Skip to main content
Angelique Tuyishimire, a Rwandan woman with short stature, carries her son on her back in a sling.
As a single mother with short stature, Angelique Tuyishimire struggles to find work and care for her son.


It’s Time to Talk About It

Play audio version

Rwandan Women with Short Stature Advocate for Equal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Education

September 28, 2022

KIGALI, Rwanda – For girls, puberty and adolescence are marked by the development of secondary sexual characteristics, such as breasts and wider hips. As they mature, they also experience reproductive changes like their menstrual cycle and fertility. However, some women fail to develop these physical changes during puberty because they have short stature. They are in good health but may develop physically at a slower rate.

Appoline Buntubwimana, legal representative at Rwanda Union of Little People (RULP), says women and girls with short stature (also known as persons with dwarfism or little people) face several challenges, but one of the most serious concerns sexual reproductive health. “Generally, we have identified more than 200 persons with short stature in six districts [of Rwanda]. The 80 percent of them are women. Moreover, we are a marginalized group in Rwanda that [has] met various challenges in accessing qualitative education, health care services, work and vocations. Poor educational background and low self-esteem among people with short statures is a major barrier, limiting them from accessing different services,” she says.

Marie Appoline Bumbtubwimana stands in front of a stone steps.
Appoline Buntubwimana says sexual reproductive health education is largely inaccessible to women with short stature in Rwanda.

Buntubwimana adds that many people with short stature have been denied an education and can’t read or write. “Due to that, many women and girls have poor, false, or no information about their sexual reproductive health. Many of them are… poor; they can neither afford basic needs nor gynecologists for their lives,” she explains.

Claudine Bihoyiki, a woman with short stature from the Nyamasheke District in the Western Province of Rwanda, says she never attended school. She used to stay at home all day and never learned about sexual and reproductive health. “I am above 30, but neither my parents nor anyone else told me about sexual reproductive health. I used to be harassed, discriminated by everyone due to having short stature, saying that I am still a child, useless, curse, and so many bad words to me – that I cannot produce any baby or else I may produce a dead or premature [baby],” she says.

Claudine Bihoyiki and her son stand outside in front of a clay wall.
Claudine Bihoyiki says she didn’t know whom to turn to for support after her unexpected pregnancy.

“I am one of the women with short stature who met sexual abuse by men, and I got unexpected pregnancy due to the myths that sleeping with a woman with short stature brings chance,” Bihoyiki continues. Due to the lack of sexual and reproductive health education offered to her, she didn’t know how to handle her pregnancy. “At that time, I felt ashamed of being disabled and pregnant. I even had no information on what happened and who can help me in that situation,” she recalls.

Immacule Mukaruhirwa describes a similar lack of sexual and reproductive education and also repeated sexual harassment. “I was born in Kigali, but I did not attend any school. As you see, I am old, above 60 years old, though I did not get any chance to get married. Every man came, wanted to have sex first to check whether I can have a baby, but I refused,” says Mukaruhirwa, a woman with short stature from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. “I wanted a happy marriage with a proud man whom we will have a family with, but due to having short stature, they all left as they came, saying that I may be barren.”

Immacule Mukaruhirwa sits at a table, looking at the camera.
Immacule Mukaruhirwa recalls a lack of sexual health education and experiencing repeated sexual harassment.

Angelique Tuyishimire is a 20-year-old woman with short stature from the Kayonza District in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. One day, she met a man who told her he loved her, and she became pregnant. “Every person from my society and family said that I am abnormal due to having short stature. Only my mother shows me love. One day, I met a man in my village, and [he] promised me love. I knew nothing about love, but I accepted the request,” she says. “One day, he told me that I should show him true love by making love with him, and he told me that he will keep sperms out, that he won’t impregnant me, but he did not, as I knew nothing related to sexual reproductive health. Today, I am a single mother of a two-year-old son, and I thank [my mother] for she is still helping me.”

Tuyishimire adds that being a single mother with short stature who can’t read or write has been difficult. “Even today, everyone nicknames me different names – I am an illiterate poor single mum [with] no job, no husband, and no love that I cannot even give my son whatever needed because no one can give me any job. They think I am unable due to this short stature. And when I told [my son’s] father that I am pregnant, he immediately rejected, that he cannot impregnate women like me,” she cries.

Though Tuyishimire has received assistance from her mother after having her son, she did not always have her support. RULP’s Buntubwimana explains that this lack of familial support is not uncommon for Rwandan women with short stature. “When it comes to women and girls with short stature, [many] experience discrimination from their families and the surrounding society and stigma that leads to sexual and emotional harassment, violation, unexpected pregnancies, self-isolation, etc.,” she says.

