On my last day visiting Bombolulu Workshops in late 2018 I happened to share a Tuk Tuk with Jemimah Kutata. I had seen Jemimah on previous trips to Bombolulu, but up until that point I didn't know her story. Jemimah has worked with the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya's coast branch in Mombasa for 19 years, holding the title of 'Micro-finance Co-ordinator' for the past 7 years. In her role she is responsible for managing over 4000 persons with disabilities, supervising 4 business advisors, training clients on business start-up and growth and running the administration of the office. I was instantly drawn to this charismatic and passionate woman and decided to interview Jemimah to find out more about her work, personal life and advocacy for women with disabilities.
1. What projects does APDK run and why are they so important?
APDK has 4 projects that is Bombolulu workshop i.e Jewellery workshops where they make different jewellery including earrings, necklaces, rings and bangles. Leather workshops where they make canvas bags, leather beaded sandals, beaded belts etc. Tailoring and textile workshop where they make all types of African clothing, casual, safari, and even wedding gowns and we also have woodcarving workshop where all the wooden carvings are made.
Projects like Bombolulu are very important because they give an opportunity to the forgotten society of boys, girls, women and men with disabilities who are not given full participation in their communities. Through Fairtrade, women with disabilities have been able to provide food, education and shelter to their families.
The second project is Likoni Quality Furniture where they make solid timeless pieces e.g beds, wardrobes, chairs and school furniture.
Third project is APDK Rehabilitation Clinic which deals with correction surgeries of children with disabilities.
FAIDA Programme is the fourth project, for which I have been the Coordinator which has been empowering people with disabilities economically by training them on business start-up, business growth and giving them capital in form of loans to start income generating activities.
2. What are the main challenges facing women with disabilities in Kenya?
a ) Poverty - the majority of women with disabilities live in abject poverty because they do not have access to economic empowerment activities except for the few who have been supported by The Association for the Physically disabled of Kenya, APDK and those who are employed at Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre.
b) Access to reproductive health services in hospitals - Service providers don't expect a woman with disabilities to go for family planning because they don't expect a disabled client or patient to be having a relationship or have her own family. Patients with hearing impairments face many challenges because there are no sign language interpreters and women with other types of disabilities also face a lot of challenges eg. the toilets and examining beds are not disability friendly.
c) Gender based violence - Women with disabilities are more vulnerable when it comes to GBV because they are unable to run away when they are beaten and for the visually impaired sometimes people pretend to be guiding them and they lead them to guest houses and rape them.
d) Lack of education and skills - the majority of women with disabilities are not given an opportunity to go to school because parents prefer to educate the able bodied persons.
e) Employment - there is still discrimination when women with disabilities are seeking employment. You often find that an able bodied employee working for the same position can get more salary than a woman with disability. Also more males with disabilities are employed than the female.
3. Your work focuses around equal opportunities for people living with disabilities, what more needs to be done to make this a reality in Kenya?
Kenya ratified the UN-Convention for the rights of persons with disabilities in 2008 but as a country we still have along way to go to achieve all our rights. As a Champion of Inclusion and persons with disabilities rights, I am lobbying and advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities especially women who still need visibility. There is more to be done in amplifying the voice of women with disabilities in Kenya because of the patriarchal society.
4. Is there a particular campaign you are working on at the moment and how can people get involved?
As a 'champion of inclusion' I have started training women with disabilities on amplifying their voices from grassroots level to national level. Though I have been having a lot of challenges with this because of lack of funds. As a woman with a disability who is very passionate about empowering others I also face my won challenges; I do not have a car to ease my mobility when carrying my daily activities and on some of the training projects I have to use my own money to buy water for the participants who live in abject poverty. I have a vision of starting a women with disabilities movement but I do not have funds to make my dream come true and i am humbly requesting donors, well wishers and foundation trust or even individual donors to kindly consider donating for this noble course for women with disabilities voices to be heard.
5. Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day. Are there any inspirational women in your life that have helped you to get to where you are today that you would like to mention?
Yes, I have Susan Sygall of Mobility Internation and Cindy Lewis with All Miusa team to be thankful for. In 2016 they gave me an opportunity to visit Eugene Oregon to learn about women with disabilities leadership and I am looking forward for other well wishers who can support women with disabilities on exchange programs.
6. Do you have a message to share with women affected by disabilities?
Women with disabilities should be LOUD, PROUD AND PASSIONATE! My Message is that every woman with disability is remarkable and they are fearfully and wonderfully made so they should not demean themselves, they should boldly come out and amplify the voice of women with disabilities, because together we can make change and change the world.