Laura Kanushu: Open your gates to women with disabilities

laura i zoe-min

At the conference Reconference: rethink, reimagine, reboot held from 10 to 12 of April 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal, by the feminist organization CREA, we had a chance to hear many amazing women, including the great Laura Kanushu.

Laura is a lawyer and was a director of the organization Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities – LAPD. The vision of LAPD focuses on being a powerful engine for human rights and legal action in Uganda that will contribute to Uganda free of human rights abuse among persons with disabilities.

Laura is one of the women who inspire and motivate us, and it is important to convey her message, strength and focus, since it is our intention to present you local philanthropy actions, which Reconstruction Women’s Fund has also been developing for some time already!


Why you think it`s important to organize these women`s gatherings, to meet each other?

I think there is a very big need to reorganize women`s movements and to reorganize women, because I think there is exclusion even within the women`s movements or even in the feminist movement. And there is a tendency to categorize and then not include, because if we are categorizing, then we are excluding. And what do I mean by this is that if we are talking about women`s rights and organizing women, we should be talking about all women. And because the first criterion is that we are women, no matter who we are, no matter the choices that we have made, no matter how we look like, no matter our disabilities – we are women. And that`s why we should be organized as women. And because in the women`s movement as we see it, in the feminist movement, I feel that women with disabilities have not really been part of the feminist movement, and I think that`s an exclusion of a very important vulnerable group of women. For me, I don`t care what kind of women we are talking about, whether we are talking about sex workers, there would be women with disabilities who are sex workers, whether we are talking about women of color, there would be women of color with disabilities, and we can only imagine their level of discrimination. Whether we are talking about trans women, lesbian women, there will be among them women with disabilities. And again if we are talking about heterosexual women, again you will not miss to talk about women with disabilities. So when we begin to categorize, we are only focusing on one group and are leaving out a very big number and also more marginalized group of women, which is in my understanding the case with women with disabilities.

Do you think there is enough money for women`s human rights and for human rights of women with disabilities?

I think even in the discussions we are having today, at the donor session, there was a mention that disabled women organizations are less funded, so clearly even in terms of funding and in terms of resources, organizations of women with disabilities have less support. I think that`s again the tendency of exclusion by donors who don`t prioritize issues of women with disabilities. We all know that we can`t do anything without money and we are talking about vulnerable group of women with disabilities, which in my understanding is the most vulnerable group, so if donors who support women`s rights do not prioritize rights of women with disabilities, I think they are making a mistake, because they are leaving out very crucial group of women who are very vulnerable. I am aware that donors have focuses or areas they fund, but as I said, as long as you are talking about women, you can`t avoid talking about women with disabilities. So I don`t understand when I write an application and get a feedback from a donor saying “We don`t support disability” – since disability is not a person, a woman is a person, so if you are a donor and you say you support women`s rights, don`t tell me you don`t support disability, because there is no person called “disability”. That person is a woman or a girl. So it doesn`t make sense to me, when I write an application to a donor, a women`s organization, and the feedback I get is “Oh, we are really sorry, we do not support disability”. And I am talking about perhaps representing a woman with disability who has been raped or a girl with disability who has been neglected by her father and has no care, so that really beats my understanding when I get a feedback like “Oh, we are not doing disability” – because we are talking about women and girls and there shouldn`t be that kind of exclusion. What they have to look at is what you do, if they are talking about rights or advocacy or legal aid or strategic litigation for other women, why not for women with disabilities.

You come from Uganda, so what is the situation there now, how do women live there? 

I think that conditions for women with disabilities in Uganda are not good and women with disabilities have been left out, even within the disability movement, and the disability movement is highly patriarchal. We have around 50 organizations of disabled people in Uganda, and they are doing great work, but just the other day when I was coming on the plane I was asking myself how many of these organizations are actually led by women with disabilities. You could only mention two or three and one of them is purely women`s organization, but even for organizations for disabled persons, women are not in the lead, so it means that their issues are not at the forefront. Even when it comes to youth disabilities organizations, they are for young men with disabilities, not young women or girls with disabilities. So, again, there is a lot of exclusion, even within the disability movement. But we also need to understand that there are different categories of disabilities. For example, deaf women, women with psycho-social and mental disabilities, women with physical disabilities, blind women – their needs are different, their issues got to be addressed according to their specific disabilities. For example, the kinds of access I have might not be what a deaf woman needs, and you can see no deaf women, but if they were here, they would need different things. And we have women with psycho-social disabilities, I am happy that they are being represented at this meeting, but again, their needs may not be the same as that of the blind woman who is here today. And, again, when it comes to sexual violence, it is different. Imagine if a blind person is raped, and imagine a person who can see – you can see a person who has raped you, but a blind person can`t see the rapist. I am saying that donors, activists, feminists need to really, really think about it and open their gates to women with disabilities, because if they don`t do that, they would not going to be talking about rights of women.

What solidarity means for you? 

I think there has got to be solidarity for women, that we as women need to stop isolating ourselves and thinking “oh, I belong to this group, I only belong to the group of disabled, I don`t belong to sex workers group…” – because at the end of the day, what unites us is that we are women and that`s the point, the rest is not important, what is important is that we are women and then we move from there to what are our needs in our different categories. So once we realize the fact that we are all women first, and leave our comfort zones of, say, only LGBT activists, but what if there is a woman who is LBGT and disabled, or a sex worker with disability – are you going to throw them out of your organization, will you not advocate for this sex worker with disability? What about women of color? Are you just going to look at me and say “Oh, she is black, but has a disability and I don`t work with disabilities”. I am black and you are working with black women, so the point is that we are women and that`s it.

Thanks a lot and thank you for your fight. 

Thank you very much.

We are grateful to the Mama Cash foundation which invited and supported us to attend the CREA conference.

Interview: Zoe Gudović

Transcription:Ana Imširović Đorđević


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