From Where I Stand, Natogola Nana Mnzava: Opinions of women and girls with disabilities must be considered in individual, family and collective decisions

Date: Monday, October 5, 2020

Natogola Nana Mnzava
Natogola Nana Mnzava. Photo: UN Women

There are many barriers to the leadership of young women with disabilities in Tanzania and Africa as a whole. In many countries, this is more visible in the political and governance sphere and male-dominated sectors such as science and technology. Looking at the political space in Africa, I can point to a number of factors which include discriminatory practices in the selection of women to occupy leadership and decision-making positions. But also limited knowledge among duty bearers on our needs and rights is a concern alongside stereotypical perceptions of capacities. It is quite a challenge for women and girls with disabilities to access facilities and civic information due to a lack of support services, and devices that are friendly to people with disabilities.

From my experience, perhaps more concerning is that some young women with disabilities have lower levels of internal leadership efficacy in terms of the perception of their abilities and interest which can significantly limit their participation. In many African countries, young women with disabilities who wish to participate in the disability movement work in a male-dominated environment which is not always appreciative of gender equality arguments.

I think it is important to ensure the full and equal participation of young women and girls with disabilities in decision-making, through the formulation of national laws and policies, consistent with their exercise of legal capacity, equal protection under the law and prohibition of discrimination. When countries effectively enforce the implementation of such laws and policies, they can promote and protect the rights of women and girls with disabilities with respect to power and decision-making from early childhood. There is a need to recognize that decision-making is a process that develops throughout life, and is reflected in everyday life, beginning from the family, where opinions of women and girls with disabilities must be considered in individual, family and collective decisions.

One area we still need to build on is the strengthening of institutional and environmental support for young women with disabilities, most of whom lack the necessary supportive and enabling conditions for developing a leadership career, even when they are interested and qualified. I think when we adopt zero-tolerance policies for violence against young women with disabilities in leadership, including psychological violence in all our public institutions, equal leadership rights will be realized.

I am happy that the UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign is promoting the visibility of young women with disabilities and placing our issues at the centre of the campaign to strengthen inclusivity for the achievement of SDG Goal 5 on gender equality and empowerment of all women. This global initiative is also including young women with disabilities in leadership positions to participate in Roundtable Dialogues so that they can serve as role models for the many women and girls with disabilities in Tanzania and Africa at large. Through this support, UN Women is ensuring that no one is left behind.


According to the WHO, globally an estimated one in five women lives with a disability. Years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, significant gaps continue between commitments and action to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls with disabilities. However, some young women with disabilities such as the Executive Director of Organization for Youth Against Risk Behaviour; and UN Women’s CSAG member, Ms. Natogola Nana Mnzava, are playing a prominent role in the public sphere, demonstrating their capacity and transformative role in leadership and decision-making.