New Telegraph

I’m Changing the Status Quo For Women With Disabilities – Auta

Globally, several efforts have been made to promote the rights and inclusion of vulnerable members of society. However, persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria are constantly faced with several barriers hindering them from achieving their full participation in social, economic, political, and environmental circles. These challenges which have been discovered to be a result of societal prejudice/misconceptions, limited resources, inability to access necessary facilities/ resources, educational discrimination/limitations, employment discrimination, and policy gaps can present significant obstacles to their abilities to contribute meaningfully to society, ultimately hindering collective national sustainable development.

NWD

The aforementioned and more formed the basis why Lois Auta founded the Network of Women with Disabilities (NWD) in 2019 with the mission of including women with disabilities in national policies and agendas. On how her journey into the world of disability started, Auta said: “I was affected by polio when I was two years old. I see my disability as a bridge and not as a barricade. Similarly, I see my disability as an opportunity to change the world. “The NWD is the first network for women with disabilities in Nigeria. Our members are women with disabilities who are founders, managers, managing directors, CEOs, and founders of business enterprises not just in Nigeria, but also in other countries. Bringing them together was a moment I will cherish forever.”

On the importance of disability data Lois noted that “When data on people with disabilities is available and used effectively, it can help communities and their advocates, and policymakers, prioritise actions to address barriers and promote equitable access to inclusive health information and services. “A lack of representation in data means that people with disabilities aren’t included in the planning and implementation of any services. It means exclusion, underrepresentation, and marginalisation. That is why we need to include women with disabilities in all processes – from inception, planning, and all the way through to implementation of services, so their voices are heard and the challenges they face are captured.”

Barriers

She identified three barriers affecting women with disability as “I always emphasise three types of barriers stopping women with disabilities. Attitudinal, infrastructural and institutional barriers capture all the barriers women with disabilities face in society. “One of the challenges women with disabilities have in accessing family planning information is perception. Some people think women with disabilities don’t have emotions, or sexual feelings, and that they can’t have children. So attitudinal barriers are a big problem in Nigerian society. “I’ll never forget an incident that happened a few years back in a taxi. There was a discussion on sexuality on the radio. The taxi driver looked at me and asked: ‘do women with disabilities have sex?’ I said: ‘What? How can you ask this question?

We are humans, and we have feelings like every other person! I know some of my friends have given birth to two, three, and up to four children. So, what are you saying?’ “What about barriers in infrastructure? Some women with disabilities cannot access hospitals or clinics due to a lack of ramps, a lack of sign language interpretation, and a lack of braille material in the medical centres. It’s very difficult for a person in a wheelchair or crutches to be able to navigate primary healthcare facilities in Nigeria independently. “Another factor is institutional barriers. Our policies, legal framework, and laws do not capture the needs and challenges of women with disabilities.

For example, the Nigerian Disability Act includes no representation of women with disabilities, their sexual and reproductive health and rights or their wellbeing. “Women with visual impairments, for example, use screen readers on their phones and laptops, and most of them have android phones. An accessible app could be used to inform them about their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Those at the grassroots need these resources about family planning to be translated into their local languages.”

Awareness

She stressed that creating awareness is crucial to empower women with disabilities to decide the type of family planning they want. “How are they treated by their partners? Are their partners aware of family planning? Have they discussed this as a couple? These are ideas we can share with them and work towards building the knowledge of women with disabilities and their partners. “A woman with a disability has the right to date anyone she wants to. She has the right to her body and the right to decide whether to have children or not, or whether to give birth or adopt a child/ children.” On her political journey, she said: “I joined politics in 2017, after a friend invited me for a political meeting. Thereafter, I received invitations for meetings with women in politics.

I joined politics because I wanted to create space for women and people with disabilities and to inspire other people with disabilities. “In April 2018, I decided to run for office and informed my party. After several consultations with traditional leaders, students and community members, I received enormous support and went ahead with my plan. I was nominated for my party to run for the House of Representatives because I was educated and qualified. “I see this as a huge opportunity because I have become a reference point for people with disabilities in elections. It’s a stepping stone to my political journey. My family was also happy because being a woman with a disability; I’m changing the status quo for women. “My main challenge is inaccessibility to meeting venues because I’m a wheelchair user.

Some villages are harder to reach for me because sometimes you have to cross rivers. I also face challenges in funding for projects while most male candidates have sponsors. “I am an advocate of inclusive legislation. I am glad that the Persons with Disabilities Bill has been signed, which means we will have better access to infrastructure, healthcare and transportation.”

Equitable access

On equitable access she said: “A major challenge in Nigeria and in many other countries is the implementation of policies, laws and legal frameworks for women with or without disabilities. “When we talk about equity, we are talking about getting everyone in the room and understanding the diverse needs there are in accessing family planning. We need to sit down together and strategise. We need to ask each other questions about how we can share our experiences and expertise and make sure that everyone has access to the health services they need.”

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