By Florence Gichoya
Lusa Mayondi was a vibrant and hardworking business woman. She had everything going well for her; a lovely family and a successful computer business in Chilenje, Lusaka.
In March 2006, she started feeling unwell and her health deteriorated drastically. She went to the hospital for checkup and was tested HIV positive. The news was devastating, she decided to move on with life and focus on her business as she started to take the ARV’s medication.
One afternoon while she was in the office she suddenly started seeing blurred visions; this was as a result of complications of the ARV drugs. The condition progressed to total blindness and Lusa was devastated. After seeking medical attention her sight was partially restored. This means she can only see blurred visions.
After the incident Lusa suffered from depression and she isolated herself from her friends and relatives. She wondered why it had happened to her and thought of giving up on life. This was until a close friend encouraged her to visit and register with Zambia federation for the blind which is located in Chilenje.
In the Centre she went through counseling, rehabilitation, was taught braille and trained as a peer counselor. As a result she is currently a counselor and advocates for the rights of the visually impaired.
Lusa says that, “a lot of married women who become visually impaired in their marriage are normally chased by their husbands.” Like in her case, during the initial three months of being blind her husband was not supportive, in fact he didn’t want her to tell her friends and family of her HIV status and the complications that led to her blindness. Her husband had suggested that she moves out of matrimonial home and live with her mother as she recuperated. But she stood her ground and refused to move out.
She emphasizes that it’s a challenge for visually impaired women to go for family planning because of the stigma they experience and the discrimination therefore they shy away from seeking help and advice yet they are sexually active like other able bodied women.
Also the lack of recreation activities for majority blind women causes them to end up bearing many children which they struggle financially to provide for them.
Many are sidelined to attend workshops because they are illiterate, especially those in the streets and in the rural areas.
There are those that are newly blind and have not learnt braille. Majority of the illiterate are not on family planning and also don’t know their HIV status.
Lusa laments that contraceptives should be in braille too so that they are not sidelined. Up to now the AIDS policy is yet to be translated to braille.
The health practioners should be trained to be more sensitive to the visually impaired women. It is difficult for blind women to purchase medicines which are not translated to braille and the blind women are not even aware of the better products in the market. They need access to the reproductive health services without any challenges.
One of the organizations that is key in accelerating the right to access the reproductive health services for blind women is Happy Life Campaign. It is a regional movement and active in 5 countries namely; Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
According to the program coordinator Nana Zulu, she says that “the major challenge in Zambia is low access for family planning services and more so for women with disability.” For majority, the distance from their homes to the health facilities is a challenge and many times if they want to travel they have to be accompanied by someone especially from rural and peri-urban areas to the health facilities. The cost of transport also and other logistics like travelling together with a guide to the health centre becomes a challenge too.
Also many blind women are not aware of their sexual reproductive rights. They don’t know how to access family planning options.
More still for some married blind women they need consent from their husbands in order to go for family planning.
Nana emphasizes that the Zambia constitution on article 45 (1) subsection (c) states that Persons with disability are entitled “to enjoy of effective access to places and public transport and to information.
There are times when the blind women go to the hospitals for maternal health and family planning the health care providers are not sensitive to their disabilities and sometimes are discriminative and not understanding to their plight therefore most shy away.
For women who suffer discrimination they don’t report about it and therefore justice is not served.
Mrs Regina Banakambe a widow, who became blind at the age of one, got married in 1976 to a fellow blind man who later died in 2003, recounts her challenges in her maternal care for her children. When she was pregnant while going to the hospital for the antenatal care .she had to emphasize to the nurses that they need to be patient with her because of her state of blindness. Luckily for her the nurses were patient with her. But when she was bringing up her children, she faced a lot of challenges.
Feeding her children was not easy because she could not see the mouth therefore she opted to feed them with her hand because when she used a spoon the food would spill.
Regina says that for a visually impaired mother you have to be extra careful and tactful in how you take care of your children. For instance the doctor’s instructions on children’s medicine for children are not translated to braille and where the doctor instructions are. For example where there are instructions to give a spoonful of medicine, to avoiding spilling the medicine Regina would use a bottle top to administer the medicine to her children.
Whenever her children got skin infections she relied on her friends to tell her if there were any changes in their body. It was also common for her children to fall from chairs and hurt themselves because she could not see them as they played. And eventually she managed to bring up her three children well and they are now grown up and working.
Regina advises that it is important for visually impaired women to accept themselves. When they don’t accept themselves then they discriminate against themselves.
Zambia is a signatory of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. And since its adoption in December 2006 Zambia is yet to fully domestic it. Article 6 (1) of the convention specifically outlines the rights for women with disabilities. It states that “States Parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The government should accelerate the implementation of the convention in regards to blind women enjoying their reproductive health rights and accessing the services without discrimination