Advocating for disabled women and girls:

The work of the Lilian Dibo Foundation, Cameroon

Lilian Dibo Eyong is the CEO and Founder of the Lilian Dibo Foundation, Cameroon. The Foundation was established three years ago and wants to see a society in which disabled women and girls can reach their full potential through advocacy, inclusion and empowerment.

Lilian Dibo Eyong explained that in the African context, disability is often associated with witchcraft as a result of the myths and misconceptions surrounding disability. “Over the years, many persons with disability have suffered from gross marginalization, neglect, insults and assaults, which has resulted in exclusion and stereotype”, she said. “Africa still views disability on a negative perspective and this has caused more harm to a marginalized group of people. Disability in most cases is considered the consequence of wrongdoings of family members”.

The mother is often blamed for the birth of a disabled child and sometimes sent away from the marital home. Another belief is that disability is transmissible and it is believed that disabled women will give birth to disabled children, which is usually not the case. As a result, when a disabled woman is seen in a relationship with a man, she is being tagged “she used a spell to keep the man all to herself”. Lilian explained that disabled women and girls lose their self-esteem because of these myths and misconceptions surrounding disability.

Lilian spoke about her personal experience of being a strong and energetic child, who walked by the age of 9 months. However, when she was two and a half years old, she acquired a disability as a result of polio: “I got infected with polio and that was the end of the old story that gave birth to the new me on wheelchair”.

In search of solutions, her mother welcomed all suggestions that could cure her disability. She went to a herbalist who was recommended by a neighbour. “The man burnt underneath my right knee with three hot charcoals and claimed that the burn would develop into a blister and when it finally bursts, immediately I would get healed, I will stand up and walk, but here I am on a wheelchair. He lied to my mom”.

One day, another neighbour visited and told my mom to take me by the side of the river and abandon me there. She claimed that I am possessed with the spirit of a python. That if my mom abandons me there, I will transform into a python and get into the water, but if my mum comes back the next day and she still finds me there, it therefore means that I’m a ‘normal’ child. My mom got angry and sent her away, warning her never to come to our house to give her such a devilish advice”.

Lilian Dibo Foundation challenges these myths and misconceptions associated with disability. The Foundation organizes online and offline workshops, infotainment programmes on the radio and television, builds the capacity of parents of disabled children and other parents who stand in a position to educate their children about the realities of disability. The Foundation plans to organize an award recognition event to appreciate those women and girls with disability for their achievements. They also intend to motivate parents who are very supportive of their children, which has in turn led to self-acceptance and achieving the extraordinary.

Find out more about the work of the Lilian Dibo Foundation here: