ONYAMA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)–Thousands of miles away from here in Geneva, government officials–representatives of United Nations agencies and members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines–will be meeting from Nov. 29 through Dec. 3 to discuss their efforts and plans to implement the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
They are sharing information on progress made in meeting deadlines for clearing landmines.
They are talking about national victim-assistance plans, including how landmine survivors are involved in designing, carrying out and monitoring such work.
They are talking about issues that affect women like me.
Many of us women with disabilities have been left out of this important conversation over the past decade, just as we have been left out of development programs and shunned in our own communities. Policymakers must take our needs into account so we can share in the benefits of any programming they devise.
Women with disabilities are too often isolated in their communities, ignored by relief and recovery efforts and victimized by sexual violence. Abuse and abandonment are common, and a lack of access to health care, education and employment opportunities are the reality for most. Even in relationships, there is often shame and fear. It is not uncommon for men to come at night and leave in the morning, unwilling to be seen with a disabled partner.
I know all this from my own personal experience that began one night in 1996, when rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army came into Onyama, my village in northern Uganda.
Thundering Sound, Then Darkness
They burned and looted my neighbors’ homes. I saw the destruction the next morning as I went to fetch water and buy food at the market, carrying my son on my back. On my way home, I saw a man coming on his bicycle so I moved to the side of the road.
I heard a thundering sound and saw darkness all around me. I spent three months in the hospital–and lost my leg and my son. I had stepped on a landmine and the world as I knew it had come to a halting end.
I returned to live with my husband, but everything had changed. He verbally abused me, telling me I was useless, helpless. My in-laws told him, "Monica is disabled; get another woman."
After a year, my husband left. I was four months pregnant at the time and struggling to care for my older child as well.
I was ashamed of my disability. I was afraid of what people would say. I isolated myself. It was my children who encouraged me, who stopped me from thoughts of suicide. What would happen to my children if I died? When I cried, they wanted to cry, so I would stop and console them.
I decided to join the local association of landmine survivors and there I found hope, friendship and courage. I slowly rebuilt my life. I now have a small business, selling fish in the local market, and am the leader of a landmine survivor organization in northern Uganda.
Facing Many Barriers
Thousands of women with disabilities in northern Uganda and elsewhere–who lost their limbs, their family members and their dignity because of conflict–continue to experience barriers in so many aspects of their lives.
Over half of the world, including Uganda, has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and more than 150 countries have signed up to the Mine Ban Treaty. These are important commitments made by governments, but how do they help women like me in our daily lives?
If women with disabilities really count, we need to be counted or we will continue to be in the shadows. In Uganda, we don’t know how many of us there are, how many benefit from government programs or how many experience sexual violence. We are invisible.
I hope that the U.N., humanitarian actors and others who work in conflict situations will shed light on the barriers facing women with disabilities, listen to what we have to say and work with us to do something about it.
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Monica Piloya is the chairperson of the Gulu/Amuru Landmine Survivors’ Network in northern Uganda.
For more information:
"As If We Weren’t Human: Discrimination and Violence against Women with Disabilities in northern Uganda," Human Rights Watch, August 2010:
Forgotten Peace Builders: