Gender, disability and access to education in Tanzania
The ultimate aim of this empirical study has been to investigate the obstacles visually impaired women in Tanzania face in their struggle for accessing and gaining education. It explores issues of culture, gender, disability, education and development, and examines the ways these interact with one another in shaping the lives of the women under discussion. These issues are conceptualised to establish the theoretical framework of the study. The epistemological and ontological position of the social model of disability has guided the conceptualisation and analysis of the problem under review. Using this model, this study critiques the way in which society perceives disabled people in general, and disabled women in particular. The social model approach emphasises a need to move society's perception of disability away from the medical model approach, which individualises disability. There are two main reasons for my choice of topic for this investigation. Firstly, the research is as much about my own experiences as it is about other visually impaired women. It is argued that the way the identity of visually impaired women is socially constructed, drawing on cultural understandings, social/economic and political barriers and society's negative attitudes towards sex and impairment, has served to inhibit their access to education. Secondly, I decided to research gender disparities in the provision of education for visually impaired persons because it has never previously (to my knowledge) been on research agendas of academics or disability activists in Tanzania. In setting the scene, the thesis starts by justifying the need for researching the problem of inaccessibility of visually impaired women to education in Tanzania. Semi structured interviews were used to generate the primary data for the study. 58 visually impaired women and 26 parents/guardians participated in the research, as well as other 36 key informants. Research findings reveal various obstacles visually impaired women in Tanzania encounter in their struggle for accessing and gaining education. These include cultural, social, economic, political and physicaldifficulties. The findings further highlight outcomes of the educational obstacles on the lives of visually impaired women; reviewing the coping strategies they use in their struggle for survival, and record their views about the ways their education could be improved. The study concludes by suggesting key issues for the way forward. Recommendations directed to all involved in the provision of education for visually impaired women are oriented toward changing attitudes and ensuring that education is their human right and not a matter of charity.