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Frustration, survival tales of women living with disability

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
23 April 2022   |   4:11 am
It is estimated that more than 25 million people in Nigeria are living with disabilities, according to the World Disability report.

Yemisi Isado

It is estimated that more than 25 million people in Nigeria are living with disabilities, according to the World Disability report. Nearly half of the people in the country are women and about 20 per cent of them live with disabilities. As women are faced with sexual and gender-based violence, gender pay gap, gender divide, financial exclusion and limited opportunities, those living with one form of disability or the other are dealing with the challenges, including access to facilities. Major forms of disability among women include visual, hearing, physical, intellectual and communication impairment. The Guardian captures women who are living above the challenges and the circumstances into which life has thrown them.

Forty-two year old Yemisi Isado wasn’t born with a hearing impairment but developed it as a young child. “I didn’t know I had ear problem until I was 10. Then I remember that my mum was taking me to different places including a teaching hospital and native doctors who prescribed all sorts of drugs and treatment without a solution. I started living with the impairment and attended the Hearing School, Special College of Education, Oyo in Oyo State.”

Isado, who is the Chairperson of the Deaf Women Association, Lagos State Chapter, says life is not easy when you live with people who can hear, as some of them are averse to her condition. “I once had a friend who didn’t know I was deaf because I can talk. One day, I told her I can’t hear her well and she exclaimed. When some people greet me and I don’t respond, they say I am too proud until they are told that I cannot hear. Some people think that deaf or disabled people are not human beings, but it is good for us to show that we can also do what they do.

“I am a businesswoman and I am proud of myself. I have a child who is a university graduate. We have feelings and senses just like you, so we are equal but we face many challenges especially communication barriers,” she told The Guardian.

Isado said the embarrassment that she has encountered at a general hospital due to communication barrier made her to opt for private clinics, though their charges are higher. “I used to go to the general hospital, but I stopped because the nurses were constantly embarrassing me; when they call my name to get attended to, I won’t hear and after sitting for a long time and going to ask when I will be called, they will scream and shout at me. The embarrassment got too much that I moved to a private hospital that knows my condition, but money is a challenge. Whenever I don’t have money, I use paracetamol and sleep.”

Speaking on her marriage, Isado said: “Marriage life is not easy; there are ups and downs. I married a deaf man, for 23 years, but I was in an abusive home. I had to move out because he was always beating me and I didn’t know what I did. Before, I used to keep everything to myself and manage to stay with him because I thought about where I would go, who will marry me if I leave him and that people will mock me if I divorce him.

“My daughter was always at home when he was beating me. One day, she called the Human Rights officials and they helped me to part ways with him. Today, I am happier and fulfilling my dreams as a fish farmer. I got into fish farming when I got a loan from Letshego.

“When my business started booming, my husband would beat me and accuse me of sleeping around. He helped me with some money to set up and I refunded it to him. The day he beat me up for going into fish farming, my brother beat him up too. Now I have my freedom, I can live without him,” Isado recalled.

Adejoke

Adejoke Omowunmi is living a fulfilled life even as an albino and despite the challenges that life had thrown at her. “I am the only albino in my family. The only person that showed me love is my grandmother, my father did not show me care even though he was very rich – he built eight houses and had 20 cars. I would still be beaten at school for not having certain things. I began to ask whether I was a bastard, I even told my mother I would commit suicide because of the way my father treated me.”

She noted that her mother too suffered for having an albino because people regarded her as ‘Iya Afin’ (mother of albino) and didn’t want to buy from her, especially when Omowunmi was around her store. “Sometimes, she would have to chase me away from the shop so that she could make sales. I encouraged her that despite being an albino, I would be beautiful and great if she could take care of me. To encourage people to buy, I became very friendly to all the children so they were happy to buy from me.”

Growing up in her hometown, Oyo, in Oyo State, Omowunmi noted that when she was in school, she could not see properly and she thought it was spiritual, so she would go to the mountain to pray about the problem. “I didn’t know I was harming myself the more by going to the mountain, but God helped me. The way I was brought up, if I had continued in the village, I would have died because I was exposed to a lot of harm especially the sun; no one told me it was responsible for the pigments on my skin.

“There was a time I had an injury on my back. I was 11 years old at the time. I was bleeding, I didn’t know I was having skin cancer till I met a chief in our village who told me it was caused by too much exposure to the sun and not intake of salt as people would believe.

“In school, I couldn’t see what was written on the boards but I was very attentive in class. I would then borrow my classmates’ notes. Some of them would be scared to lend me their notes because they feared they would lose their brains.

“I was also told that even if I graduated from school, no one would employ me or marry me. My friends also told me to find an old man in the village and be cooking for him because I would not find anyone to marry.”

