On 16 August 2019, SERI partnered with the South African Cities Network (SACN), the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP), and Constitution Hill to launch a short documentary on sanitation for women with disabilities living in informal settlements entitled, ‘The Struggle to be Ordinary’. This documentary was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and was produced together with twospinningwheels productions and the Pegasys Institute. The film raises awareness of the intersection of gender, disability and basic services in informal settlements in South Africa.
The launch was attended by members of the Slovo Park Community Development Forum (SPCDF), residents of the Harry Gwala Informal Settlement, national government officials representing departments of Social Development, Tourism, Human Settlements, city officals from the Cities of Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg, representatives from Joburg Water and members of civil society from NGOs and other practitioners.
SERI’s director of research and advocacy, Alana Potter, introduced the documentary by foregrounding some of the important statistics that reflect the lives of women with disabilities and their struggles to adequate sanitation services:
Households headed by people with disabilities are 5% more likely to lack access to improved sanitation facilities or piped water than the general population. The 2011 Census found that just less than half (45,2%) of households headed by persons with disabilities had access to a flush toilets and more than a third (37,1%) used pit toilets.
The screening of the documentary was followed by an open panel discussion. Panellists included David Morema (NUSP), Shelley Barry (twospinningwheels), Susan Mkhwanazi (SPCDF and the women’s forum), and Dr Phyllis Dannhauser (University of Johannesburg). The discussion was facilitated by Rehana Moosajee (The Barefoot Facilitator).
The discussion began by looking at the significance of the film. Susan Mkhwanazi reiterated the challenges faced by women in Slovo Park but noted that they too did not have a full understanding of how fellow residents with disabilities experience these same challenges. The film shed some light on their plight and helped to amply the voices of women with or directly affected by disabilities in Slovo Park.
Tim Fish Hodgeson from the International Community of Jurists lamented South Africa’s ableist culture that permeates society in that “almost all social services are deprived of people with disabilities, up to 600 000 children with disabilities are not in school today and less than 1% of people with disabilities are employed.” He argued that a lot more could be done to meet the needs of people with disabilities but an honest acceptance of South Africa’s ableist culture would need to be a starting point.
Lydia Lenyatsa, one of the women whose stories make up the documentary, highlighted the economic and life-threatening impact that poor access to sanitation and other basic services in informal settlements has had on her life:
I need a ventilator to breath. There's no electricity. They gave me a cylinder to last a month but if it runs out I could lose my life and I need to be there for my kids, so I had to connect to illegal electricity. It would cost me R500 a month.
The key message to come out of both the film and discussions is the urgent need for government to upgrade informal settlements in situ by making every effort to engage disabled people, particularly disabled women, in making decisions that directly impact their lives.
The documentary was developed as an advocacy tool which social justice organisations can use to press for universal access to safe, dignified sanitation and the concomitant advancement of the human rights of women and girls with disabilities. SERI’s hope is for the documentary to raise awareness, build knowledge and to influence a change in our attitudes, thinking, policies and practices.
The documentary is accompanied by a policy brief which sets out the implications for policy and the legal framework that governs over access to sanitation for women with disabilities living in informal settlements.