Part 7 of 7
An interview with Millicent Ojwang
[Editor’s Note: This week, R4D in partnership with FieldWorks is highlighting the obstacles faced by local civil society organizations around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic — and the unique and innovative ways that local organizations are at the forefront of response and prevention in low- and middle-income countries. As international organizations and donors adapt to their new reality, we want to amplify the experience, voices, and perceptions of those on their own frontlines — of how the ripple effects of the pandemic are felt by the world’s most vulnerable people and what can be done to “build back better.” In this post, R4D’s Cynthia Charchi interviews Millicent Ojwang, operations manager for This-Ability — an organization working to advance rights and inclusion of women and girls living with disabilities in Kenya.]
Cynthia Charchi: How would you describe your organization to someone unfamiliar with your work?
Millicent Ojwang: This-Ability is a registered trust in Kenya and our focus is on women and girls with disabilities. We work from a human rights and gender-based approach to advocate for the rights and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities across the country.
Cynthia: What ultimately do you hope to achieve with your work?
Millicent: When it comes to the disability sector, there is no gender approach. Everything is piled into one and therefore most disability organizations do not identify the marginalized even with this community. Per our patriarchal society women are already disadvantaged and coupled with disability it becomes a double tragedy for women and girls.
There is a very negative attitude from society about disability, and especially women and girls with disabilities face stigma and discrimination. Our organization wants to see laws and policies that are more inclusive. We want to see increased positive visibility of women and girls with disabilities from a gender and human rights perspective.
We would also like to see women and girls with market-based skills living and working in an enabling environment that facilitates their economic empowerment. Finally, we hope to see women and girls with disabilities who know and can execute their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Cynthia: What are some of the effects that you have seen the pandemic have on CSOs and NGOs in your country?
Millicent: It has been a tough time for most civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including community-based organizations (CBOs) because funding has shrunk as the focus has shifted to COVID. Organizations working especially with vulnerable groups have had challenges in maintaining support due to the difficulty in working around the COVID prevention and containment measures. While many of these organizations expected support from the government they continue to struggle as they have not received this aid.
Cynthia: How has the pandemic affected your organization’s work locally?
Millicent: The women we work with have been economically affected as most depend on and run small businesses. However, due to the prevention and containment measures such as curfew hours, social distancing etc. many of them have been forced to close shop.
As an organization, we have had to regroup and re-strategize on how to carry out project activities within the confines of the COVID-19 regulations. Presently, the big thing is technology but because most women have basic phones, they are unable to fully leverage the possibilities of technology to host virtual gatherings and conversations at the community-level.
That said, these changes have opened doors for new opportunities we never considered before the pandemic especially on how to leverage technology to support our activities. For example, we are remotely carrying out research on economic injustice and run trainings with our community of women and girls. Some of our training has enabled women to transition their businesses online. We are now more inclined to look for funding that emphasizes the use of technology solutions.
Cynthia: How has the pandemic affected your ability to collaborate and connect with the people and organizations you need to reach to be successful?
Millicent: Initially it affected us in terms of limiting our ability to have traditional gatherings such as conferences and meetings, but this forced us to adapt and continue our work online. Our connections continued virtually with partners and others which is a more sustainable and cost-effective approach in the long-term.
Cynthia: Is there anything that you are doing now to combat the pandemic — or consequences of the pandemic (like food access, corruption or closing civic space, economic inequalities)?
Millicent: We shifted our budget around to support profiling of 300 women across the 8 counties we work in to facilitate a new project we were doing of sending women cash transfers. We have a team on the ground doing the profiling and then we send cash transfers. This profiling will serve us for future projects as well.
This period also revealed the lack of data on women and girls with disabilities despite the recent census done. Therefore, we are in the final stages of launching a USSD code through leading telecommunication firms (Safaricom and Telkom) in Kenya and combined with this code will be a drive to sensitize women to register on the platform to allow us to collect data by dialing *584#, a process that takes 3 minutes to complete. The drive will be nationwide to plug this data gap. We hope to have accurate data by the end of the year and do an initial test in September before fully rolling out the platform. We hope to save the data on the backend of our server and this information will be verified with the national registries by various disabilities and per county.
Cynthia: What changes do you think would help your country “build back better” after the pandemic?
Millicent: The best the country can do would be to give more support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as these firms are the largest contributors to the country’s economy and huge source of employment as 80% of the population work in the informal sector. The government could offer support in terms of tax relief, loans, and grants to support SMEs to survive the pandemic and grow. Perhaps even introducing owners of these enterprises to experts and provide opportunities for training as well. The women we work with fall within this category of owners of small-scale businesses.
Cynthia: What support could other partners/countries provide to help your country “build back better” after the pandemic?
Millicent: We have seen what has happened with COVID-19 support and how resources have been channeled. It will be more important for the partners to work with small NGOs at the community-level who are able to identify the vulnerable groups in the community and those who need support to make them accountable to these groups. Even for the cash transfers the government was doing, the women we work with did not receive this support. They were registered into the program, but did not get support. Holding an entire government accountable is difficult due to multiple layers of bureaucracy, but, when you work with a small NGO, there is greater transparency and accountability. It will be important to identify and support these organizations to ensure the funding reaches the communities in greatest need.
Follow the 7-part series:
- Part 1: Introductory post
- Part 2: Actions pour l’Environnement et le Développement Durable
- Part 3: Commonwealth Housing Group
- Part 4: Transparency International Rwanda
- Part 5: Asocación Bienestar Progreso Desarrollo
- Part 6: Foundation for Civil Society
- Part 7: This-Ability
Photo © This-Ability