International Women's Day 2017

As International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide on March 8th, CBM’s Senior Advisor on Disability and Gender Equality, Mary Keogh interviews Jemimah Kutata from CBM partner the Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya to hear about the key issues facing women with disabilities in accessing employment and livelihood opportunities.

Changing World of Work: Making it inclusive of women with disabilities

The 2017 theme for International Women’s is ''the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030''. Celebrating progress on women’s rights in the work place is important but it is also important to keep in mind that much remains to be done to bridge the remaining key areas for women - for example gender pay gap and access to social protection. It is also important to recognise that despite the progress made, many women are still left behind when it comes to the world of work and accessing other livelihood opportunities, – especially women with disabilities. It is widely recognised that women with disabilities have lower rates of participation in employment compared to men with disabilities and can also face a number of challenges in terms of access to livelihood and other work opportunities. For example, research has found that 80% of women with disabilities living in rural areas have no independent means of livelihood, and are totally dependent on others for their very existence. This results in women with disabilities and their families being more at risk of living their lives in poverty.

As global efforts are made to achieve a more sustainable equitable working world by 2030 with the implementation of SDG 5, it is important to consider how women and men with disabilities are included in these efforts. I recently interviewed Jemimah Kutata from ADPK in Kenya about the challenges women with disabilities face in Kenya when it comes to gaining access to employment and access to livelihood options.

Mary: Tell me a little about the work you do with ADPK

Jemimah: I work with ADPK as livelihood and micro credit finance manager, my work is to mobilise people with disability that is, women, men, girls and boys who have a disability and also guardians and parents of children with disabilities. We train them on business skills and we issue them with small capital in terms of a loan so that they can start income generating activities to support themselves and their families. We also support those groups to get quotations and tenders from the government. Apart from my job we have a disabled women’s group which enlightens women with disabilities about their rights and we are mentoring young girls and women with disabilities on self-advocacy and to voice their challenges instead of waiting to be represented by other programmes.

Besides the general barriers which persons with disabilities face when trying to find employment, what additional challenges have you found in your work that women with disabilities face?

For sure it is not easy for persons with disabilities when it comes to employment, we face many barriers, the biggest of which is when the employer usually just sees the disability rather than the skills of a person with a disability – this is the case for both women and men with disabilities. There can then be additional challenges for women with disabilities as in many countries in Africa, women are not given the first priority. Women with disabilities are devalued firstly because of their gender secondly because of the myth and misconception about impairment. There are often far reaching and mistaken assumptions that women who are disabled do not need to work. Their financial security will be provided by their families and their main role will be at home because their capacity to do much else is limited. These attitudes need to be changed in order to ensure that the rights to employment for women with disabilities is realised.

What about specific challenges in the workplace for women with disabilities?

When in the workplace, women with disabilities, like men with disabilities face challenges with inaccessible infrastructure. For example, for me, getting to work can be difficult. Most of the public transport in Kenya is very difficult. We use motorbikes for moving from one place to another which for me is a risk as motorbikes really cause accidents here in Kenya. Also meetings outside the office meetings can be held in inaccessible places making it difficult to attend. In addition to access, women with disabilities along with all other women face big challenges in getting time off for maternity leave. It is very difficult to get people to take care of children and also when at work there is not much flexibility if woman with a disability has a small baby and needs flexibility to go home during the work day. The lack of accessible transport makes this even more difficult.


Has Kenya made progress towards promoting the rights of women with disabilities to work?

Since we got the disability act, things are changing in Kenya but we still have a long way to go. We have the national council of persons with disabilities and right now it is advocating for the employment of women and men with disabilities. It now becoming mandatory to employ women and men with disabilities and the council is assisting. Once a job is advertised, persons with disabilities and especially women with disabilities are encouraged to apply and then the council does the follow up. If a woman or man with a disability feels they have been discriminated against in applying for a job, the national council intervenes to check out the facts to see if this is the case. So most employers now are changing their attitude but at a very slow place.

So this year’s international women’s day celebration is for how can the world of work change to be more inclusive, from all of your experience, could you share some recommendations with us?

Yes, I have five important recommendations for making the workplace and employment opportunities more inclusive of women with disabilities:

  1. Women with disabilities should be given priorities to lead departments in offices, so there is a need for more women with disabilities to be visible in managerial positions in the work place, there is a need for more opportunities so they can show their skills.
  2. Equal pay for women and men with disabilities. Often persons with disabilities can find themselves being paid less for doing similar work to other employees. Persons with disabilities should be paid equivalent to others.
  3. Accessibility needs to be improved, the majority of women with disabilities and men with disabilities face a number of challenges when it comes to accessibility, inaccessible meetings etc, this needs to change.
  4. Training for women with disabilities, there is a need for capacity building to help women with disabilities grow in the work place and to access promotion. For example, business skills trainings for women with disabilities who never had a chance to go to school.
  5. Lobby the micro finance institutions to offer disabled friendly services to enable women and men with disabilities access their micro-credit services.

We need to go beyond just fulfilling what the CRPD and Kenyan law say and support women with disabilities to help grow their skills in the workplace. The world should break its attitudinal barrier against women with disabilities and focus on their abilities to make the world a better. I wish all the women with disabilities a Happy International Women’s Day.

CBM publication ‘Inclusion Counts - The Economic Case for Disability-Inclusive Development’

If you want to read more about the benefits of inclusive work practices for women and men with disabilities, read the CBM publication ‘Inclusion Counts - The Economic Case for Disability-Inclusive Development’. Based on evidence from a literature review of how barriers in society exclude persons with disabilities from key areas of life, such as health, education, and work and livelihood, this book asks readers to consider the following questions: can governments afford to continue excluding women, men, girls, and boys with disabilities from key areas of life? How can investment in inclusion benefit persons with disabilities, their families, and societies overall and how can international cooperation support this inclusion?

Download CBM publication