Friday, 11 Dec 2020
Women face a myriad of barriers in contributing to meaningful social engagement within many communities. In Cameroon, women face a lack of access to resources, earning capacity, poor education and strict societal roles that can hinder a woman’s ability to proactively engage in the community. When considering the position of women and girls with disabilities, these barriers are even harder to overcome. CBM recognises the gender barriers women and girls with disability experience, and together with local partner organisations, have worked hard to develop a model of inclusive development to address some of the needs of women and girls in the rural regions of Cameroon. In this brief, we reflect on how our work has attempted to overcome some of these barriers to women’s participation in the community and how we can further encourage women to overcome these obstacles.
While the situation in Cameroon varies according to ethnic group, religion, and region, there remains a persistent division of labour between genders. Men tend to hold productive and public roles while women remain in domestic roles and child bearing and female contribution to the household income is often undervalued. Women often struggle to leave the house due to social pressures to remain near home and for women and girls with disability, the lack of transportation can make it difficult to leave the home or attend school. Women and girls with disability often have low literacy levels and may struggle to complete their education due to factors such as poverty, and missed schooling because of time taken for disability treatment. As such, this restricts women from gaining employment. These barriers compound for women with disability as gender biases and stigma experienced by people with disability makes women with disabilities a distinctly marginalized group.
CBM works with partner agencies to prioritise the needs of women and girls with disability. Our work targeted the North-west region and has focused on the three following areas: education, livelihoods, and social participation through improving women’s access to decision-making in the local government.
Girls with disabilities face compounding barriers that prevent them from attending school, including poverty, attitudes, accessibility at the school. CBM has been tackling this challenge with an inclusive education approach, which supports approximately 14 mainstream government schools to provide quality education for students, with a particular focus on girls with disability. Part of this project has also provides additional resource centres to support students with disabilities in school, and teacher training to better equip teachers with the skills to build inclusive classrooms. Ensuring accessible toilets is an ongoing challenge.
For many women, efforts to earn enough to support their families are hampered by a limited education, and societal traditions of women remaining at home. Many women have to juggle multiple sources of income, often in addition to unpaid work and caregiving. CBM worked hard to support people with disabilities gain access to mainstream employment or initiate small businesses, through access to education, vocational training, apprenticeships and microcredit. In addition, CBM’s partner has supported the creation of new local Organisations of People with Disability (OPDs), which include both women and men with the aim of boosting their economic resilience. What we found was that despite more women with disabilities joining the OPDs (57%) compared with male counterparts (43%), men still occupied 57% of the leadership positions in the OPDs. Therefore, while OPDs are useful in building the earning capacity of women with disability, we have found that we need to complement the approach with a focus on women in decision-making.
Continuing to address stigma and social exclusion has been critical in fostering an understanding about gender discrimination within rural communities. The project currently implements a gender strategy to promote the inclusion of women with disabilities in decision-making and access to power. Both at home and in the public sphere, women are often excluded in decision-making processes, and reports have found that there is a lack of consideration for the opinions of women with disabilities is common practice. To address this, CBM and partners have worked to advocate for legislation that would ensure the participation of women in local government in Cameroon. The low levels of literacy and education that women and women with disability receive can make it difficult to engage in decision-making processes as a result.
While this project made headway in tackling some of the gender barriers women with disability face in rural Cameroon, there is still more work to do. Our work in Cameroon has led to the identification of the following recommendations:
Comprehensive training for community-based workers to better identify girls with disabilities, and recognise their needs
Often discrimination and the lack of opportunities for women and girls with disability starts at an early age. By training local, community-based rehabilitation and public health workers to play a key role in reaching out to families and identifying the opportunities available to girls living with disability. These community workers would also be able to make an assessment on the needs of girls with disabilities to attend school. These workers would also be able to make recommendations to the family to ensure their daughters are able to become active participants in the community and protect them from risks of sexual abuse. Community-based health workers would also be able to support parents and family members through the creation of support groups and mentor programs.
Improve access to education for girls with disabilities during prolonged treatment
Often it is difficult for girls to maintain their schooling while undertaking prolonged treatment. Schools need to produce education plans for girls with disability so they can continue their education once treatment has concluded. One way to do this might be to encourage tutoring from older siblings or family members, or a faculty could hire a tutor to ensure these girls do not fall behind. The facilities and parents of children with disabilities could approach the Ministry of Education for the inclusion of this sort of program.
Provide accessible taxis for people with disability.
One of the barriers to greater inclusion of people with disability in rural areas is the lack of transport. It would be useful to establish a taxi service that could accommodate the needs of people with disability, or provide signs that would prioritise the front seat of a taxi for people with disabilities. This service would be especially beneficial for women and girls with disability, since it would create a safe and secure environment to help them travel to social events sand engage in their day-to-day life beyond the home.
Overcoming gender barriers takes commitment from the broader community, while we have still much work to do, it is important to reflect on what has been achieved through CBM’s work in rural Cameroon, and the evaluate what we have learnt in this process.
CBM acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).
 Limen, F. 2006. Presentation at the Bamenda Conference on Disability and Rehabilitation, Living with disabilities in the North West Province, July 28–29, in Bamenda, Cameroon.
 Anon. ‘Gender analysis report for the socio-economic empowerment of persons with disabilities (SEEPD) program’, Centre for Inclusion Studies (CIS) May 2019. 9.