My name is Anne Wafula-Strike. I’m a Paralympian who has travelled the world. Some would say I’ve achieved a lot for a woman whose father was told he should kill me because I was disabled. As the world comes together to celebrate International Women’s Day, we must work harder than ever to build a truly inclusive movement. Disabled women and girls are still some of the most marginalised and forgotten people on the planet. It is critical that feminist movements include our voices too. Otherwise, this is not a woman’s movement, it is a movement for non-disabled women only. This is not a cry of blame or accusation. This is a plea for us to hear each other’s stories and use them to disrupt our way of thinking to create a more compassionate world.
I was born a healthy child in rural Kenya, but when I was two, I got polio and it left me paralysed from the waist down. The local witch doctor said I had been struck by ‘black magic’. My community thought I was cursed. They would call me ‘snake’ because I had to crawl along the floor in order to move around. They said I should be left to die. They wanted to burn our house down. We had to leave our village because it was no longer safe for me and my family.
The stigma I experienced was devastating. It took everything away from me. I was broken. I didn’t develop self-esteem. I hated who I was. I had so many demons. And when you are broken inside - when your sense of self and your self-worth are broken - it leaves you more disabled in your mind than any physical impairment can.
If it wasn’t for my father telling me I had a special place in this life, I wouldn’t be here now. My father’s unwavering support, his unconditional love, disrupted my own shame, it disrupted the stigma all around me, and it made me believe a new story for myself was possible. I now believe nothing disables me more than staying silent on the things that impact me. That’s why I am so passionate about using my voice to amplify the voices of other disabled women.