Esther Mkamori: “Women and girls with disabilities must be consulted and heard”

July 2023

Esther Mkamori is head of programmes at United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), the national umbrella organisation of people with disabilities in Kenya.

UDPK is a partner in Inclusive Futures’ inclusive education and inclusive livelihood projects in Kenya.

Esther advocates for the rights of women and girls with disabilities and is committed to ensuring they are not left behind in the organisation’s work. Her work promotes the meaningful participation of organisations with persons with disabilities (OPDs) in development programmes.

Esther’s story

“Although there are women with disabilities in OPDs, it is primarily men who hold leadership positions. We recognise the prevailing gender disparities within OPDs, where women with disabilities are present but often underrepresented in decision-making and leadership roles, so we ensure 50-50 representation in all programmes. We want to ensure that women with disabilities’ voices are heard and valued in all aspects of our work.

“We face challenges around the compartmentalisation of issues. When we talk about disabilities, we only discuss them in certain places, and the same goes for gender, even within women’s rights organisations. In spaces where women are discussing their concerns, it is vital to include women with disabilities.

“In our collaboration with the government and other stakeholders, we use different mechanisms to promote disability inclusion and the rights of persons with disabilities based on the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). One such mechanism is the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Disability, which brings together the government, OPDs, and non-state actors.

Esther holding a microphone in her hand, standing and talking. She's wearing a black dress

Esther Mkamori

Head of programmes, United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK)

“This committee plays a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of the Convention and other commitments, including those made at the Global Disability Summit. Additionally, we collaborate with mainstream women’s rights organisations at a national level to advocate for the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

“How women and girls with disabilities experience discrimination is different from how men experience it. We conducted a baseline survey in 2018, to assess the situation of women with disabilities in the country. We found women with disabilities face persistent challenges in accessing information. They often face barriers to education from an early age, which affects their literacy, confidence, and access to information and technology. We realised that we need to invest more in empowering women and girls with disabilities to advocate for their rights within their own organisations and to fully participate in their communities.”

No free choice for women

“We still see that others make decisions on behalf of adult women with disabilities about their sexual and reproductive health, treating them as children. For example, often assumptions are made during childbirth that women with disabilities will have to undergo a caesarean section. Instead of having free choice, those decisions are made for them. Most healthcare providers will start providing sexual and reproductive health and rights information to girls with disabilities at a later age than to girls without disabilities.

“UDPK is currently developing a report on the CRPD in Kenya, with a particular focus on the experiences of women and girls with disabilities regarding SRHR. The main barriers preventing women and girls with disabilities from making informed choices about their own bodies and reproductive health are assumptions around sexuality, limited access to SRHR information and forced consent. Our advocacy efforts aim to raise awareness, challenge negative stereotypes, and promote inclusive SRHR services that meet the specific needs of women with disabilities.

“As part of Inclusive Futures, we are partnering with Light for the World to support micro-entrepreneurs with disabilities in Kenya to grow their businesses. We have a particular focus on women with disabilities and primary caregivers of persons with disabilities.

“This project has achieved many successes – women entrepreneurs with disabilities are growing their businesses and increasing their monthly incomes. By providing business skills development training and access to loans, we have supported women with disabilities to diversify their businesses and become self-reliant. We have a young woman with a disability who is working in the transport sector (traditionally a very male-led sector). Her business is thriving.

“Another success story involves an OPD near Nairobi led by a young woman with disabilities. They have successfully lobbied for government support in allocating market spaces for women with disabilities and helped them to access loans. This shows the power of advocacy and the potential for creating more inclusive opportunities for women with disabilities in businesses.”

Addressing the barriers

“My message during the Women Deliver conference 2023 in Kigali for donors, people working on development programmes and in the women’s rights movement will be: include women with disabilities and organisations led by women with disabilities in decision-making spaces. It is crucial to consult them and ensure their voices are heard!

“We need to ensure women with disabilities from underrepresented and marginalised groups, including indigenous communities, those with intellectual disabilities, psycho-social disabilities, and women who are deafblind, are included in leadership spaces. It is essential for mainstream development organisations to recognise the strength of women-led OPDs and their capacity to offer solutions to address the barriers faced by women and girls with disabilities.”

A woman sits next to a girl wearing a school uniform at a youth club in Nepal.

Reaching women and girls with disabilities

Any programme that aims to be inclusive needs to include women and girls with disabilities.

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