Strengthening the voice of disabled women in Tanzania

When Nuru Awadh was six years old, she lost her father and had to leave the home she always knew…

When Nuru Awadh was six years old, she lost her father and had to leave the home she always knew to live with her aunt, where she did most of the cooking and cleaning.In her final year of primary school, she was left with limited ability to see in one eye. Her visual impairment delayed her from finishing school, and when she turned 19, she fell pregnant, got married and dropped out. 

Six years later, she decided to go back to school to get her certificate, but her husband was against it. That was the beginning of years of domestic violence.

“I was physically abused for years, it was very hard, not even feeling safe in my own home. When I started to fear for my life, I left, reported him to the police and never looked back,” says Ms. Awadh.

Almost two decades after, Ms. Awadh is a business owner, former District Councillor, and is both the Vice Chair of the Movement of Women with Disabilities (MOWADITA), and the Chair of the women’s wing for the Tanzania Federation of Disabled People’s Organizations (SHIVYAWATA).

“I may have lost my eyesight, but I eventually found my voice. I had to learn to use it to speak out and bring the challenges that countless women with disabilities face to the attention of decision makers,” says Ms. Awadh. 

Across Tanzania, over 3.3 million people live with a disability. Women have higher disability rates with 7.8% of the country’s total population estimated to be women with disabilities vs. 5.7% men. 

Women with disabilities often must contend with a double burden of discrimination – for being women and due to their disability. They are faced with multiple challenges affecting their day to day lives, with higher rates of poverty, lower economic and social status, and an increased risk of violence – including sexual violence, barriers to accessing education, health care, information services, employment, justice and civic and political participation. 

“A lot of the challenges we face come down to the fact that people don’t see us as equals, and this must end. For the most part, we are just women, with the same responsibilities as many others without a disability, except that we have to work twice as hard,” says Ms. Awadh.

UN Women in Tanzania is currently implementing two key programmes seeking to address the needs of women with disabilities, by strengthening their voice and agency, advancing their rights and reducing inequalities. 

The newly launched programme on “Strengthening Women’s and Girls’ Meaningful Participation, Leadership and Economic Rights” (WLER), supported by the Government of Finland, aims to increase the number of women, including women with disabilities, in leadership and decision-making positions, including by increasing accessibility to gender and disability disaggregated data and enhancing their economic justice and rights in line with Tanzania’s Generation Equality commitments.

With UNFPA, UN Women is implementing a joint programme to “Advance the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the United Republic of Tanzania” under the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD), to support disability inclusive policies, legislation, plans and budgets; and improve the implementation of disability-inclusive SDGs at the country level.

“Our aim is that through our various programmatic interventions, we will see accelerated action for disability inclusion, and for gender equality,” says Ms. Awadh. 

In 2022, the WLER programme partnered with the Prime Minister’s Office and ADD International to support MOWADITA to organize its first national dialogue for women with disabilities on the sidelines of the International Day of People with Disabilities commemorations. 

“This was an incredible milestone for us as a movement,” Ms. Awadh explains with pride, “Where we were able to stand in front of a high-level government official, share our challenges and what we feel needs to be done – from the need for better employment policies to the need to address violence against women with disabilities.”

With the double burden of being a woman and due to their disability, the perspectives of women with disabilities often aren’t included in key national processes. The UNPRPD programme enabled women with disabilities to take part in several key consultative meetings, organized specifically for people with disabilities by the government and UN Women. This included consultations on the five-year National Plan of Action on Violence against Women and Children ending in 2022 and the development of the second phase, the development of the National Disability Policy and the National Voluntary National Review on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Being included in these processes has been critical to ensuring that the national policies and plans adequately respond to our needs,” says Ms. Awadh. “I am seeing incredible changes in my lifetime, the Government has made it clear that addressing the needs of people with disabilities is a priority, and through our discussions, we have also been able to see the progress that has been made, which is very encouraging,” she adds.

Going forward, Ms. Awadh plans to continue her leadership roles in SHIVYAWATA and MOWADITA, and to continue pursuing a career in politics.

“I often get asked what women with disabilities want, and it’s quite simple. We want our rights to be respected. We want an end to discrimination, and to be valued as human beings and citizens contributing to the nation’s development. We also want greater independence, and for this we need greater accessibility, in terms of infrastructure, healthcare and other essential services,” she says.

“As a decision-maker, I will be able to advocate for these things, and I will not stop until we can achieve even more progress in these areas, for Tanzanian women, and all people with disabilities.” 

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