When the project began in 2017, there were very few people with disabilities, especially women with disabilities, in decision-making positions. If people with disabilities were involved in decision-making processes, often they were vaguely consulted but there were multiple barriers to their meaningful participation. We knew that we wanted the project to focus on empowering women and men with disabilities in local governance and leadership. When people with disabilities are involved in consultations and leadership positions, it not only leads to their ideas and suggestions being taken into account, but helps people with disabilities be recognised as an important part of the community.
The key barrier is stigma and discrimination. In Senegal and Cameroon, there are strong cultural norms and beliefs that lead to people with disabilities not being considered as active citizens and seen instead as victims or passive beneficiaries. These views prevent people with disabilities being invited to participate. We found this was particularly the case for women with disabilities who face double barriers due to patriarchal norms that restrict their access to public spheres.
We also found that people with different types of impairment faced different barriers and levels of exclusion. For example, deaf people faced barriers due to a lack of accessible communications and in Cameroon, people with intellectual disabilities are not allowed to vote, which is a systemic obstacle.
We sometimes found this additional exclusion based on gender, age or impairment type was replicated within organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), so this was a learning journey. Within both Senegal and Cameroon, the subject of inclusive governance is sensitive and faced with numerous challenges, including separatism conflicts and terrorism.
We work with partners in Cameroon and Senegal to ensure people like Isseu, Seynabou and Léonie can take part in every stage of the political process.Read their stories