level” through the “established structures” of prevention of GBV against women and girls with disabilities such as the paralegals, local advocates, the district taskforce and the referral pathways that have enabled access to justice for women and girls with disabilities.

She added that the financial freedom gained from sales of the low-cost stoves has helped her address GBV in her community. She “uses earnings to go attend meetings and trainings” and is also “involved in savings groups with other persons with disabilities”. Her main challenge is that “she depends entirely on making low-cost stoves. If sales are good, she can afford the transport to follow up cases of GBV.”

Lilias is a woman with a physical disability and a paralegal in Kuluba parish, Koboko district. Lilias expressed that before the project ‘strengthening structures to address Gender Based Violence against women and girls with disabilities’, “women with disabilities [were] struck by poverty and if any advance is made to improve their lives, people would laugh at them, women and girls with disabilities looked at as worthless in the community” and “there was a lot of stigmata in the community. Fellow community members would spit saliva in their direction when they crossed paths”, she said.

With the implementation of the project, Lilias mentioned that “the community perception towards women and girls with disabilities has changed. Women with disabilities are held in high regard in the community. They are untouchable and can walk with their heads held high”. She added that “now, there are no cases of GBV against them due to the established structures” more so for her. In the past, “people and passers-by would throw stones at her and her home”. She sought justice from the Local Council Chairman, councillors and succeeded.

On the front of economic empowerment, Lilias initiated the formation of Yolaki Persons with Disabilities group after the discovery that women with disabilities cannot gain from local government programs without being in groups. The group comprises of 13 persons with disabilities and that is 8 women with disabilities and 5 men without disabilities. Yolaki Persons with Disabilities Group received 27 goats from the local government and each member took 2 goats.

Lilias shared that “GBV has reduced in the community because of the T-shirt I wear. It has instilled fear in the community” and that “I am protective of girls with disabilities and any case that comes my way”. Her statements were corroborated by the Chief District Official who was present at the time of interview.

The main challenge in her work as paralegal is transportation. Although she has a tricycle, the tyres and chains need repair, and she depends on the support of other people for translation of any communication to the local language which is a bit costly because she must hire the translators and remunerate them.

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