Uganda has some of the most progressive laws for people with disabilities in Africa, but public perception has not always kept up. Three NGOs are trying to turn that around by offering economic opportunities for women.
Rose Ssanyu was three years old when she contracted polio and lost the use of her right leg. Her family thought she would end up begging on the streets of Kampala, like so many other Ugandans with disabilities. But today, aged 50, Ssanyu is employed full-time, with two daughters in university and three grandchildren in school.
Ssanyu is an expert basket weaver. She learned the skill as a teenager, when her parents enrolled her in a crafts school. “God took my leg but he gave me good hands,” she says. Today, the artisan sells her designs to Uganda Crafts, a home decor company that works to provide equal opportunities for women with disabilities. Based in downtown Kampala, the company provides jobs to 360 craftswomen and sells their creations around the world.
The Uganda Crafts store is small but bright, packed from floor to ceiling with baskets, colorful paintings and wood-carved statues. “Working allows women to be independent,” the manager, Lillian Kinene, says.
Kinene believes that being economically autonomous also increases the self-worth of the craftswomen. “When you provide for your family, you feel valuable.”
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 5 million peoplewith disabilities in Uganda; most of them struggle to find jobs. This is even harder for women who often have to bear additional prejudice based on their gender. When Ssanyu became pregnant, for example, the child’s father refused to take responsibility for his child. She says members of her community accused her of recklessness for getting pregnant. “People thought I could not be a good mother because of my disability,” she says.