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Life as a woman with disabilities in Uganda

A single mum tells her story of how her life changed after a rebel attack on her village left her with disabilities.

Edna was one of the few to survive when the notorious rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army attacked her village and burned down her house with 12 people inside. Her burns left her blind and partially deaf.

She supports her children by begging, she told a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Uganda is trying to get back on its feet after more than two decades of fighting involving the government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. There are many more women like Edna, living with disabilities in poverty in Uganda, the rights campaign group says. Thousands of people were left disabled by the fighting, but the group’s report, As if we weren't humans, released earlier this year, says women are particularly affected.

In areas where the fighting was going on, the East African country’s government forced people into camps, which had hardly any access to health care and this resulted in high numbers of people suffering disabling diseases such as polio. Many people also lost the use of limbs due to landmines or gunshot wounds.

Because Uganda relies so heavily on farming, women with disabilities are often labelled "useless" by family and neighbours as they often can't fetch water or work in the fields. Many don't go to school.

I was shocked to find out how many of the women with disabilities I spoke with had been abandoned by their men,” said Human Rights Watch’s Shantha Rau Barriga.  “Other men would use them for sex. Some women said people in their village taunted men whose partners had a disability.

More than one-third of the 64 women and girls with disabilities we interviewed said that they had been sexually abused, beaten, or raped. Their disabilities made them vulnerable to attack - they couldn't physically defend themselves, and they were isolated from their communities. Such assaults increase their risk of HIV infection.

The father of Edna’s first child, now six, was killed by the rebels. Her baby's father abandoned her when she got pregnant. When she went to a clinic for pre-natal care, Edna found out that she was HIV-positive.

There are 650 million disabled people living worldwide – that’s almost 10 per cent of the world population and 80 per cent of these people live in the world’s poorest countries, according to The World Health Organisation. Tomorrow (Friday) is the United Nations’ International Day of Disabled People.

Hayley attribution