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Interview with Madezha Cépeda

Torres Flores after her cataract operation with her eye still covered, Iquitos, Peru
© CBM / Argum / Einberger
Torres Flores after her cataract operation with her eye still covered, Iquitos, Peru

Madezha Cépeda holds a masters degree in inclusion and disability from Salamanca University; she is an educator, mother, wife, disability rights activist and adviser to CBM’s Latin America Regional Office. Here, she talks about being an empowered woman with a disability.

Madezha, what did you do in order to be an empowered woman with a disability?

In the first place I can say that my mother was a strong role model. She had her goals and did everything possible to reach these goals. She always liked to give us a model of strength, courage and decisiveness. My mother learnt not to be submissive to the men around her.   Though I am different than my mother, I recognize that the way she confronted the difficulties life presented to her had a big influence on me.
Another important factor has also to do with my mother:  the way she confronted my visual disability. I guess this was not easy for her. The good thing is that she never made me feel she was sorry for the fact that I have a disability.   I can’t remember that my mother ever felt anything like pity for me.  The opposite was true: as far as possible, she gave me the opportunities which allowed me to achieve independence; I had to learn to work and to take care for myself. She told me not to be a burden for anyone.
From my point of view, I learned from childhood that difficulties are like valleys which I needed to pass in order to go ahead. I was a shy child and perhaps had a fragile image, but life presented me with various opportunities that pushed me forward and helped me to develop my skills and strengths to accept and value myself, resulting in my ability to take an active role in the defence of my rights.
In Peru, many mothers of children with disabilities are excluded, are single and have the additional burden to care for their child with a disability. What is the role of a CBR project regarding the empowerment of these mothers?

It is very important that CBR projects promote meetings between parents of children with a disability. In these meetings they should work in order to break down negative and false ideas that exist about disability and to develop more positive roles regarding the possibilities of their children, in order to develop and strengthen their abilities to exercise their citizenship.  This is far more successful when persons with disability accompany this process, as their own abilities and achievements are a vital demonstration.
These meetings need to be a space where parents learn to understand the effects of prejudices of machismo in their life and society. At the same time, understand the advantages of gender equity in their lives.   On the other hand it is necessary for CBR projects to initiate and facilitate the formation of self help groups, especially for single mothers who have to take care of their children with disability alone.
In the CBR projects supported by CBM in Peru, you give workshops to teachers who include children with a disability in their classroom. What is the role of the educational system (in Peru) and the role of teachers in the empowerment of girls with a disability?
Teachers can do a lot. They can use inclusive gender balanced language (for example, in the Spanish language the word for children is most often generalized as ‘niños’ which is also the word for boys).  By using both niñas (meaning girls) and niños when referring to children, teachers contribute to gender balanced language.  Teachers should stimulate the equal participation of girls (including those with a disability) and boys in all kind of activities: academic, sports, social, others. Teachers should put emphasis on the value of differences: gender, disability, etc. They can promote and improve the positive self perception of girls with a disability, by teaching her to think of her impairment, whether physical, sensorial, intellectual or psychosocial as only another characteristic that makes people different from each other.
In your opinion would be the task of CBM in order to achieve the empowerment the liberation of women and girls with a disability?
In the first place I would recommend that CBM through its projects promotes the inclusion of girls with disability in school and in community life.  In places where there is no physical accessibility it is necessary to guarantee that girls can reach schools. At the same time CBM should ensure that girls are treated respectfully and equitably within their families and in schools. CBM can contribute towards the formation of girls and women in order that they are aware of their role as a citizen with rights. CBM personnel need to be trained from a gender perspective; if they are not they will not be able to give adequate attention or advise on this issue.
CBM can contribute towards the formation of girls and women with disability regarding their awareness of their role as citizens with rights. They need to learn to communicate in an assertive way, express themselves in public and organize their opinion and raise these issues to those it corresponds. They need to join together, to form associations and to be prepared in order to participate in public spaces of civil participation
On the other hand, CBM should contribute towards the formation of girls and woman regarding inclusion in labour. It is fundamental that women with a disability in poor countries receive the necessary formation, which is fundamental to start the process oftheir own entrepreneurship in order to reach economic independence.

It would be an advantage to support collective entrepreneurships, because this helps to include women with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities; these women have less possibility to reach personal realization in the labour market.
Is there a role for feminists with disabilities in Latin America? If so, which role?

It is urgent that a bigger group of women with disabilities -who agree on how a gender perspective influences our lives- unite forces. It is necessary that we develop this gender perspective and that we organize together in order to be able to participate proactively in social and political space, especially in the women’s movement where we are still quite invisible.
Persons with disability in general and women we do not escape from this: we have to be aware of the stereotypes regarding gender and how it influences our reality as well. We need to reverse this situation, because it works against the possibility of our protagonist role in the transformation of conditions -at continental level- that work against our development and full participation in society.

The challenge is that we, Latin American ‘’women with disability with a gender perspective’’ form a network that allows us to unite forces and by doing so generate better opportunities so that other women like us can execute their rights and be empowered as well.

During this last year I had the opportunity to facilitate different workshops in which I witnessed a group of women with disabilities developing through their own potential a set of capacities and in which they experienced various situations leading to the discovery of their beauty, their delightfulness, their multiple possibilities and above all, in a climate in which they could demonstrate without fear their talents and qualities.
With these women we are going to form an association with the goal -among others- to take on experiences, based on their own interests, and develop abilities which will lead to their economic independency.


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