Omowunmi recalled that at 27, a suitor came, but when his people saw her, they kicked against the union. “That day, I almost poisoned myself. It was my sister who saved me,” she said.

On the challenges of getting a job, she said: “A brother in my community who saw my certificate took me to a hotel to get a job, but then I overheard the manager protesting over hiring an albino. Eventually, I got another job where the owner encouraged me and told me that since I was literate, he would give me something to do and that I could also further my education later on. When I started working, I behaved and dressed well because I knew that being an albino is a disability. I didn’t want anything that would further ruin my reputation.”

Now a mother of three children, Omowunmi said that when her husband first approached her for marriage, she thought he wanted to use her for money ritual. “He told me he truly wanted to marry me because he has two albinos in his family. I refused at first but he was persistent. Because of my first experience, I didn’t want to go with him to his family house but one day, we eventually did and to my surprise, I was welcomed well. I was 33 then. Even when I showed him to my mother, she was surprised that I could find such a good man. Even when I was pregnant, people kept looking at me like ‘so an albino can be pregnant?’

“All my friends in the village that said I would not find a husband, today I am better than them. I have built a three-bedroom flat for my mother in the village. I reminded her of those times when people asked her to throw me away and kill me but she encouraged herself and trained me. Now, I have three children, two girls and a boy,” the excited Omowunmi recounted.

Ihuoma

Polio survivor, Susan Kelechi Ihuoma from Imo State is championing the cause of protecting and speaking for the marginalised and vulnerable groups in the society. “I had polio as a result of an injection I was given at age three. I have been affected by polio since then. Growing up with polio was not easy because our environment is not quite friendly to physically challenged people. I experienced a lot of inaccessibility and stigmatisation. After secondary school, I moved back to Lagos for my tertiary education but was at home for seven years before gaining admission in 2003 to study Computer Science in Yaba College of Technology and continuing at University of Lagos in 2005. One thing I found in common for both institutions was that there was no special arrangement for persons with disability to attend classes or laboratory sessions. This informed my decision to work on a project titled ‘Level of Accessibility of University of Lagos and College of Medicine, Idi Araba To Persons With Disability’. This was the first research of its kind in the institution and it brought some attention to the conditions of students with disability.

Women like us with disability face triple jeopardy when it comes to sexual and gender-based violence. As a woman with disability, when one chooses to marry you, they feel they are doing you a favour and that informs the way they choose to treat you,” she lamented.

Adenike Oladele, a visually impaired lady, has come to accept what life put on her plate and is making headway with it. “I was not born like this, I was shot by an armed robber in 1997. I was 15 years old then. I went to visit my aunt when an armed robber came to the house through the window and he asked for food and money. My aunt just gave birth then, she asked me to give the little money she had at home to the robber. So I passed her trinket box to the armed robber through the window. He said we should not look at his face, and so I sat down beside my aunt and her baby. The next thing I knew, he shot at me; it was a local gun and it left pieces in my face, which is still there till date. I had a surgery and the doctors said they couldn’t get all the tiny bullets out because they didn’t want to disfigure my face.”

Oladele, who spent a better part of her teenage and early adulthood indoors, said her mother didn’t let her attend a school for the blind because she didn’t give birth to her blind. So she spent 15 years of her life doing nothing.

“In those 15 years, I was introduced to a church by a neighbor and the prophet told me I would receive my sight if I live in the church and so I moved in. I was there for almost eight years. When I was tired of staying and wanted to go back home, a woman came to the church and prophesied that the prophet is my husband. She said the blood that would come out of me when I give birth should be rubbed on my face and that I would receive my sight back and I did that. I never got my sight back. I lost my baby when she was nine months old and then I left the church.

“In 2011, I called my siblings and told them I was tired of staying idle. So they made enquiries about the School of the Blind – I told my siblings I used to listen to the radio and I heard that visually impaired people live comfortably. That was how I got enrolled in the vocational training school for the Blind in Oshodi and went in for rehabilitation. They taught me how to read, braille and type. However, I was more interested in crafts. Today, I make beaded bags and slippers.”

For 30-year old, Funmi Olalere, life as a dwarf has also thrown its blows at her. “My parents did not disown me being a dwarf, they still take care of me just like my twin sister who has a normal human height.

“However, when people see dwarfs, they look down at us as though we are not humans. Sometimes, when I come out of my house in the morning, when some people see me, they run back into their houses, saying it’s a taboo and a sign they will have a bad day meeting me first thing in the morning. I don’t feel bad about this because I know I am a human being and I thank God for creating me.”

The Oyo State indigene added: “I got pregnant and was abandoned by the man who impregnated me because my baby turned out to be a dwarf too. His family totally abandoned me. Today, I run my provisions business in Mushin and I am taking care of my daughter whom I love so much, I only need financial support to boost my business.