Tuyishimire’s mother, who does not want to be identified by name, says that due to her daughter’s disability, she has struggled to be proud of her at times. “At the beginning, I used to blame God for giving me such a daughter. I have never been proud of her since childhood because when we had any guest, I used to hide her and her brothers and they hated me for that discrimination. I thought that she will never grow and go to school. As the mother, I did not teach her anything related to sexual reproductive health as it is. I hope that [her] school will tell her whatever I failed,” her mother says.

Angelique Tuyishimire's mother sits on a wooden bench outside.
Tuyishimire’s mother regrets not supporting her daughter as a child.

She adds that the stigma she held against her daughter as a child has profoundly impacted Tuyishimire as an adult. “I regret my discrimination to my children. Today my daughter is 20, but she has stigma that she cannot leave home alone. She has no self-confidence because of my mistake of hiding her,” Tuyishimire’s mother explains.

Veneranda Nibagwire is a 38-year-old woman with short stature who lives in Kigali. She says that she and other people with short stature consistently face discrimination. “I married to a husband whom we have the same disability due to that discrimination. We all thought that no person without disability may agree to marry neither me nor my husband, and it is true, because we married when we were both above 35,” she says.

Veneranda Nibagwire stands in front of a brick wall.
Veneranda Nibagwire recalls wishing for support from her family with her pregnancy.

Before meeting her husband, however, Nibagwire was repeatedly sexually harassed and abused by men, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. After her child was born, she felt a lack of support from her family. “Neither my family nor anyone else have ever raised my issues for justice. I struggled, cried day and night, jobless, raising my son alone, [facing] stigma, etc.,” she says.

Despite such challenges, RULP’s Buntubwimana believes conditions for Rwandan women with short stature could improve. She says that families of women and girls with short stature must be the first to support their children – by being proud of them, fighting for them, providing sexual and reproductive health education, and giving them freedom and love. “I hope that if the above’s are done, the whole society will change their negative mindset toward women and girls with short stature,” she says, “and they will be free from violence, stigma and discrimination due to the nature of their height.”  

Francine Uwayisaba is a field officer at Rwanda Union of Little People (RULP) and in charge of the organization’s communications. She writes grants, manages RULP’s social media, and composes articles and weekly updates for the website. @2022 RULP. All rights reserved.

News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice

Sharma sits next to one of his subjects - a man from the nomadic Raute people.

Beyond the Frame

DJP mentor Kishor Sharma is known for his long-term photography and film projects exploring community and change. Over the last 12 years, he has been documenting the nomadic Raute people in mountainous Nepal. With any project, Sharma aims to actively engage participants, sharing photography and videography techniques. In September, Sharma became a mentor to DJP fellow Chhitup Lama. He was eager to connect “this idea of sharing the visual technique with the storytelling idea and the issue of disability inclusion.”

Read more about Beyond the Frame

Three fellows with the Disability Justice Project stand behind their cameras in a room. One is blind and one is low vision.

Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Over the summer the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”

Read more about Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

A photo of Naomi Uwizeyimana.

‘We Live in Our Own World’

For Rwandans with DeafBlindness, critical services like healthcare and educational systems rarely offer necessary accommodations like assistive devices and tactile sign language interpretation. Naomi Uwizeyimana shares her experience with inaccessible infrastructure: “You need a person to help you to communicate everywhere you go and to get every service you want, which cannot always be possible.” Her mission is to bridge the gaps and support the DeafBlind community to fully participate in society.

Read more about ‘We Live in Our Own World’

An illustration raising awareness for World Suicide Prevention Day

Art vs. Stigma 

DJP Fellows Esther Suubi and Kinanty Andini both advocate for the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities through their art and filmmaking, working to create a world free from stigma and discrimination. “I hope that people will realize that mental health is really important, and I hope that many people will not be ashamed if they find out their friends or their family or maybe themselves have mental illness,” says Andini. “We must speak up and prove that the stigmas are wrong.”

Read more about Art vs. Stigma 

An accessible pathway outside of a health center.

Inclusive Care

For decades, Rwandans with disabilities faced significant challenges to accessing health care. Now the country has embarked on an ambitious plan to renovate all of its outdated facilities, with accessibility as a priority. Thirty health centers have been updated so far, changing stairs into ramps, adding Braille signage and more. “Having access to health services to persons with disability in Rwanda is like dreams that we all wish to be true,” says Aimable Irihose of the Rwanda Organization of Persons with Physical Disabilities and Wheelchair Users.

Read more about Inclusive Care

Ruby stands in front of greenery and looks at the camera.

From Stage to Society

Terubeimoa (Ruby) Nabetari has been using the skills she learned as a composer of music and drama to help her organization, Te Toa Matoa, get their messages across about the rights of persons with disabilities in Kiribati. When she first became disabled from an accident, “I felt sad and confused … because I was well-known as a person who composed music and drama in my country,” she says. “But as time went on, I thanked God that I changed my mind and started to realize what I have to offer people with disabilities.”

Read more about From Stage to Society