Girls with disabilities: achieve your dreams!
11 October 2014
by Josephine Namiriru
No one should ever dare tell you that you’re not worthy of anything. You should realise your dreams — go out and get them, no matter what you come up against. That is my message to all girls around the world today, on the International Day of the Girl Child.
For those of us with a disability, realising our dreams can be that bit harder. Being a girl and having a disability is like having a two in one package — there are so many barriers that can prevent us from succeeding. But despite this, I have always strived to achieve my own dreams, and to help and inspire others to do the same.
My name is Josephine. I am 26 years old and I come from a simple community in Uganda. My mother raised me and my five siblings after my father passed away when I was two. I have a physical disability and I use a wheelchair. I didn’t have a wheelchair when I was younger though. School was a long way away and my mother had to carry me on her back to go anywhere. This meant I spent a lot of time indoors, and often had to miss school when my mother was unable to take me.
My community was not supportive. We often heard people say things like ‘She is a girl and worst of all disabled. They are just wasting money and time.’ It took courage, persistence and determination from my mother and I to keep pushing for my education. It was a constant battle to prove that I was worthy of staying in school.
The negative attitudes weren’t unique to my community. In Uganda, gender-related inequality is the norm. Our society is patriarchal — historically, a true Ugandan is expected to respect the male gender. As our legislation and societal systems and structures have developed, they have been tailored to suit and support the male gender.
Unfortunately my lower primary teachers ware true products of our patriarchal world. Despite the fact that most ware female, they never believed in females! It took me a full year to prove them wrong with my performance — with some help from the headteacher who observed that I had been under-graded for three consecutive terms.
But amidst all challenges I was facing, the government of Uganda gave me a helping hand. They introduced an inclusive education system that caters for free education for all — including those with disabilities — at primary and secondary level. They also introduced affirmative action in higher learning for minority groups including women and those with disabilities.
I greatly acknowledge the government support to reduce the inequality gaps. However, we need to realise that the system is still far from perfect. There are still so many challenges that take girls out of the running — including child marriages, bridal dowries, menstruation periods, patriarchy, poverty. The list goes on, and multiplies when disability also becomes a factor. All of these can block Ugandan girls from benefiting from the free education system put in place by the government.
I am lucky enough to be a beneficiary of the government support and I was very proud when I graduated from university earlier this year with a bachelor's degree in business administration. Since graduating, I have been working with Cheshire Services Uganda as part of the implementing team for our Girls' Education Challenge Programme. This amazing project is supporting girls with disabilities to go to school across Uganda. I am so happy that I am able to help other girls like me to have the same chances that I had.
I have also been an active Young Voices campaigner with Leonard Cheshire Disability for several years, joining with other young disabled people around the world to campaign for our rights. This has enabled me to stand firm for what I believe in. I speak out whenever I can, for example lobbying for lectures at university to be shifted from inaccessible rooms to the ground floor, so that people with physical disabilities can attend.
I am positive that things are changing in our community, and I am very hopeful for a better future for girls with disabilities in Uganda and around the world. My humble appeal to you all today is ‘The world you want is in your hands and it starts with you.’ Happy International Day of the Girl Child, wherever you are!
Josephine Namiriru is one of Leonard Cheshire Disability's Young Voices campaigners.