Improving gender mainstreaming efforts within organizations of persons with disabilities

Dr. Donatilla Kanimba lost her vision at a young age of 5 due to an illness. Dr. Kanimba is now a voice of change for people with disabilities in her community through the Rwanda Union of the Blind, an NGO that supports and promotes rehabilitation of the visually impaired people in Rwanda. Dr. Kanimba serves as the Executive Director.

“After losing my vision, life was never the same at school and in the workplace with multiple challenges affecting my day-to-day activities. The world is not designed to include people with disabilities, so discrimination is always occurring – many times not intended but it occurs. I attend so many meetings and everyone has an agenda on paper, and I don’t have any. It doesn’t click to organizers that there are people with disabilities like me in attendance.” Dr. Kanimba said.  

“I also struggled in my education after leaving the school for the blind, all the books I got were in print and there were no arrangement or plan to find someone to help me read. It was up to me to approach my classmates who can find time to read to me so that I make notes. As a result, I ended up pursuing education at the university which wasn’t my first choice but its what I could only do with the minimal reading that I could get. I wished to do literature and linguistics which wasn’t possible because it needed a lot of reading,” she added.

However, despite the many challenges, she never lost her zeal to pursue her career and life goals. Dr Kanimba, now sixty-three years old, has defied the odds; she has a master’s in education from University of Rwanda and received an honorary in leadership and management by London Commonwealth University in 2018. She has also raised over ten children including four of her late sister’s children and she prides in having taken care of six other vulnerable family members.

“I may have lost my eyesight, but there is much more to life than losing one or two organs. If one organ becomes dysfunctional or its functions get disabled due to an impairment acquired or inborn, the rest of the body is functional, and you can do a lot. To me, disability is not inability you can work around the impairment and continue with your life,” said Ms. Donatilla.

Dr. Donatira Kanimba addressing participants at the gender audit workshop at Serena hotel, Kigali Rwanda. Photo: Pearl Karungi/UN Women
Dr. Donatira Kanimba addressing participants at the gender audit workshop at Serena hotel, Kigali Rwanda. Photo: Pearl Karungi/UN Women  

Speaking at a UN Women Rwanda gender audit workshop to solicit stakeholders’ input and feedback from the key findings and recommendations at the Serena hotel in Kigali, Dr Kanimba said that people with disabilities are sometimes just as capable of doing extraordinary things and continue living bright, inspiring, and successful lives.

The aim of the gender audit among organizations of persons with disabilities was to generate concrete, customized, evidence-based recommendations to improve gender mainstreaming efforts within the institutions. Opening the workshop, UN Women’s Emma Carine Uwantege stressed that “Empowerment of women and girls with disabilities needs a more systematic approach to strengthen their inclusion to achieve gender equality and realization of their rights”.

The disability inclusion project is implemented by UN Women in collaboration with Government of Rwanda, National Council of Persons with disabilities (NCPD), National Union of Persons with disabilities (NUDOR), UNDP, UNICEF and Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) with funding from the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi-Partner Trust Funds (UNPRPD MPTF) to strengthen OPDs capacities in gender mainstreaming in disability.

“My message to the young women and girls with disabilities is that having a disability is not an excuse to expect everybody to be caring for you. You are going to graduate from being a small girl to a strong and independent woman. However, this requires you to be a lot stronger than those without a disability because you have more challenges to tackle. Strive to be independent.

My call to organizations, they should be able to inform society or get society to understand that you don’t get either one or the other. You don’t get being a woman or being a man and not having a disability. You are going to be a woman/man with a disability and that affects how you can be included in society. So, we are not going to continue addressing disability as a separate issue from society, it is going to go together. That’s why organizations with persons with disabilities need to understand how to mainstream gender because we are the ones to inform the world that here you are making mistakes.”  Dr. Kanimba added.


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