A Black woman wearing a patterned top and gold head wrap sits at a table behind a microphone

Empowering women to end violence

My name’s Awa Siré Touré. I’m 59 and I live in Ziguinchor, Senegal. I’ve been disabled for 20 years. With help from Humanity & Inclusion, I fight for the empowerment of women with disabilities.

I’ve been aware of disability issues since I was young because one of my friends had a disability. When I began to have leg problems, I became one of those women with disabilities. Living with other women with disabilities, seeing their pain, listening to what they had to say — that’s when I really decided to do something about it. I work as a deputy general secretary at La Brigade de Conscientisation, an organization that takes action on violence against women in Ziguinchor, in partnership with Humanity & Inclusion. Women come to see us, and we help to solve their problems.

I’m trying to change things. I want these women to be self-reliant. If a woman needs me, I can train and help her.

I overcame my disability. I told myself it wasn’t an obstacle; it was just a disability.

I earn my living making soaps and oils, and I’ve trained a lot of women to do the same. I showed them how to extract coconut oil, make soaps and sell them to earn their own money. When they needed something before, many women with disabilities said they had to turn to men for help. They were asked to give sexual favors in exchange for a few crumbs. When I heard about that, it was too much for me; I knew I had to do something to stop it. This is why we help women to be self-reliant and to earn their own living so they take back control of their lives.

A lot of women with and without disabilities still ask me for help. I’m always ready to assist them.

Giving women courage

Women with disabilities were really ignored in the past. Being self-reliant gives them the means to be bold and say “no, you cannot force me to do this.” There are women with disabilities today who, when someone mistreats them, dare to speak out so the public hears about it.

This is all down to our advocacy with the authorities and our awareness-raising activities. We explain that women with disabilities need a voice in policy-making forums and have the right to be heard.

We need to give women with disabilities courage. We need to train them so they can defend themselves in society. We can do this through training and intensive awareness-raising. When we raise the awareness of young women, they realize they are people in their own right, and we give them the courage to defend themselves.

Helping each other

These obstacles are exhausting, they slow us down, but we’re still here and we’re still fighting!

We’re making a difference. Women with disabilities never used to want to marry; they were frightened their in-laws would treat them badly. Now I see women with disabilities getting married and having children — and they don’t care what their in-laws say! They come to us, get involved, and do like everyone else.

Humanity & Inclusion has always provided support to women with disabilities, especially here in Ziguinchor. They fit them with artificial limbs so they can walk and go about their business. Humanity & Inclusion put us in touch with the regional hospital, and many women with disabilities have been fitted with orthopedic devices. We hope the organization continues to provide support and assistance to women with disabilities.

Here, in Casamance, we live in a combat zone. The fighting went on for years and there were lots of casualties. Women were sexually assaulted in their fields and maimed by mines. I’m asking the people who do bad things to stop. Let women finally live in peace.

Let’s work together against mistreatment and find positive men to support our fight. I say “No!” to violence against women, especially women with disabilities.

In Senegal, Humanity & Inclusion works with partner associations, supporting them to increase their visibility and improve their impact on the reduction of gender-based violence, the empowerment of women and girls and gender equality. The Making it Work - Gender and Disability project, implemented in Senegal since March 2021, is working alongside women and girls with disabilities to support lasting change to fight gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities. The aim is to support the efforts of women with disabilities who are leaders in the fight against gender-based violence and enable partner organizations to increase their impact.

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