Living in shadows: Disabled women speak at their first-ever focus group in Warrap
WARRAP - “I often feel invisible,” revealed Angelina Ayer Akol, a disabled woman from Warrap during a focus group discussion. "When our community distributes material assistance, disabled people are always excluded. During past floods, I was displaced, sleeping on plastic sheets and constantly relocating but no one helped me. I was completely excluded, as if I didn’t exist.”
Women with disabilities are indeed disadvantaged in South Sudan. The young nation is predominantly patriarchal in its culture and women and young girls are often voiceless. When you add a physical disability into the mix, it is much worse according to disabled women who participated in Warrap’s first ever focus group for females living with disabilities.
The event was hosted by the state Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, Warrap’s Disabled Association and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Its main aims: To provide disabled women with a platform to share their lives and struggles with one another, break the cycle of their exclusion from such activities and address the challenges they face officially.
Tales of isolation and discrimination seemed to be a common theme as participants spoke about being sidelined by their communities. As disabled women, they shareds common experiences of having no access to justice, education, or employment. Additionally, there is no long-term assistance mechanism to empower them and strengthen their ability to earn a living. They are, however, always the most vulnerable when confronted with natural disasters and social injustice.
“We were never a part of a workshop that addressed our specific needs or gave us the opportunity to speak. I hope today’s focus group can be expanded to a larger disabled population. I am relieved to see UNMISS and our government are willing to assist us,” Aguer Ding Deng, a participant, stated.
For his part, Akoon Madut Tong, Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare assured participating women of the government’s firm commitment to improve their situation. “The Ministry has allocated land to construct a center for disabled people. I encourage you to collaborate once this structure is in place and lso appeal to partners to develop projects that assist people with disabilities in achieving self-sufficiency and living decent lives,” he averred.
The state government has also committed to providing free education and material assistance to children with disabilities on International Day of Persons with Disabilities.