Lucy Mulombii: “We believe in nothing for us without us”

July 2023

Lucy Mulombii is the chair of a women-led organisation of people with disabilities and chair of Kakamega County Disability Caucus in rural Kenya.

She is also a small business owner and participated in our inclusive livelihoods project, which is supporting microentrepreneurs with disabilities to develop and grow their businesses.

Lucy’s story

“As a woman with a disability, I have struggled a lot with discrimination. One day I decided enough is enough. I have to start advocating for the rights of other women and girls with disabilities. So I have the spirit. That’s my zeal.

“My work as a grassroots activist involves advocating for the rights of women and girls with disabilities. It starts with mobilising them so we come together and speak with one voice on the issues affecting us.

“I lobby for women and girls with disabilities’ issues to be captured in county government budgets and for our inclusion in public participation and decision-making processes because we believe in nothing for us without us.

“Under the Kenyan Constitution, we have articles that protect the rights of women and girls with disabilities and are very clear on issues of affordable healthcare and accessibility, for example. But unfortunately, the implementation of these policies has been very slow. Part of our work involves pushing the government to apply these policies.

“The organisation I chair tries to awareness about the barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls with disabilities and issues around gender-based violence. Sexual and reproductive health is a human right. But sometimes women and girls with disabilities face discrimination because people think they are not like other women. They forget that they have the right to access information about how they can plan their families and take care of their menstrual health.

“One of the biggest problems with gender-based violence is the lack of available data. We know gender-based violence is experienced more by women and girls with disabilities. However, without the data we can’t convince government to put plans in place to support women and girls with disabilities whose rights have been violated. When organisations try to sensitise young girls and women on issues of gender-based violence, women and girls with disabilities are left out. So it’s difficult for them to even know the correct reporting procedures, or they lack the self-esteem to speak out.”

Lucy is wearing a colourful dress and holds a sign saying

Lucy Molombii

Chair of Kakamega County Disability Caucus, rural Kenya

Self-confidence and self-esteem

”I and other women with disabilities have benefitted so much from the Inclusive Futures livelihoods programme. We’ve received training on how to develop our businesses through financial management, record-keeping, tax compliance, and marketing. The training we received on branding has really supported me and other women with disabilities to compete in the market with other small business owners.

”The programme also took us through self-advocacy training. It was through this training that I gained the self-esteem to approach institutions in the public and private sectors and ask them to give us business opportunities. It is that confidence that allowed me to approach a procurement officer at a public training centre and say: “I have a registered business and I’m ready to do business.” I have since secured a tender to supply cereals to that institution and my business is doing well.

”When you don’t have money in your pocket, when you don’t have confidence, you don’t speak out. Now, we are able to speak out about the issues that affect us economically.”

More support needed

“From 17-20 July 2023, I represented Inclusive Futures at the Women Deliver Conference 2023 in Kigali. My message to donors and people working in the development and humanitarian sector was to be more inclusive of women and girls with disabilities.

“Most of the time, grassroots organisations are left out of national and international dialogues on women’s rights. More support should be given to women-led or women focussed OPDs so that our voices can also be heard and we can meaningfully engage in those discussions.

“More support should also be given to strengthen the capacity of grassroots OPDs which are women-led or women-focused and ensure that funding opportunities are made accessible to them.

“Often during development programmes, women and girls with disabilities are not given a place at the table, so you’ll find people making decisions for us. People imagine that we don’t have solutions to our own issues.

“When we are at the planning table, we can speak from an informed position, provide solutions and meaningfully participate in the decisions taken.”

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

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