Fulfilling a Shona Proverb
“Welcome to the program Disability Factor on Star-FM. I am joined by Dr Christine Peta, the first Zimbabwean to obtain a PhD in disability studies…” So begins another segment of a national weekly radio show providing advice to people living with disabilities in Zimbabwe. Her advocacy of their rights stems from childhood observations; her parents always welcomed both disabled and non-disabled members of their extended family into their modest home.
"Kugariketangenhamo" is a Shona proverb meaning that “success comes after poverty”. Born and raised in a big family, Christine has worked and studied hard to acquire a middle-class lifestyle, e.g. a solid and safe home with electricity, plumbing and 24 hour internet service. Yet she clearly recognizes the imprints of a childhood in poverty -- such as the physical scars from living in crowded conditions, to the memories of near rape by a relative. Her heart therefore is committed to reducing the suffering of those who continue to live in similar situations - in the zones of invisibility, silence and marginalization.
Through the Disability Centre for Africa (www.dcfafrica.com), Christine advocates for the “mainstreaming of disability”, or a society that is more accessible, supportive and inclusive of disabled people. The UN estimates that more than 80% of disabled people live in developing countries, and more than half of them are women. In most African countries, disabled women are dying quietly and unnoticed in their homes for lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and information in appropriate formats. For example, disabled women receive little information on menstruation and pregnancy, whether in braille or sign language, or even an elevator or ramp to access service venues in a wheelchair. Yet, disabled women are particularly vulnerable to rape, domestic violence and abandonment. In childbirth, health care staff is insensitive to the needs of disabled women; society in general ignores their right to be treated as human beings who should be respected.
Christine also points out that disabled people have a lower than average chance of gainful employment, but a higher than average likelihood of being impoverished and isolated. In one of her weekly newspaper columns in the Sunday Mail (http://www.sundaymail.co.zw/disabled-womens-slog-for-survival/), Christine shares her research findings that even women who become disabled after marriage tend to be abandoned by their husbands and are often left to fend for themselves and their children.
MMEG is proud to have funded Christine’s PhD Studies at the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Cape Town in 2014. She developed a research strategy to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to talk about their own experiences; she feels privileged to facilitate the voice of people with disabilities. Most recently, she has started to advocate at high levels of central government.