"Access to tertiary education": Exploring the experiences of women with physical disabilities in Kamwala, Zambia
Matambo, Luyeye Hope
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Women with disabilities are marginalised in many aspects of societal participation. The majority of women with disabilities in Zambia do not have access to education and this has placed them amongst the poorest of people in the country. The study focuses on the experiences of women with physical disabilities and investigates the challenges they encounter in accessing education at tertiary level. The study comes at a time when the fight for gender equality has gained momentum and aims at promoting economic participation for all members of society without discrimination on the basis of sex or disability. The study engaged ten participants from a tertiary institution in Kamwala, Lusaka. I conducted a feminist qualitative research, which focused on the experiences of 19-30 year old female students with physical disabilities. I used semi-structured interviews in order to collect the data and drew on a qualitative thematic analysis to analyse the data. All standard ethical procedures were adhered to, including anonymity and confidentiality with respect to participants. The results of the study revealed that women with disabilities were often ‘othered’ due to myths and misconceptions that surrounded disability especially in the African- traditional context. The study also revealed that families played a very important role in ensuring that women and young girls with disabilities had a strong self-image, strong self-esteem and a strong sense of self and ensuring that they felt included within the homes and especially when accessing education. The study further revealed that where family support was lacking, participants faced challenges in accessing education compared to participants who received such support. More so, that educational opportunities in Zambia are generally gendered with more males than females in the education system, across the multiple levels. Access to the tertiary level for this group of women is compromised because challenges in accessing education start at the lower levels and have spill over effects in to the higher levels of education. Financial challenges experienced by women with disabilities and their families also led to fewer women with disabilities being able to participate in schooling. This is because where there were limited resources within the family, women, and girls with disabilities getting an education was not an option.