'My work is to value them and help them know their rights'
Pascaline Mekati Matoko, the founder of Deaf Rights Cameroon Association, is passionate about promoting the rights and education of girls and women with disabilities.
Pascaline became hearing impaired at the age of twelve. But although she faced some difficulties and discrimination, this did not stop her from continuing her education.
“I experienced discrimination at school, at university and at work,” says Pascaline. “I applied several times to take the exam to enter the civil service, but I was discriminated against because people don’t accept applications from people with disabilities; they always look at the disability, especially for deaf people like me.
At university, Pascaline studied law and received her degree in 2012.
“After receiving my degree, I decided to create Deaf Rights Cameroon Association (DERICAM),” she says. “The main goal for our association is to promote rights and education for women and girls with disability and to help them learn how to be self-employed.”
Pascaline is also the president of the Association for the Promotion of Disabled People’s Rights in Cameroon and a member of the Decentralisation Working Group, which promotes local inclusive development.
“I am responsible for social inclusion and gender equality for people with disabilities in public and political life,” she explains.
Photo © Sightsavers/Rose Noa Ngambida
The group meets with community leaders to discuss the importance of including people with disabilities in local development plans.
“It’s important for people with disabilities to be involved in decision-making in municipalities because it helps ensure accessibility for people with disabilities and bring changes to our lives,” says Pascaline. “People with disabilities in municipal councils can help change many things, particularly to implement laws on the protection of the rights of people with disabilities and make sure communities are accessible for people with disabilities.”
“I like everything that has to do with defending the rights of people with disabilities,” she continues. “There is a bit less discrimination against people with disabilities today and people with disabilities continue to raise awareness within society, to change beliefs. This is why the Decentralisation Working Group was created, for inclusion to become a reality and to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.”
Pascaline doesn’t just focus on the rights of people with disabilities – she also has a strong passion to break down barriers and stereotypes relating to women and girls with disabilities. She’s also helping lead the fight for gender equality in Cameroon.
“There is still a lot to do on the issue of inclusion for disabled women and gender equality,” Pascaline says. “Disabled women are still afraid to participate like everyone else. We must keep working on this so that women are determined to have the courage to make disabled women’s projects successful. In my political party, I am responsible for women’s affairs and also for the inclusion of people with disabilities in political and public life. I have noticed that not many disabled women are interested in politics.
“I can say that politics isn’t easy,” Pascaline continues, “but you don’t need to be scared because in politics, we can grow together. Disabled women shouldn’t be afraid, they should have courage. It is important for a disabled women to participate so that her voice counts like everyone else’s.
Photo © Sightsavers/Rose Noa Ngambida
“What I love the most is to protect the rights of girls and women with hearing impairment,” Pascaline says, “because many girls with hearing impairment are not going to school. So, I love to defend that and protect their rights. Many people with a hearing impairment are abandoned by their families. My work is to value them and help them know their rights.”
Pascaline also puts emphasis on the importance of education. “In order to reach gender equality,” she says, “young girls with disabilities need to be educated on their rights and this needs to start with the family. Because most of the time, what we see in Cameroon is that families always send boys to school and girls and women are made to stay at home. That makes the girls feel that they are inferior to the boys. But if the importance of education starts at home, from infancy, then girls will grow up knowing they have the same rights as boys.”
Another project Pascaline has created is Miss Deaf Cameroon, a beauty competition to promote fair employment and education of women and girls with a hearing impairment. Their goal each year is for 5-10 girls to become self-employed, to reduce the number of women with hearing impairments affected by poverty or without jobs, and reduce cases of sexual harassment.
“Cameroon’s Ministry of Culture and the Ministry for Family supports this project,” says Pascaline. “In its first year we empowered and awarded grants to five women to create micro-projects to help them become independent. The grants that are given to them can be used to continue vocational training, find work, continue their education or begin their own business.”
What does Pascaline want the future to look like? “My hope for my country is that there are laws that promote gender equality,” she says. “And there are some laws that have been created by the government concerning the rights of people with disabilities and to protect women with disabilities.”
"These things give me hope that things can change.”