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My name is Thérèse Mema Mapenzi, I have been working for the CDJP-Bukavu as Coordinator of the Trauma centres, Listening rooms for 10 years. My work is to support the vulnerable people, especially the victims of sexual violence to rebuild new life after trauma, after being abused. Since a year, I have met some women and girls, disables, who were abused and who came to talk about their situation. It is in this way that I want to share you the story of Mrs Wabo, a woman of 23 years with 4 children with different fathers.
Mrs WABO Sophia M ‘CERU is a woman with two-handed infirmity. She has lost the use of her hands when she was still a teenager. She lived with her uncle in Bukavu and one day coming from school, she took a donut over those her uncle's wife was selling. Upon her return from the market, her uncle's wife noticing that there is a missing of a donut in the bowl. So she took rubbers that she wrapped the girl's hands and putting on fire. The two hands of the poor girl were burned to the point of losing all use.
Now Wabo lives in Irambo, at 70 Km from Bukavu where she has children who do not know their fathers. She tells us her story:
Since my hands were burnt, I have become the most miserable person. I have returned to my father’s village because after burning my hands, my uncle’s wife has chased me from her house. Once in the village, I had no place to stay. My father’s family considered me as a big charge for them, without hands, no way to help them in their domestic tasks. I had to change different houses; with no stable life. I decided to find one my father’s brother to help me. I knew that my father had lands, unfortunately, I was a girl and in our culture a girl cannot inherit. My father’s brother did not want me to help me. He even prevented me to stay to his home. I used to sleep outside for so long period. But I was 16 when a relative of my mother abused on me. He promised to give me a home and to take care of me. Unfortunately from our sexual relation, I became pregnant and had my first born. I never want to talk about my life. I found another three men who abused on me, they usually promise me to give me economic assistance but they never. Being a physical handicap is a very bad thing in life, especially in my village where some people can even accuse you for witch. I have learnt to use my hands to take care of my children. A woman, who is also alone, has helped me with her house. It’s not really a house but it is better that outside. I live there with my four children.

Many disable women and girls are victims of abuse because of their poverty, vulnerability. The lose self-confident because their communities consider them as useless. Through this project, I wish to provide to these women and girls the possibilities to talk and share their problems, to analyse their strength and share successful stories, to learn how they can become autonomous to prevent further violence and to create self-esteem.

Dear Ashley,
I am sorry to respond late to your mail. I was in the villages with no access to internet. May i add more ideas?
is it late to respond? I really do not have the pictures with me now but I have a many stories of women and girls, sharing me their problems. I will have them tomorrow
Thérèse

Dear Ashley,
Many thanks for your feedback! For this programme my envision are to help the disable girls and women feel comfortable to stay with their handicap by having positive view on themselves, to educate the families and communities to respect the disable girls and women, to accept them without marginalising them. For me the better way to help the disable girls and women victims of sexual abuse is to provide them spaces, Listening Rooms, where they can feel comfortable to share their worries, problems, need and fear and get support to find ways to resolve their problems. The families and communities consider them as invalid persons but they are not really invalid because some of them are able to sing, to cultivate, and to produce artistic staffs and so one and this should make them important in the community. Living with physical handicap should not be for exclusion.
To make accommodation for girls and women with disabilities we need to build for them houses; but the first and best houses they need are our hearts, respect and compassion. In the villages areas the girls and women with disabilities are seen as useless persons. The worse handicap for them is being born disable girls, it means the fact of being handicapped girls increases their vulnerability. So it is not the problem of being physical handicap but social handicap which is based on gender. Being a woman itself is considered as handicap. Most of women in my villages have good education level but the fact that they are women; they do not have opportunities to use their potentials. If women and girls in general are victims of social discrimination, the disable girls and women have no voice.
This is the reason why, I intend to provide space for the most victims of the gender rejection to find space to talk about their problems and get support to discover their potentials. They should first have self-esteem before breaking the social barriers that exist in their families and communities. For instance if they are willing to work and not stay vulnerable, then other people will respect them.
To make this possible, some steps will be followed:
- Community awareness on the problem of the disable women and girls victims of sexual abuse, this will be done in the communities through media, civil society organisations, faith organisations and local leaders. Discussions will be organised with families and community leaders.
- Identify the direct victims and the disable girls and women who may be subject of sexual abuse in future and train them or assist them.
- Welcome the victims, the survivors and or potential victims in the Listening Rooms and assist them according to their need. The assistance and the strategy to be used will depend on the need of the victim. For instance some may be met in their houses, families or location whereas others may wish to reach us in the trauma Centre or Listening Room; in the same way there may be some who were abused and who know their perpetrators and need to go to justice, others may be abused but did not get health care… The assistance will depend on the specific case of the vulnerable person. My strategy is not to bring these people outside their locations, but create a space in the communities where they can get access to any information for their wellbeing.
- Advocacy toward the Local Leaders: this will be about responsibility of the authorities to provide sufficient care to the girls and women disable in particular but also the other disable in general. For example, the disable people do not have the chance to (go to school, toilette…) get access to different services like other people, the infrastructure build by the states do not take into account their vulnerabilities but also reject them. If the state considers the problem of the disable people to access to different services, then their stigmatisation will be reduced. And the disable girls and women will discover new open doors.