CHIPINGE, Zimbabwe – When 41-year-old Angeline Mlambo came across a Spotlight Initiative intervention in her village in Chipinge District, she didn’t expect it to change her life.

For years she had experienced abuse and discrimination because of her disability.

“My husband would constantly insult me. He would withhold money from me even if I needed it to buy food for the household; he would insist on doing it himself. When food would eventually run out, he would accuse me of not managing quantities properly,” she says. 

“My husband’s family did not accept me... They considered me useless because I was not able to work with my hands to make a living." - Angeline Mlambo, 41

Unfortunately, the abuse Ms. Mlambo endured did not stop at her husband. 

“My husband’s family did not accept me as I am a woman with a disability. They considered me useless because I was not able to work with my hands to make a living for myself like other women do – like washing clothes and farming.” Ms. Mlambo points towards her right hand, which has been partially paralyzed since birth.

Ms. Mlambo’s experience is sadly not a rare occurrence for women with disabilities in Zimbabwe and across the world. According to the World Bank, girls and women with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely to experience violence than women and girls without disabilities. In addition, women with disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence. These factors can be attributed to them being targeted by perpetrators because of limited physical mobility or means of communication.

Angeline Mlambo is using her own story to encourage other women and girls with disabilities to reach their potential. Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Ruvimbo Mushavi

Disability rights are human rights
When Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe (LCDZ) introduced awareness programmes in Chipinge, Angeline started to see herself differently. “Through LCDZ, I learnt that I could take care of myself and be independent even as a woman with a disability. I have also learnt about my rights and how the law protects people like me. I now feel empowered to overcome the challenges I face, and I know where to report abuse and receive assistance,” says Ms. Mlambo.

Under the Spotlight Initiative, the UN in Zimbabwe has partnered with LCDZ to provide women and girls with a platform to learn about their rights and include them in law and policymaking processes.

“Meaningful participation of women and girls with disabilities in political and public life has been a core principle of LCDZ under the Spotlight Initiative,” says Project Officer of LCDZ Isabel Chipunza. “Capacitating women and girls with disabilities to participate in national and subnational decision-making processes and strengthening the capacity of local leadership and community cadres to support this vulnerable group will go a long way in addressing their unique challenges and building a more inclusive society.”

Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Ruvimbo Mushavi

Building women’s economic empowerment in communities
LCDZ has also provided women and girls with disabilities in Chipinge with capital to start their own projects. These projects, including agriculture and poultry farming, have been essential in giving women a sense of ownership and a means to provide for their families without depending on their male partners.

“With the support of LCDZ, I learnt that being a person with a disability does not prevent me from living life like able-bodied persons,” says Angeline with pride. “I am now able to cultivate my own garden. Through the borrowing and lending project, I was able to buy guineafowl eggs and now I have started my own project, with over 100 guineafowls that I can sell to generate income, provide food for my family and send my children to school.”

"I have started my own project with over 100 guineafowls that I can sell to generate income, provide food for my family and send my children to school.” - Ms. Mlambo

UN support to women and girls with disabilities in Zimbabwe
There are many challenges and discriminatory practices that inhibit the meaningful participation of women and girls with disabilities in decision-making and development processes. As one of the six UN agencies implementing the Spotlight Initiative in Zimbabwe, UNDP, in partnership with LCDZ, continues to support women and girls with disabilities in this area, as well as providing access to economic empowerment opportunities.  

“Within the Spotlight Initiative, the UN has successfully championed transformative initiatives which have increased the participation of women and girls with disabilities in development and decision-making processes, as well as the gender-based violence (GBV) response in Zimbabwe,” says Head of Governance and Spotlight Initiative Technical Focal Point at UNDP, Ms. Tafadzwa Muvingi. “Empowerment of women and girls with disabilities in this regard is central to enhancing their voice and agency, and addressing the barriers they face in accessing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) related services and participating in legislative processes.”

To date, over 610 women and girls with disabilities have been trained on human rights, access to justice and SGBV services. In addition, over 1,200 women and girls and representative of Organizations for Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) have been supported to participate in public consultations on the National Budget, Disability Bill and Policy, Constitutional Amendment Bill, principles for the Gender Equality and Sexual Harassment Bills, and age of consent to accessing reproductive healthcare services, to mention a few.

Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe is helping to build a more inclusive society in Chipinge. Photo: Spotlight Initiative/Ruvimbo Mushavi

A message to women and girls with disabilities
Asked what message she would like to share with other women and girls with disabilities, Ms. Mlambo says, “Firstly, accept who you are and realize you are a human being like everyone else. Secondly, do not look down on yourself because of your disability. You are more than capable, and I encourage you to work for yourself and be able to sustain your own livelihood.”

The Spotlight Initiative is a global initiative of the United Nations which has received generous support from the European Union. Its aim is to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. 

By Ruvimbo Mushavi