ability and economy
In DR Congo, women in general are often viewed as "less than" - less valuable than men, less than capable of working outside the family and being leaders. But when a woman is disabled, she is viewed as almost less than human. Her situation can be quite grim.
A woman with disability is very unlikely to marry. Her family probably cannot support her past childhood, leaving her with little option but to fend for herself by begging.
Just because she is considered un-marriageable, that doesn't mean she won't be a victim of sexual violence. If anything, she is more likely to be a target because she is unable to run away from perpetrators. Disabled women frequently bear children from this abuse, and then have to face the nearly insurmountable task of providing for not only themselves, but also for their children.
Since 2011 we have been producing the SHAKOSHI brand line of products - bags, tablecloths, napkins, dolls and jewelry. Shakoshi is a vehicle for people with disabilities, widows, and other vulnerable members of Congolese society to make a living.
We currently partner with the Coaching Association to Promote the Integration of Women Living with Disabilities (known by its French acronym, AEPIFHA) to make our Shakoshi products. This program trains and employs people with disabilities as tailors. It currently has 27 members, 24 of whom are women.
We market these products in the US. With the proceeds, the women are able to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. By no means do they become rich; they do, however, live lives of dignity and well-being.
Our founder Neema Namadamu knows first-hand that being a woman and having a disability does not make you incapable. Strong minds, hands, and hearts can reside in bodies of all genders and levels of ability. Some of Neema's first forays into activism were to advocate for women with disabilities - starting with a radio program she hosted while she was still in high school. This collaboration combines our passions for lifting up women with disabilities and for promoting women's greater participation in society.
We are very grateful for our partnership with World Women Work, whose recent donation allowed us to buy six new sewing machines for our tailors.
meet the tailors
Click on the photos below to see some of our tailors' bios.