We want inclusion, not special treatment

“A wow moment for me since being part of the NCPD Enabled Women Arise programme was, ‘finally being linked to a Child Protection Unit because one thing for sure, even after the programme I am still going to be advocating for women with disabilities. Except now I will be doing it with a reliable team unlike before where I would go to the police station and no one would take me seriously”.

This project taught me to understand that persons with intellectual disabilities are not the same. Sometimes if you want to understand them, it is better to do an individual talk whether it is a joke or anything. It does not have to be about the workshop. Build friendships with them, you can understand them better on a personal level because we can’t always go and say we are doing workshops bye-bye’, said Mkhondo when asked about her memorable experiences with the project. Mkhondo is a young woman with a disability. She comes from Emapupheni in the Etwatwa, Johannesburg area.

Mkhondo joined the NCPD’s Enabled Women Arise project, an initiative supported by Gender Links in April this year as a Disability GBV peer educator. Before joining the program, Mkhondo had always had a passion for advocacy. ‘Children are more understanding about persons with disabilities; I attract a lot of children asking questions, I teach them about the importance of children with disabilities’. She would advocate for the rights of women and children with disabilities in the Etwatwa community with the assistance of her friend Zodwa. “Some of my friends still don’t get it, they still do not understand why I still fight with my art centre,”says Mkhondo, venting her frustrations about how she has to navigate negative attitudes toward disability at the arts centre, Mkhondo is also an aspiring model, and is pursuing a career in acting.

Mkhondo received Disability -Gender Based Violence Training, conducted by the NCPD on a pay-it-forward model. Upon exiting the training, it was expected that Mkhondo forms peer groups with women and girls with disabilities in her area with the aim of sharing knowledge and resources around Gender-Based Violence from a disability perspective. Schools in the area were not as welcoming as Mkhondo had hoped. After being sent from pillar to post, she decided to hold her sessions with residents at the San Michele home for persons with intellectual disabilities. ‘I brought hope to the hopeless at the home, as much as they have a social worker to speak to, I think they wanted a friendly conversation instead of a counselling session’ says Mkhondo as she explained how women with intellectual disabilities at the home would open up to her after the sister leaves the room.

Mkhondo’s career in human rights activism has been transformed since her involvement with NCPD’s Enabled Women Arise Project. Without any affiliation, she had been struggling to get the attention of Benoni’s Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS). She would go there seeking assistance and justice for disabled women in the area to no avail. Part of the NCPD Enabled Women Arise project is to disability sensitize representatives from the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Through a Court Preparation Officer who had received disability sensitization training; we managed to reach Benoni FCS who have since agreed to work with Mkhondo on issues affecting women and girls with disabilities in Etwatwa area.

“I am still going to be advocating for women with disabilities except now I will be doing it with a reliable team unlike before where I would go to the police station and no one would take me seriously’, said Mkhondo as she commented on this defining moment during her time with the NCPD.

It has been a great learning curve for Mkhondo’s parents as they sometimes accompanied her to the San Michele home also learning from Mkhondo’s passionate conversations with the residents. “My Mum just clapped her hands as said wow and she started singing because my mum is a singer so sometimes when she says I am proud of you she says it through singing, but she was extremely proud”, said Mkhondo explaining her mother’s reaction to her acceptance at Benoni FCS.

Mkhondo explained that since her appearances on the Television show ‘Talk Ability ‘ she has had great responses from children who echo the same sentiments as her that being different is okay, her other appearance on Television Show ‘Generations’ as an extra has also helped build awareness within Etwatwa.

‘I think my work is getting recognition but again ‘Attitude, you know attitude, some people are not receiving it as well as they should, they still believe when you say inclusive you want special treatment’ said Mkhondo commenting on her experience in advocacy work. Mkhondo strongly believes that in the absence of a negative attitude toward disability, the barriers that women and girls with disabilities face in their lives would be removed, including access to justice.

‘I thought the schools would be very very open to this kind of work’ said Mkhondo mourning how the Department of Education in her area did not respond to her request to access schools in the area to hold sessions with learners with disabilities. ‘I will still have to carry on advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities and also for people with intellectual disabilities, especially for those who can’t make their own decisions’ said Mkhondo as she expressed how her involvement with the NCPD has strengthened her commitment to disability advocacy.

‘I think the community has come to the party because we cannot ask for inclusivity, yet our communities are still holding back ‘, said Mkhondo in her concluding remarks. Mkhondo is looking forward to working with her newfound friends at Benoni FCS in championing the rights of women and children with disabilities in Etwatwa.