Uri Ngozi Chukwuka is the Chief Operating Officer of a non-governmental organisation, the Empathy Driven Women International Initiative (EDWIIN). In this interview with SEGUN KASALI, she highlights the challenges of women with disabilities and other issues.
Tell us about EDWIIN
THE Empathy Driven Women International Initiative (EDWIIN) is a non-governmental organisation that is committed to raising awareness about, and finding solutions to the plight of people and women living with disabilities in our society. We work with women living with disabilities. I am sure you realise that disability is wide in that space. Albinism is a disability also. The United Nations actually declared June 14 as the Albinism Awareness Day. Here in Africa, we know there is so much discrimination, stigmatisation with people with albinism. Again, it is genetic disorder because it affects the eye and the skin. They have zero melanin. They don’t have anything protecting them under the sun but they have to work under the sun. They have to eat and feed their families. By so doing, they are exposed to skin cancer. A lot of them have skin cancer, and they can be protected with screen protection. But then, it is very expensive. One is up to N1,500 and we are giving out 100 pieces. And of course, the concept of the umbrella to cover them from the sun. The person living with albinism lives with low vision for the rest of their lives. Their eyes are never corrected. So, it makes them not perform very well in school. But the child with albinism are more intelligent than a child without albinism because they try to focus more.
Why the affirmative runway for the female albinos?
I organised an affirmative runaway in order to portray how people see people living with albinism. Sometimes, people look at them for money rituals. They experience a lot of discrimination. If you and I go for an interview and I am living with albinism, trust me you will be taken first. Also, if you bring an albino girl to your family for marriage, your family will ask if you didn’t see another girl. Why would you want to marry a girl living with albinism? The runway is to tell you that people living with albinism are talented, gifted and there is nothing wrong with them. This is the time we should be talking about inclusion. The theme for this year is Disability and Free Eye care. You and I know that on January 24 of this year, the president signed the Disability Bill. Part of the bill is that every hospital must give free medical care for persons with disabilities. Now, how do we accept and integrate this?
Why the preference for women with disabilities?
All over the world, you know that there is gender gap. As a result of that, there is a race to bridge the gender gap. But with the women living with disabilities, there is hardly anything. It is like a triple jeopardy. She is already a woman and she has a disability as well. Now, if you dive and dwell into the world of women living with disabilities, you will see that she suffers more sexual violence. A lot of them are single mothers. That are always raped. How do you tell a girl that suffers from disability to run from a rapist? Especially for those that can’t speak, how would she express that she has been raped? Or the ones that can’t see? So, there is a lot of violence around a girl or woman with disability.
What is the place of women with disabilities in our society?
I believe they have a wonderful place in the society if the society lets them. But, we cannot wait for the society to give us what we want. We just have to speak and bridge the gap. We should bridge the gap of finance, gap of empathy. We appeal to the society to be empathetic
What is your advice for the victims?
Women with disabilities suffering from sexual violence should know that this is the time them to speak up. This is the time for you to talk to someone. The thing is if you don’t speak up all these emotions will come out in another way. So, we advise that if you are a victim of sexual violence, talk to somebody about it. And if you have someone that has confided in you that she was violated, it is right and proper to protect the identity of that person and make sure you are like a succor to that person. Make sure you don’t use it against the person.
How do you think the government can intervene?
Well, I do not see government intervening and that is why there are non governmental organisations. We have a lot of NGOs speaking out. People like me are focusing on those with disabilities. You know when you see people living with disabilities, the first thing you see is the disability, not even the talent and a lot of them are so talented. So, we are saying that why don’t you see the person first before the disability?
How impactful is your annual medical fair for PWDs?
The Medical Fair for Persons with Disability is highly impactful. It is usually being held in conjunction with the Albinism Awareness Society and the Eye Doctors and Dermatology Society of Lagos. It is in furtherance of EDWIIN’s advocacy for the enlightenment of the public on the urgent imperative for the enforcement of key provisions of the Disability Act by relevant authorities, for its observance by the medical institutions concerned, and for greater concern and vigilance by members of the public. EDWIIN is using the Medical Fair to highlight the importance of this issue, and its impact both for the public in general, and for Persons with Disability in particular.
What are the activities that take place at this fair?
Activities include UVCare Health and Wellness session, a demonstration of ‘Ability in Disability’ by EDWIIN beneficiaries, and entertainment. Other activities include a session at the great and inspiring Safari Fitness Club – courtesy of Mrs. Angela Emuwa – which opens the programme, as well as a Runway Fashion Parade and a Drama Performance. The event also features presentations and discussions by The Autism Parents Association of Nigeria, Down Syndrome Foundation of Nigeria, and Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
Why have you also been a proponent of block chain?
Yes, I have been a strong proponent of this laudable initiative because Africa is a rich, diverse and promising continent but it is beset by many challenges, key among them is youth unemployment rate that is estimated to be well above the global average. A recent report estimates that 10 to 12 million African youths enter the workforce each year, but only about 3.1 million jobs are being created. The report also indicates that Africa’s youth population is expected to double to more than 830 million by 2050. Many of these young people are excluded from the labour force for reasons such as lack of skills or work experience. Chronic unemployment perpetuates the cycle of poverty and limited life options, and promotes crime, risky migration and other challenges, not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world.
Are you saying software engineering skills is a way out of unemployment in the country?
All over the world, software engineering skills are in short supply relative to demand; it is estimated that in the US alone, there will be about one million software engineering job openings by 2020. In particular, the demand for block chain developers will continue to increase. So, empowering African youths with block chain skills in software development and other new technology is our best chance to leapfrog into the future. Such empowered youth will enable the continent to truly reap the benefits of revolutionary technologies that are set to define our individual and future – whether we like it or not. This will have far-reaching effects in unlocking intra-African trade that could facilitate the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), create a more inclusive financial system, streamline healthcare services and other benefits.