Women with disabilities in the world of work
This International Women’s Day, we celebrate women in the world of work. Lanieta Tuimabu and Mary Rodan are two Fijian women who stand out in an environment, where gender inequality means women are less likely to have professional roles and more likely to work in the informal sector, and where environmental and attitudinal barriers make it less likely for Fijian people with disabilities to be employed.
Ms. Tuimabu works for Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation (FDPF), an organisation managed by people with disabilities with 16 branches across Fiji. Following Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, she worked tirelessly through government coordination structures to shine the spotlight on people with disabilities, who are often overlooked during preparedness, response and recovery.
“One of the important gaps we identified was in data on people with disabilities. We saw national data reported daily which was not disaggregated, and we knew that while people with disabilities are not captured in the data, surely, the support for them is not there”.
Ms. Tuimabu, who has a vision impairment, got around to numerous meetings to advocate through clusters led by government ministries and co-led by UN agencies such as UN Women, for people with disabilities to be supported.
“We were able to network with various ministries and development partners to voice our views and the challenges that we face, and how we could be supported. We were able to get access to funding from UN Women and also their technically support was very helpful for us”.
Lanieta Tuimabu of FDPF. Photo: UN Women/Michelle Sanson
Mary Rodan is with Spinal Injuries Association (SAI), a FDPF-affiliate run by people with disabilities, working across Fiji to assist people living with spinal injuries to access mobility equipment and employment. After the cyclone last year, they used their extensive existing networks to procure supplies from the United Kingdom, package up individual kits based on assessed needs, and send out teams of volunteers to distribute them into the hands of the people with disabilities in red zone villages. Items included urine bags, adult diapers, wheelchairs, and tools for farming and repair of homes.
Ms. Rodan received information from the field teams. “‘I heard so many stories”, she said. “Especially in the interior, there’s not a lot of awareness. There was a woman who had been kept in her house for 40 years, there were people who had never received any assistance in their lives. Hardly any people with disabilities could physically access evacuation centres, so they mostly remained in damaged homes or with neighbours. There were two blind sisters who had to feel their way around the shell of their damaged home and destroyed bathroom, there was a quadriplegic left by family members who was sitting with shit all just there”.
Ms. Tuimabu explained “The reality is that a packed of adult diapers costs $60, and in a household without food, it’s not a priority”. Taboos also have a role to play. “In some of the red zones in the interior, there isn’t much awareness about disability. There were people who even the Turaga-ni-Koro wasn’t aware of, because their families keep it quiet. Through the assistance we provided, we identified many new cases, we saw families who went from thinking of disabilities as a curse to seeing that there is assistance, there is a chair which can actually help these people to get out in the community”.
Mary Rodan of SIA. Photo: UN Women/Michelle Sanson
Ms. Rodan spoke of people whose disability came from the cyclone itself, with injuries requiring amputation. “Sometimes people think it is the end of the world and they can’t do it anymore. We need to get to them first and make them aware that they can do this, we have this and that to assist you”.
The head of UN Women’s Fiji Multi-Country Office, Aleta Miller, reinforced how people like Ms. Rodan and Ms. Tuimabu show the capacity that women with disabilities have. “Women, and people with disabilities, are often portrayed as vulnerable, and women with disabilities have a ‘double whammy’, and yet both Lanieta and Mary show that they have a double value in humanitarian action, both in the assistance they are able to mobilise, and in being a living example to all of us, of the value that women with disabilities have in the world of work”.