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By Jennifer Timmons, December 2010

“It is as if we weren't human”

"You are useless. You are a waste of food. You should just die so that others can eat the food."

Words of the people in a displacement camp told to a woman with disabilities in northern Uganda

More than 20 years of displacement and war have caused approximately 20 percent of Ugandans to have disabilities, according to Human Rights Watch.

Though there is a lack of data on the number of women with disabilities in the country, this population is probably higher in northern Uganda where rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army have waged war on the government for over two decades.

Many women lost the use of limbs due to landmines or gunshot wounds, were mutilated by rebels, sustained injuries in fires, or were never vaccinated for disabling illnesses such as polio.

Today, women with physical, sensory, mental, and intellectual disabilities face a more complex and grueling process of return and relocation than their neighbors: they are subject to social stigma, sexual violence, denied access to justice, and their reproductive and maternal health needs are often not met.

"I was raped three times in this house one week ago. The man came at night, so I was unable to recognize him. I have not told anyone, not even my mother.

I was thinking of bringing a panga [machete] to bed with me in case he comes again. I fear that if I report, then I will need to know my HIV status. I want to check my HIV status at a health center but I do not have transport to town. The hospital is far and my [hand-crank] bicycle is broken.

Others in the community will say that it's my fault, and that I run around with men."

–· Angela, 20-year-old woman born with a physical disability, Amuru District

Government plans are failing to take into account the needs of the women who acquired their disabilities due to the war, or who already had disabilities before the war and may have disproportionately suffered the impact of the conflict.

Many women with disabilities who wish to leave the displacement camps and return home are physically unable to do so. Many lost family members and cultural expectations that persons with disabilities, especially women, cannot live independently, make it difficult for them to leave the camps and access social services on their own.

Human Rights Watch notes that discriminatory attitutes remain a major barrier to full inclusion of women with disabilities in efforts to build a functioning society.

Prior to the war, relatives and community members customarily supported persons with disabilities. But now, war has displaced the population and eroded community support. Amd women with disabilities are often excluded from community meetings and rarely take any part in decision-making on important issues like the return process or public health.

“At a community meeting, they didn't allow me to talk. It happens to all persons with disabilities. It is as if we weren't human. On occasions when food is being given, sometimes persons with disabilities are given what others leave behind on their plates.”

--Jennifer, woman with a physical disability, Gulu District

Uganda has an obligation to protect its population with disabilities, particularly women, from all forms of discrimination – it is a signatory to three treaties: the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Convention on the Elmination of Discrimination Against Women· (CEDAW), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

– Human Rights Watch


Human Rights Watch

International Network of Women with Disabilities (INWWD)