By Meritt Buyer
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ”The Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030 ”. While is a laudable goal, coming from Building a Caring Community, 50-50 seems like a staggering figure. We often talk about ‘double discrimination’ that women with disabilities meet; the stigma and isolation that mothers often face when they have a child with a disability; the lack of access to reproductive education and health care; the rates of violence, domestic, sexual, and otherwise, against women with disabilities; the toll that unpaid care work takes on a family. It is widely recognized that women with disabilities face greater challenges in accessing employment and work opportunities than men with disabilities. In fact, 75% of women with disabilities are unemployed. It is easy to get bogged down by the statistics and seemingly overwhelming barriers that shape the lives of the young women we work with in Moshi. But in contrast, in celebration of the strength resilience and power of women everywhere, I would like to offer you these images of hope.
Levina is the only girl at our Rau KDC center. A bright, outgoing, determined seventeen year old, she holds her own in the midst of all the boys. Levina began coming to BCC in 2009. She could not walk, talk, or feed herself, though looking at her now, you would never guess this. Though she has never had the opportunity to go to school, the center staff taught her to read and write and do basic math. She loves to work on the farm, and is always the first to volunteer to plant starts, harvest vegetables, and insist that she can do it all by herself. Levina is also the main participant in the papermaking making program for which she is paid. She understands that entire process from start to finish and is able to manage much of the project on her own, delegating to the boys when necessary.
Janet was one of the original participants in the BCC program. The BCC centers offered the
first local opportunity for people with Down Syndrome to attend any sort of educational program. Now at age 34, Janet has become an invaluable asset to our Kibriloni center. As part of the Young Adult Program, she earns a small salary for cooking, cleaning, and helping with the younger children. The other staff insist they don’t know how they got along without her because she allows them to spend so much more time working with the children. When not working, Janet loves to do jigsaw puzzles. Janet’s gentle smile and quiet strength immediately endear her to everyone she meets.
As for the international goal of 50-50, BCC staff is more like 99-1. We only have one male staff member working in our centers. Many of the women are mothers of children with disabilities. No more unpaid care work here. These women can earn a living, while also providing a safe and loving environment for their own children and others. Mama Makombe runs our Msaranga center. Through her work, she has learned to provide the therapies her now 18-year-old son needs to keep his muscles from constricting and proper feeding and positioning to keep him healthy. She no longer has to worry about leaving Ebenezer alone at home. She can afford to feed her other children and send them to school. Janet laughs when asked about the bond between mothers of children with disabilities. “We all have the same problems. We see each other and we know exactly how the other feels. And we all do whatever we can to help each other.”
The Sustainable Development Goals specifically includes people with disabilities for the first time and SDG 5 is to ‘achieve equality and empower all women and girls.’ As the international community moves toward 2030 and a more equitable society, we need to be conscious of those with overlapping identities, those that face ‘double discrimination’ and are the most likely to be left behind. Levina, Janet, and Mama Makombe embody the richness and potential that exists in these identities in every society and all the women waiting for the right opportunity to surface so they can show the world what they can do.