She was a middle-aged woman, fair in complexion, medium body size and with an Aku accent. I can still remember her words: “Sister I am asking for charity.”
Some passers-by would walk pass her without looking at her and pretending she wasn’t there. While some would walk up to her, feel their pockets or wallets to see if there were some coins and would give some to her and the maximum she would get from some givers was D5.
To this woman sitting on the wheelchair, no amount of money given to her was small because all she wanted was a small token that could get her bread and butter.
Perhaps she had a family or even children that were going to school and probably that was why she was on the street begging so she could have something to support them with and to take care of her needs.
She used to stay at her small corner next on the NAWEC junction from sunrise to sunset praying for each day to be better than the other. I then began to wonder what this woman on the wheelchair would have been doing if she was on her feet.
Maybe she would be at the Serrekunda Market selling fish, in a fashion boutique selling clothes or doing anything decent but begging. It is true that the difference between able women and disabled women is opportunities.
So I ask: is disability a crime? Why are disabled women on the street begging? Is the environment not conducive enough for them? What can we as a nation do to preserve their dignity?
I became so used to seeing this woman on the wheelchair every time that I would be going to work but then after a while she disappeared and was never found at her spot on the road side again.
So I started asking to know her whereabouts and perhaps pay her a visit.I asked around but no one seemed to know what happened to her; but never underrate the Fula men selling on the streets because they see and know everything about everyone.
One day, I went to the Fula man selling around the corner opposite the spot where the woman on the wheelchair used to sit, to buy Hollywood chewing gum and a conversation took place between us. I then asked him about the woman on the wheelchair and he told me the sad news I was not expecting to hear. He said to me: “She died some weeks ago.”
Women with disabilities continue to suffer worldwide. They are prone to violence and abuse from people that are close to them and should protect them.
Do we even know who they are? First we should know that they are human beings just like any other human being. They have rights as human beings and as women the Women’s Act 2010 protects and promotes their rights. Do some of them even know about the existence of laws that protect them from violence and abuse?
Section 54 (a) of the Women’s Act states that Government shall take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of women with disability and take specific measures that commensurate with their physical, economic, and social needs to facilitate their access to employment, professional and vocational training as well as their participation in decision-making.
(b) the Act states that the Government shall ensure the rights of women with disabilities to freedom from violence, including sexual abuse, discrimination based on disability and the right to be treated with dignity.
Women with disabilities come from societies and are citizens of this country whose needs and rights should be respected by all and sundry.
Why do we have to reduce them to beggars? Why do we have to abandon them and marginalise them? Why do we have to deny them jobs based on their disability?
They are human and deserve better from the society. However, there are institutions such as NACCUG and GOVI that are doing all they can to help some women with disabilities to start their own small businesses to help them earn a decent living.
The Government is responsible for its people including women with disability and instead of them being arrested and humiliated while begging on the streets, section 54 (a) and (b) of the Women’s Act 2010 shall be enforced and a micro-finance scheme put in place for them to be empowered economically so that those on the street begging will have a meaningful, decent and dignified way of earning a living.
These are women with families and are women who have and will give birth to future presidents and ministers as well as leaders that will contribute meaningfully to the development of the country.
If they are not empowered economically it will affect their children and those children are to be molded into responsible adults but that cannot happen if their mothers who are disabled are not economically empowered to attend to their needs.
I am sure that the woman on the wheelchair that died begging on the street dreamed of a better society, nation and world where disabled women’s rights shall be respected, promoted and economically empowered to contribute meaningfully to the development of The Gambia and the world at large.
Disability does not mean inability. Women with disability deserve better and should be accorded with the same opportunities as the able women.