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Women with Disabilities Raising Disabled Children Should be Celebrated

By Nsubuga Najib Ssekikubo- nnajibu@gmail.com

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Disabled Mother breastfeeding her child. FILE PHOTO

Today, I join the world to specifically celebrate the unsung heroes—women with disabilities tirelessly taking care of children with disabilities. The concept of disability is commonplace in our society, often reiterated by international human rights bodies, NGOs and government agencies. This is mainly through legislation and advocacy aimed at addressing the plight of People With Disabilities (PWDs).

The UN convention on the Rights of people with disabilities strictly forbids any form of discrimination, intrigue and abuse against PWDs. It provides for full and effective partition in society on an equal basis with those without disabilities. Uganda ratified the provisions with a commitment to raise awareness, promote the rights and welfare of PWDs as well as guarding against any form of abuse.

Disability manifests in numerous forms, however, the most pronounced is mental and physical disability. There’s a plethora of myths surrounding this subject and perhaps explaining why our society remains unconcerned about PWDs. It is not uncommon for people to think that disability is usually a punishment for wrong doing committed by parents, a result of witchery and sometimes, regarded as means of taming a notorious creature. The occurrence of disability has however been scientifically supported to be a result of numerous physiological processes from conception, through the prenatal, perinatal and postnatal phases of human development. Disability may also occur as a result of accidents and injury during infancy, childhood and adulthood.

As the world celebrates the International Women’s day, I have been mainly concerned by the absence of success stories of women with disabilities in the mainstream Sunday papers. The media coverage on International Women’s day should focus on the achievements of women from all walks of life—the educated and uneducated, the urban and rural women, those with and without disabilities, women in the formal and informal sector, the married and unmarried, the divorced and single mothers.  Collectively struggling to make ends meet and thus contributing to national development.

The plight of mothers with disabilities

However much both males and females with disabilities share the cake of discrimination, abuse and intrigue, the suffering of the women goes an extra mile. Like other women, it is daring for women with disabilities to have children. However, unlike their counterparts, theirs is a rough ride. For example, the initial process to this enthusiasm—finding a spouse, is highly jolted. Women with mental disabilities are regarded as useless and incapable of nurturing children. Those with pronounced physical disability are greatly undermined and underrated.

It is uncommon for men to willingly propose to them and ask their hand in marriage. I’m well sure that I and you, have not seen numerous legal unions involving people with disabilities. However, men continue to pursue them illegally and forcefully. This is sometimes as a result of superstitious tendencies that attribute a couple of good things to sexual intercourse with people with disabilities. I believe you’ve heard people saying that sex with women with albinism is a source of wealth and good luck. The same is true to other disabilities. Majority of them end up conceiving. Unfortunately even those that engage in peaceful romantic and sexual relationships are usually dumped after conception.

The most unfortunate fact is that majority of women with disabilities conceive unwilling through molestation—rape for the adults and rape and defilement for the underage. The situation is serious that a good number of such scenarios have an element of incest. It is disheartening that children—girls, and women with disabilities endure sexual abuse from relatives and other people accompanied by death threats if these actions ever come to the light. The end result is usually pregnancy. Unclaimed pregnancy!!  And unluckily contracting HIV/AIDs and other dangerous STDs. The helpless expectant mother struggles with the pregnancy till child birth. The beginning of a muddy and thorny journey!

In most cases, families choose to conceal information on the culprits as away of avoiding shame. And at other instances, mainly when the culprit is not a family member, they sometimes remain unknown. For example, if the victim is blind, deaf or both, it may be difficult for them to relate. Children irrespective of how they come are a source of happiness to the parents and the community in general. This is perhaps the reason why such women brave through pregnancy, the hectic parenting to have a portion of happiness in life.

It is not true that PWDs must give birth to children with disabilities. However there are higher chances that some disabilities will be passed on to children from their parent’s DNA. This however doesn’t include disabilities resulting from adulthood accidents. The mother with a disability is therefore at risk of giving birth to a child with the same disability or multiple disabilities. Think about their predicament! A wheelchair mother raising a wheelchair child, a wheelchair mother or mother on crutches taking care of a child with down syndrome or cerebral palsy, a deaf-blind mother raising an autistic child, or a mentally retarded mother taking care of a mentally retarded child. The parenting and nurturing nightmares!!

Parenting is a demanding activity aimed at helping the child develop and thrive holistically. Raising a child with disabilities calls for extra efforts in stimulation, care and education. The fact that the adult with disabilities also require special self and extra help makes it very challenging. Majority being single parents—doubling as father and mother without hope of fatherly help leaves many overly ingrained. Majority depend on handouts from good Samaritans and relatives. Keeping in mind that some children have a single family—born out of incest. They forever remain imprisoned to the family backyard. Growing in absolute uncertainty in a disguised familial relationship.

Irrespective of the difficulties, majority of such women endure through hardships to bring life on earth, and to nurture this life within the most limited means. The endurance and resilience exhibited by mothers raising both children with or without disabilities is something that shouldn’t pass unmentioned. Their disguised contribution to humanity and national development deserves a shout. Bravo to mothers with disabilities. They’re strong fighters hustling through chains of discrimination and abuse to contribute to the perpetuation of the human race.

The way forward

It is important to note that however much majority have been abused, impregnated, neglected and left with the burden of child bearing, there a number of good news stories. Stories of happily married women with disabilities raising children with the full support of their husbands, or those who are unmarried but receiving full support from the child’s father of their family members.

We need to rejuvenate our energies and commitment to support PWDs most especially women raising children with disabilities. We need to vehemently stand up and condemn acts of discrimination, neglect, abuse, molestation against PWDs especially women. We need to offer maximum support to PWDs most especially mothers nurturing children with disabilities. Disability is neither a punishment nor a source of wealth.

Najib Nsubuga Ssekikubo is a behavior change communicator, ECD educator with a bias on special needs education.
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