News / Africa

HRW Reports on Atrocities Faced by Disabled Women in Uganda

China Keitetsi, campaigner and former child soldier from Uganda crying as she tells her story at a press conference held by Amnesty International to launch a campaign to stop violence against women, in London (File Photo)
China Keitetsi, campaigner and former child soldier from Uganda crying as she tells her story at a press conference held by Amnesty International to launch a campaign to stop violence against women, in London (File Photo)

An international research group says women with disabilities in northern Uganda regularly face sexual and gender-based violence. In a report published Thursday, Human Rights Watch says disabled women have been largely ignored in post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

A researcher on the report, Shantha Rau Barriga, spoke to VOA from Kampala.

She said women with disabilities in northern Uganda are deeply vulnerable, especially to sexual attacks.

"For women with disabilities, reproductive health services are not available," said Barriga. "They are vulnerable to HIV infection because society believes that women with disabilities are a-sexual and are virgins and they are more targets for sexual violence."

For the report, Human Rights Watch spoke to 64 women and girls with disabilities.

More than one-third said they had experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse.

Barriga said she spoke to one woman who had been raped three times only the week before.

"This woman did not even tell anybody in her community about what happened, not even her mother, because she was afraid of what they would say to her and that they would say she was running around," she said. "She wanted to know her HIV-status, but was not able to go to the health center because it was so far away she would have to crawl for miles and sleep on the road, so she just preferred to live without knowing."

Some of the women interviewed for the report were born with disabilities; others had developed disabilities through diseases such as polio. Many had sustained injuries during the two decades of fighting between the government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

"Most of the women we met who had gotten their disabilities because of the war were landmine survivors, so they had lost one leg and one woman had been mutilated," said Barriga. "The LRA had cut off her nose and her ears and her upper lip and there were a couple of women who had similar experiences."

According to a national survey carried out in 2007, 20 percent of people in Uganda have a disability.

The Human Rights Watch report says women with disabilities have been by-passed in the effort to rebuild post-conflict Uganda; many are unable to access basic services such as health care and justice, and the stigma surrounding disability is such that many are excluded from their community.

The report says the Ugandan government, non-governmental organizations, and international humanitarian groups need to do more to address the problems that are specific to women with disabilities.

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