Activism & Volunteering

Profile of Ruth Nabasirye - an experience of disability, education and sexual violence in Uganda

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Ruth Nabasirye lives in Uganda and got Polio when she was two. Her disabilities made accessing education difficult, especially without the support of her father, but her mother and generous teachers helped her and she gained a degree. Now she works for an organisation that works in the field of sexual abuse suffered by disabled women, raising awareness of sexual rights and the power to say ‘no. Read more about Ruth’s experiences.

My name is Ruth Nabasirye from Uganda, the central part of Uganda and I am 30 years old. I joined this movement through a counselor who was involved in the disability movement.

She was a lady who came and talked to me and gave me advice like I should join because I looked like someone who can really advocate for disability issues in the future. She really encouraged me to join. So when I started off I was working in a facility mainly for children with learning disabilities but there were others with physical disabilities as well.

I think that is in some way how I came to join the disabilities movement. I got Polio when I was two years old. I grew up basically with my mom. Sometimes I would stay with my dad, but mainly with my mom. She really catered for me; she was the one who carried me because at that time I had no wheelchair. It was very difficult to get to school; she had to carry me on her back. She would come and bring things to me and also carry me back. When I was at home I just used to crawl because I had no wheelchair.

By the time I moved up in school there were some Dutch people in the school. One of the Dutch ladies took interest in me; she would say I was very stubborn and funny and that she would look after me. She said I will care for this girl and pay for her education. Later she gave me a wheelchair and I was very happy. No longer did I have to crawl or have my mom carry me on her back. This lady saw how determined my mom was to make sure I went to school and that’s why she gave me the wheelchair.

My dad… he never cared, at first he cared when I was in primary and then stopped. When I had somehow lost contact with my friends who paid my fees, I went to him and asked him to pay, but he said no I can’t give my child with a disability fees, you have no use for them. He said you have no use, I saved you just to do house work, and you should not go to school.Or if not you can go do craft work like tailoring and I said no I want to go to school I’ll do tailoring later. He wasn’t agreeing with me. I just went back to school and lied to them, saying they are bringing the fees, but there was no hope.

I could not tell my secret, the money to study fell slowly but surely. I had friends like teachers and the head master. I would sit and talk with them and when I told them my situation the head master said you come and take the exams, you can pay us another day.

When I was with my dad I really suffered because he expected me to do every type of work. After I realized he was not giving me the fees I gave up on him and went back to live with my mom. I thought maybe I would come across another opportunity. I did well, I did my degree in secretarial work. I passed with an upper second class degree. I found that once I left the school, getting a job… well employment for people with disabilities is difficult. That’s the hard part about this kind of life, everyone expects you to be able to do any kind of job.

Sexual violence…. Is really high and especially in our country and war zones. We have been having a war in northern Uganda for over 20 years. Whereby so many woman or young girls with disabilities have been raped, there being raped, left with pregnancies helpless and then they get that tumor. So they end up being affected seriously. Some girls come to accept any man because they feel like they don’t have a choice. They don’t have any say because they feel like there is always a chance that they are going to be rapped so they might as well just go with anybody. They don’t get a chance to learn how a man should behave and then they end up with men who are just going to use them.

So in Uganda we are volunteering as an organization of women with disabilities who can go on and educate other young girls with disabilities to feel confident enough to say no to men who just want to use them. Right now the men come and give them money so they accept it as the way things should be. This is very painful for these young girls but it is the life they know. Most of them are just doing it because they are ignorant and that is how they really suffer. The men only come at night to sleep with them and then during the day they don’t interact with them. The men don’t want others to know they are having sex with these young girls. Eventually these men just leave these girls with children and I would say that is sexual violence to young girls in Uganda.

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