Addressing Core Issues:
Crystallizing the core issues that necessitate a ministry such as Women of Hope is not an easy task. The issues are complex and intricately interwoven, which is why only a wholistic approach to development will result in any level of real success. The core issues that affect the women with disabilities can be loosely classified in six key areas. These areas fall into the six key areas that Women of Hope seeks to address:
Core Issue | Area of Wholistic Focus
1. Mobility and Health Concerns | Physical
2. Broken Relationships on Many Levels | Social
3. Lack of Education and Limited Knowledge Base | Intellectual
4. Loss of Dignity and Purpose | Emotional
5. Chronic Multi-Faceted Poverty | Economic
6. Unbiblical Worldview and No Relationship with Christ | Spiritual
Classifying these extremely complex issues into six main areas runs the risk of over-simplifying the issues or leaving something out, but most of the issues facing the women with disabilities in developing countries are directly linked to one or more of these core, or root, issues. Here’s a quick look at each of these areas and how it affects the overall lives of the women with disabilities.
1. Mobility and Health Concerns
The health challenges of women with disabilities are unique and complex. At times, the disability itself creates additional health issues, such as in the case of Post-Polio Syndrome which leads to increasing degeneration and pain over the person’s lifespan. Other times, access to care is difficult when wheelchair ramps, sidewalks and handicap-accessible offices are virtually nonexistent. Since health care is neither free nor guaranteed in many developing countries, the extreme poverty of the women with disabilities also impedes their ability to receive appropriate health care. In many cases, the fact that they have a disability further complicates other health-related issues, such as the ability to carry a child to term or safely deliver.
Mobility concerns are complicated by the severe lack of infrastructure in developing countries. Wheelchairs and crutches have a very short lifespan with use over rough gravel roads. For the blind, walking is hazardous at best with potholes and rocks strewn everywhere. For the deaf, the fact that no one in the society at large speaks sign language greatly hampers their ability to move about in society and perform the basic necessary tasks of purchasing food or accessing health care. Mobility aids and adaptive devices are not readily available to people with disabilities, which severely impacts their lives and general function.
Women of Hope seeks to address these needs through establishing partnerships with agencies and organizations who provide devices needed by the women. Our emergency medical relief fund also assists with serious health care crises. Health needs are addressed in our CHE education curriculum, equipping women to take greater responsibility for their own health and that of their children.
2. Broken Relationships
Cultural perceptions, rooted in animism, identify people with disabilities as demons or cursed by God for some past wrong, either by that person or another family member. This results in an entire people group that is outcast from society and either feared or despised. The implications that these perceptions have on the people with disabilities are far-reaching and greatly hamper their ability to succeed in society. Many of these women have been rejected by their own families, creating barriers for them to understand what healthy parent-child relationships look like when parenting their own children. They have also rarely had lasting marital relationships and are often exploited by men, further breaking their understanding of God’s intention for families, and creating much pain and bitterness. Gender violence is a huge problem in societies where women are viewed as second-class members of society. Women with disabilities are often left defenseless and become the perfect victims for rape and abuse.
Women of Hope addresses these needs by first of all affirming the value of these women as people created by God, with inherent worth and significance. Additionally, family and relational issues are addressed in our CHE training curriculum, helping women learn new skills and evaluate old patterns of behavior that need modification.
3. Lack of Education and Limited Knowledgebase
Gender inequality enhances the struggles of the women with disabilities. Even girls without a disability are given less opportunity for educational and skills training. With little opportunity for formal education, and little opportunity to leave their immediate environment, women with disabilities are frequently illiterate and have limited understanding of things outside of their daily routine. Illiteracy further decreases their ability to succeed in economic ventures, increasing their level of poverty.
Women of Hope seeks to increase the capacity of women by offering training, Bible storying groups, participatory learning workshops, literacy classes, business skills training, worldview seminars, and monthly meetings. These educational offerings build the knowledge of the women, giving them opportunities to expand their horizons, change their thinking and incorporate new ideas.
