The Impact of COVID-19 on Persons with Disabilities in Northern Uganda

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Goldin Global Fellow, Uganda

On behalf of my colleagues at YOLRED, I am delighted to announce the receipt of a grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF, UK) to assess the impact of COVID-19 on war-affected disabled populations in Northern Uganda.For this project, which is a collaboration with the University of Bristol (through Goldin Global Research Fellow Jassi Sandhar, and Professor Rachel Murray), YOLRED will employ 16 persons with disabilities on temporary contracts who will join the team as co-researchers and co-producers of the research.

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Through a series of participatory action-research (PAR) workshops, which will be led by the co-researchers, the team will work together to document the needs of persons with disabilities who have been excluded from pandemic safety and recovery measures. Co-researchers will comprise of ex-child combatants, non-combatants, and persons with non-war related disabilities, with at least 50% women. As both women with disabilities and ex-child soldiers with disabilities remain two of the most stigmatised and impoverished groups in the region, bringing these groups together allows us to also pursue our mission of peacebuilding, reintegration, and empowerment, and ensures inclusivity of further marginalised populations.

YOLREDPAR202105 YOLRED operates a ‘Nothing about us without us’ policy in all our programmes, which is why it is essential for us to centre persons with disabilities in this project, and allow them to lead the direction of the research and its outputs – Diana Alaroker

In July 2020, we distributed emergency relief food, sanitary and educational materials worth over eight million Uganda shillings (approximately US$2,200) to at least one hundred families in need. During this, we found that many women with disabilities were struggling to cope because of various burdens which had worsened as a result of the pandemic, and reported feeling greater socio-economic marginalisation, due to fear of them being a high-risk group, which has led to their isolation and neglect.

However, as of yet no in-depth work has been done on the impacts of COVID-19 on women with disabilities within our community, so we are extremely keen to ensure their full participation within this project. Through doing so, we hope to inform discussions about their particular needs and how local and national stakeholders can support them fully as Uganda begins to ‘build back better’. Women with disabilities are also side-lined from engaging with the policy landscape, and therefore we want to give them the opportunity to participate in discussions to influence decision-making which is inclusive of their voices and experiences.

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YOLRED often gets asked why we do not do specific gender-focused projects. Having worked with the Acholi war-affected community for many years now we have found a strong preference for women and men to work together on issues of development, social cohesion, and justice (as they believe they constitute one community). Whilst many men do acknowledge that women are worse off in post-conflict life and understand the need for some of the separate and targeted support provided to women only by international development actors, they have also mentioned feeling excluded from development efforts and fear being left behind. Women also believe that support for their challenges can be greater advanced through the inclusion of men, and that they need to be work together rather than being split by gender. Therefore, in our programming we ensure the equal inclusion of women and men, as doing separate interventions for either men or men could cause tensions between these two genders and work against YOLRED’s peacebuilding efforts.

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Through bringing these two genders together in a safe shared space during the PAR workshops and stakeholder events we hope to strengthen relations between men and women by eliciting understandings of the challenges faced by each gender and encouraging allyship. We also believe, that by sharing the discriminations women with disabilities face as a result of social and cultural gendered norms, we will influence changing roles in society and households to be more equitable towards them, i.e., having women with disabilities more involved in decision-making (at social, political, economic, and household levels).

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We also believe that this project will garner more empathy and support from people without disabilities, particularly women without disabilities, who will be able to identify with some of the struggles of the women co-researchers which we hope will contribute towards social cohesion efforts. Through implementing this project, we envisage facilitating greater livelihood support, empowerment and confidence-building, more involvement in local and community decision-making, and reduction in stigma and social exclusion for both genders.

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