Women with disabilities taking charge in Ethiopia

Louise Hemfrey and Natasha Horsfield | Aug 15, 2019
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The tide is turning for women in Ethiopia and the space around women’s rights is opening up like never before. Since President Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018, he has brought in key reforms that have broadened the reach of civil society, and created a gender-balanced cabinet. “It is good time to be talking about rights, you can invite media, put out ideas and can use the language of rights because the law has changed,” Salamate, a social worker at Womankind’s partner Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association (EWDNA), told us.

A changing landscape for women with disabilities

One proposed reform of particular interest would require all government departments to include people with disabilities in future decision making. Abiy’s commitment to inclusion of this kind was solidified with his recent appointment of Yetnebersh Nigussie, a blind human rights lawyer, to the position of Vice-Chair of the Reconciliation Commission. She complements a host of women appointees to high level positions of decision making within government, in addition to those in the cabinet. Although these new appointments are a huge milestone for women’s rights, critics are wary of the new recruitments claiming that women will have no real decision making power in these positions. However Dibabe, Director of EWDNA has a different take: “It’s about what people are seeing; it creates confidence at a societal level to believe in women, and the government shows it [by] endorsing women.”

While the motivation behind all of the new changes may be disputed, one thing remains true: the reforms are changing the environment for the better. EWDNA has wasted no time in building alliances that cut across the spectrum of rights, co-authoring an open letter to the Prime Minister that requests an update to the criminal code to recognise violence against individuals based on their appearance, gender, abilities or other identifying features as a crime.

Women with disabilities at the forefront for change

Against this backdrop of transformational change across Ethiopia, EWDNA has just kicked off a new project to promote the inclusion of women with disabilities in Addis Ababa in key areas of society, including education, health, employment and justice. Made possible thanks to Womankind supporters coming together last November during the Big Give Christmas Challenge, the project will involve an important piece of research led by women with disabilities to document their own lived realities in navigating the city and their challenges in being included in society. These experiences will inform a series of workshops to raise awareness of women with disabilities’ rights and improve attitudes to disability among government representatives, service providers and community leaders, who with the support of EWDNA will then investigate how practical gaps in laws and service provision can be improved.Z group HDSC_1035

A local radio campaign will also inform the public about the rights of women with disabilities, made possible by the recent changes to the law in Ethiopia which now allow people to freely call for their rights. This change will also mean women with disabilities are given the opportunity to gain full knowledge of their own rights, through project planned activities on raising awareness.

Crucially this research project is led by and shared with women with disabilities meaning the real every day experiences of women with disabilities will form the basis for evidence used to push for changes in the laws and policies.

The sun is rising on a new era for women with disabilities

EWDNA’s project has the potential not only to increase the confidence and opportunities for women with disabilities, but also influence everyday Ethiopian social norms  to be more accepting and inclusive of people with disabilities. Through their combination of training, research and radio broadcasts, they will showcase the important part that women with disabilities have to play in building an inclusive and equitable Ethiopian society and economy for this new era in their political history.

Watch and share this video to spread the word about the life changing impact of EWDNA’s work.

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