4. Loss of Dignity and Purpose
Living under the shadow of familial and societal rejection robs women and girls with disabilities from the most basic of human emotional desires and needs – acceptance and belonging. These girls begin to believe that they have no value or dignity and then begin to live in that belief. Before they can begin to work toward a life of purpose and wholeness, they must understand that they have value because they are made in the image of God and loved by Him in their current state – sinful in spirit and disabled in body.
It is not unheard of for disabled women to turn to suicide as an escape from their difficult and purposeless lives. The cycle of purposelessness and despair resulting in hopelessness can only be broken by addressing all levels of need together through the hope of Christ, who alone can heal them within and enable them to rise above their disability toward hope.
Women of Hope addresses these needs by first of all affirming the value of all women as image-bearers and affirming the value of people with disabilities as being created by God for a purpose. Once they have understood their inherent value, we provide them with specific training and counsel on the various issues that they face. Support groups provide a safe place to discuss problems and identify creative solutions.
5. Chronic Multi-Faceted Poverty
Disabled women experience material poverty far beyond the level of the general population. Poverty is perpetuated by oppression, discrimination and injustice, all of which these women experience on a daily basis. Lack of education and skills training limits their ability to find work in a country whose unemployment is already among the highest in the world. Physical challenges further limit their ability to be employed or to sell goods on the open market perpetuating the cultural stigma that disabled people are useless and a burden to society.
This level of poverty leaves the women struggling day to day just to feed their children and often reduces them to a life of begging or sexual exploitation as a means of survival. This in turn leads to a cascade of other problems such as unplanned pregnancies, high infant and maternal mortality rates, the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and escalating gender violence. These lead to an increased loss of dignity, unhealthy personal relationship and unhealthy relationship models for their children. The cycle perpetuates as each difficulty impacts all of the others, ultimately resulting in despair and hopelessness. Along with their material poverty, the women with disabilities also endure many other types of poverty as previously mentioned – poverty of being, poverty of relationship, and poverty of spirit.
Women of Hope walks alongside the women on their journey out of these facets of poverty. We provide skills training, offering women new knowledge and skills that can be used to produce marketable products for sale at home and abroad. Our cooperative workshop approach provides the women with a safe place to create their products, ideas and support for marketing them, and an environment where they can learn from and help each other as they learn and grow and develop.
6. Unbiblical Worldview and No Relationship with Christ
Animism and Islam have shaped the thinking patterns of the majority of these women. A lack of understanding about God, sin, salvation and interpersonal relationships traps the women in harmful thought and behavior patterns that continue to hold them in bondage. The broken fruit in their lives are merely symptoms of the problems they experience. The roots are far deeper, stemming from their beliefs. Therefore, to change the fruit, the roots must be dug up and made whole. Actions are changed by changing thoughts.
Women of Hope International understands that the answer to the complex web of distorted beliefs, thoughts, attitudes and actions is neither simple nor easy. It is multifaceted, requiring a holistic approach. We believe that untangling this web, setting it straight, and finding true hope begins with Christ. His gift of eternal freedom from their earth-bound disabilities, His promise to be with them and give them grace to walk through every step of their struggles, big and small, and His unyielding love and compassion for them can bring them hope, dignity and transformation.
While other programs may provide temporary relief from various aspects of this web of complex issues, ultimately there can be no lasting solution without Christ. The problems will continue to spiral, each into the next, unless the cycle is broken. Christ came to bring freedom to the captive and release to the oppressed. In every possible way, these women are held captive and oppressed by their complex circumstances. Finding Jesus is the beginning of their ultimate transformation. As each woman finds Christ, and the hope that is available in Him, He will begin the process of transforming her into His likeness, each woman in the way He has determined – for His glory and her good.
The commitment of Women of Hope is to walk beside these precious women and address their heart-felt needs through wholistic development. A key factor to their development is being sure that the women, and their communities, are involved in identifying the problems as well becoming the solutions to the problems.
As the women understand that they are made in the image of God and have intrinsic value, they find relief from hopelessness and start to gain a sense of dignity. As they yield their lives to Christ and come into relationship with Him they begin to sense the purpose that He has for them in this life. Finally, having regained their dignity and found a purpose, they begin to walk the path toward true transformation.