Although progress is being made in recognising equality of women and people with disabilities, the issue of women with disabilities has been rather salient only from a number of activists and civic groups both in national and international discourses.
With such societal and structural limitations prevalent, it is an unfortunate setup for women with disabilities to be seen and heard.
This intersection of gender inequality and disability presents a situation of multiple levels of discrimination.
On paper it seems less of an issue to dwell on, but reality is experienced buy those with disabilities and the ones living with them.
Discrimination as vague a term might sound as, is a phenomenon which often leads to exclusion and lack of social cohesion and juxtaposing this with the human rights frame work, the rights of women with disabilities are therefore being infringed on.
For instance Zimbabwe, having about two million persons living with disabilities has faced criticism that its constitution is discriminatory to people living with disabilities.
Disabilities are due to a number of causes which range from: road accidents, war, polio, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, paralysis due to stroke, restricted growth, epilepsy, albinism, mental disabilities, visual, hearing and speech impairments.
Other disabilities are due to advanced age, cancer, diabetes, HIV and AIDS among others.
An activist for the disabled women and girls, Precious Moyo says the girl child with a disability is at a much higher risk of not going to school than any other child in Zimbabwe.
“This is so because she is a child with a disability and because she is isolated from society.
Again, because society does not know she exists, no-one will fight for her to go to school; no-one will fight for her right to get an education, no-one will fight for her to receive sponsorship to go to school,” said Moyo.
She said a woman with a disability in Zimbabwe faces multiple challenges.
“For example, whilst an able-bodied woman can defend herself in times of danger, a woman with a disability is helpless at such times.
“She cannot defend herself. An able-bodied woman has other women to not only represent her but to also fight on her behalf whilst a woman with a disability often has no-one to fight for her and in many cases no-one is representing her,” said Moyo.
She said this then makes a woman with a disability both invisible and voiceless which further places her at risk.
Zimbabwe’s government has been said to be lagging behind in facilitating the social integration of citizens with disabilities.
Many persons with disabilities have taken to begging in order to access food; and snap surveys reveal that for every ten beggars in the streets of Bulawayo and Harare, eight are persons with disabilities.
The constitution of Zimbabwe, in Chapter 1, Section 3 : Founding Values and Principles states, (f) “recognition of the equality of all human beings”.
This recognition has to our disappointment not been expressed when it comes to persons with disabilities.
Women with disabilities maybe subjected to structural inequalities because of the political and regulatory frameworks that do not necessarily reflect their needs.
Discriminatory practices and rejection towards women with disabilities are particularly subtle and involve ambivalence between considerate discourse, on the one hand, and manifestations of rejection and exclusion on the other.
Studies show that women and girls with disabilities are twice as likely to experience gender-based violence compared to women and girls without disabilities.
Women with disabilities are often denied reproductive healthcare and at times are even subjected to forced sterilization.
The exclusion and violence against women and girls with disabilities in any country carries heavy financial and social consequences. Discrimination against persons with disabilities hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.
Perhaps because of the challenges they face, women and girls with disabilities are poised to be leaders within their communities and can greatly contribute to the economic development of their countries.’
Financial consequences of gender-based violence are also felt at national scale as large amounts of money are budgeted for Prison Services.
According to Disabled Women in Africa (DIWA) Currently, there are no written and correct statistical data on disabled women.
“The situation is a perpetuation of the myth that women and girls with disabilities are asexual, bad luck and that of being a cure of HIV / AIDS.
“For instance in Buhera, is it said that having a disability is associated with bad luck, and as such, the community would distance themselves from person with a disability or from a family where there is a person with a disability,” says DIWA.
The organisation says besides myths, there are some challenges which hinder girls and women to access key facilities and these include include lack of access to information, lack of birth certificates or identity cards, inaccessible in – built environment.
Disability HIV and AIDS Trust (DHAT) 2013 report cited that a group of women and girls with disabilities went to one hospital in Bulawayo for a cervical cancer screening.
Some could not be assisted due to lack of information in accessible formats, others could not due to inaccessible screening beds, and others failed to go to the examination room.
The assumption is that a lot of women and girls with disabilities could be failing to access such services, thereby contributing to their vulnerability against any health related issues, like HIV / AIDS, Cervical cancer, just to mention a few.
Therefore, up to date and relevant statistics will inform and shape government policies and development planners so as to be inclusive of persons with disabilities.
In addition, such data will also help other stakeholders to plan and implement programmes with disability in mind, and therefore deliberately, target women and girls with disabilities.