Written by Onai Hara and Agness Chindimba, Deaf Women Included, Zimbabwe
Some of the information will not be so relevant to the current situation, but we think this guide offers useful advice to SRHR advocates.
The learnings emanate from the experiences shared with Deaf Women Included by women and girls with disabilities in Zimbabwe during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The national lockdown to curb the spread of the virus has had devastating effects for them. An example is the challenges accessing family planning services for women with mobility challenges given the limited transport services. In addition, there are no meaningful social safety nets to curb the economic impacts of the pandemic, which disproportionately affect women and girls with disabilities (UN Women).
The pandemic has heightened the exclusion of the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) needs of women with disabilities within the women’s movement as well as the disability movement in Zimbabwe. In organisations supporting survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), there are no clear pathways for those with access needs such as guides, interpreters or support workers.
Within the disability movement, much focus has been on supporting persons with disabilities with basic needs and access to COVID-19 information. As a result, we remain ill-equipped with tools and resources to support our constituency to protect themselves from SRHR-related issues during the pandemic. Online conversations on COVID-19 were quiet on disability and SRHR, hence we began tweet chats.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us realise that we need to partner with as many organisations as we can to protect the rights and advance the needs of women and girls with disabilities.
We began using Twitter to advance our voices. Our goal was to bring to the fore the voices of women with disabilities in both the women’s rights spaces and the conversations in the disability rights movement.
Twitter proved ideal for this as we realised that organisations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and influential personalities in Zimbabwe had a presence on the platform. Given the limited movement due to the lockdown, it became the most practical advocacy platform to influence change.
We created graphics to advertise our tweet chats and shared these through our networks and partnerships we had established. We also participated on tweet chats organised by Women Coalition of Zimbabwe and the Southern African AIDS Trust, in order to ensure inclusion of disability in their conversations.
Being invited at these platforms by mainstream organisations was a huge achievement to us as it contributed to addressing the omission of the needs of women with disabilities in the movement.
As advocates we learnt to expand our work from physical spaces to digital ones as a way of joining SRHR and disability movements and of reaching new audiences for fundraising and advocacy.
An example is the Pad-drive we recently launched with Signs For Hope, which is receiving huge support. This campaign aims at mobilising resources via money transfers and collecting sanitary packs composed of pads, pants and soap to support persons with disabilities manage their menstruations with dignity.
So far, we have pledges for circa 20 packs, which represents close to 400 pads.
Build networks with concerned groups to maximise resource mobilisation and ensure that your work is leaving no-one behind.
Concerned groups are the experts of their own realities and have the solutions, suggestions and ideas of best ways to solve challenges they face. As the disability rights movement mantra emphasizes: ‘nothing for us without us’ – to foster an inclusive response strategy there is need to include persons with disabilities from the planning stage.
In crafting a digital conversation for example, a tweet chat, it is important to have a clear theme and decide who you would want to be part of the conversation. To ensure that your social media campaign is powerful tag development partners, funders, government bodies and officials working on the issues you want addressed. Also advertise your tweet chat well ahead of time to attract a large audience, including through other social media platforms.
We realised that while using the digital space was instrumental, there was also a need to reach out to the rural populace who might face challenges accessing online content. This was done through peer-to-peer learnings and collaborations with organisations conducting community sensitisation programmes.
We have also started creating more content on SRHR and disability during the COVID-19 pandemic in partnership with Signs For Hope. An example is the Online Pad Drive that we are conducting to raise awareness and donations on menstrual health for women and girls with disabilities.
 Women with disabilities represent approximately two-thirds of persons with disabilities in low and middle-income countries. Data from the UNWomen also shows that the employment rate for women with disabilities is 20% compared to 53% for men with disabilities. See the UNWomen Issue Brief: Making the SDGs count for women and girls with disabilities. Available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2019/10/Making-SDGs-count-for-women-with-disabilities.pdf
Onai Hara is a qualified social worker with 4 years of experience working with women and girls with disabilities. She is passionate about the accessibility of SRHR information and services for women and girls with disabilities and provides technical support to mainstream disability inclusion in women’s rights organisations and gender-based violence services. She has facilitated human rights trainings with deaf women and girls and continues to advocate for the promotion of Sign language availability in service provision.
Agness Chindimba is deaf and a disability rights activist with over 10 years of experience in working with girls and women with disabilities as well as young people in SRHR and gender equality. She is the founder and director of Deaf Women Included, an organization that exists to advance the rights of deaf women and girls in the country. She is one of the consultants on the Spotlight baseline survey Zimbabwe responsible for disability issues.
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