Empowering women with disabilities – why it’s vital to our societies

12 November, 2015

Jane Edge became the Chief Executive Officer of CBM Australia in July this year. Three weeks later she was in India visiting our partner programs and witnessing first-hand the transformative work of CBM.

I have been actively engaged in social change and international development for over 20 years and been privileged to work with many wonderful people, learning about different cultures and spending time in poor communities that are far from the tourist routes. Joining CBM Australia has allowed me to continue making a difference in the world through my work, which has been a lifelong principle and intrinsic to living out my Christian faith in a practical way.

Having recently visited India, I’d like to share the story of an extraordinary woman named Premnika.

Premnika is 35, both of her legs are severely affected by polio – she is unable to stand without support. Her parents are very poor and she had a very difficult childhood defined by neglect and discrimination.

Having met a young man of a different religion, they married, but this was not accepted by her parents who wanted nothing to do with her. The couple began their life together somehow but the strain of grinding poverty took its toll, and domestic violence became a regular event.

Premnika had two operations in a bid to improve her mobility, which is particularly challenging in a remote rural area. The lack of support she received from her family and the cost of the treatment ”broke her from the inside”. She was frequently thinking about ending her life when she was brought into the Community based rehabilitation program (CBR) of a CBM partner organisation. The project aims to improve social inclusion and quality of life of people with disability where disability specific services are extremely limited.

Premnika was counselled and persuaded to give the program a chance. She received leadership training and became a focal point in her village for disability rights and rehabilitation. She also received livelihood training and was interested in tailoring work. This work in rural areas, where electricity supply is very poor, requires strong, lower limbs. In Premnika’s case, willpower overcame that challenge. She was a given small loan to buy a sewing machine, given training and support to expand her business and links to market. Today, she has four machines and employs three other young women in her village. She particularly wants to empower other young women with disabilities. Premnika now earns about 15,000 Rupees per month – about $325 – which is such a significant change.

Last year, her achievements and contribution as a leader were recognised when she was honoured by the Chief Minister in her region, as a state role model. Premnika is an inspiration for many other people living with disability who strive to lift themselves out of poverty.

It’s truly a team effort. Together with our partners, our dedicated supporters, staff and volunteers, I’m proud to report from the frontline that we are having an extraordinary impact, improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

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