Disabled women 'ignored in Uganda'

Human Rights Watch says injured females unable to access many basic services.

    'Beg for help'
    "One of the untold stories of the long war in Northern Uganda and its aftermath is the isolation, neglect, and abuse of women and girls with disabilities," Shantha Rau Barriga, author of the HRW report, told Al Jazeera. 
    "As Ugandans in the north struggle to reclaim their lives, the government and humanitarian agencies need to make sure that women with disabilities are not left out."

    Barriga said that in spite of their large numbers, women with disabilities have been completely ignored in the post-conflict reconstruction process.
    "Women with disabilities have had limited access to healthcare, they've had limited access to other basic Government services, and they make up a significant part of the population," Barriga said.
    During the conflict, most women were sent to camps for displaced people, but once the fighting was over they were relocated in resettlement camps, where disabled women find life difficult as they can't use the land for farming.
    One such women is Margaret Abito, an amputee and mother of two children. 
    Margaret lived in a camp for displaced people during the violence, but once the fighting was over she was moved to a different camp near her village of origin.
    Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Margaret said: "I used to look after myself, now I have to beg for help from other people, but often they refuse. It makes me feel like a useless human being."
    HRW's study, entitled, As if we weren't humans, says the problem is widespread.

    Lack of information
    According to a 2007 national survey, approximately 20 per cent of people in Uganda have disabilities.

    The figure in the northern areas of the country, however, are believed to be much higher as more people suffered from war-related injuries and limited access to treatment or vaccinations for illnesses.
    HRW also found that one third of the women they had spoken to were said to have suffered some form of sexual abuse and many are now HIV positive.
    The group says women with disabilities are more vulnerable to HIV because of a lack of information and the difficulty they face in negotiating safe sex.

    Even those who survived sexual abuse often find it almost impossible to seek medical help or make a report.

    Many are unable to reach health centres or police stations, while a lack of sign language interpreters, Braille signage and ramps for physical access also hamper their efforts.
    "Women with disabilities are often not given any information about sexual or reproductive health and HIV," Barriga told Al Jazeera.
    "But they have real sexual health needs, and they also need to be protected from sexual violence and be able to get justice if abused."
    HRW said that when formulating post-conflict development plans, the Ugandan authorities should address the particular needs of women with disabilities.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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