SEATTLE — The U.K.- based charity Leonard Cheshire Disability has published a report analyzing the state of education for girls with disabilities across the globe. It includes the barriers these girls face and recommendations on how to overcome them. The report criticizes the lack of awareness surrounding the specific challenges posed by the intersection of gender and disability.
A 2011 WHO and World Bank report found that in the 51 countries analyzed, less than 42 percent of girls with disabilities had completed primary education compared to over 50 percent of males with disabilities.
Because gender and disability are both surrounded by social stigmas, females with disabilities are confronted with “double discrimination,” resulting in significant marginalization in education as well as many other aspects of life. According to the U.N., females with disabilities have especially little access to “adequate housing, health, education, vocational training and employment, and are more likely to be institutionalized.” They are also “at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation.”
This issue is not confined to developing world. In a 2014 position paper, the German Development and Disabled Persons’ Organization stated that the rights of women with disabilities, including reproductive and educational rights, are violated regularly in all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries.
Inclusion in education is an essential step for the empowerment of marginalized groups, as it creates opportunities for participation in the labor market and economic independence. Educational programs can also help girls to gain self-awareness and confidence and improve their abilities to claim their own rights and improve their political standing.
According to the Leonard Cheshire Disability report, access to education for girls with disabilities is limited. These children are faced with the challenges other young women must overcome, such as values that encourage girls to stay in domestic roles and therefore deem their education unnecessary, a lack of appropriate sanitation in schools, which results in menstruation being a regular interruption to girls’ education, and inadequate protection from sexual violence. In some regions, not all girls registered at birth, making school enrollment impossible.
For girls with disabilities, these barriers are exponentially worse. Families’ expectations for them are even lower and investing in their education is often seen as wasteful. The shame surrounding disability sometimes results in girls being hidden at home. If financial resources are limited, disabled boys’ education is largely prioritized, since males are more often expected to work and provide income in the future, regardless of disability.
If a child’s mobility or vision is impaired, transportation to school poses another challenge. There are generally more investments in appliances like crutches or wheelchairs for male children than female. The Leonard Cheshire Disability report cites a study conducted in Latin America that found that girls with disabilities are protected more heavily than boys, increasing the tendency toward isolation.
Girls with disabilities face an especially heightened risk of sexual violence and are less likely to report harassment or assaults or to be taken seriously if they do. This reduces the likelihood of completing educational programs, even if the girls are enrolled. For economic reasons, girls with disabilities are often married at particularly young ages in order to hand over the responsibility for their care.
Children with disabilities must contend with inaccessible facilities and bathrooms and insufficiently trained teachers. Girls have less access to assistive technology and rehabilitation. Teachers often also reflect societies’ notions and expectations about girls with disabilities. This means they are often overlooked and discouraged in the classroom.
The report describes a variety of methods addressing these manifold barriers, including sensitization campaigns on education as a universal right, programs providing necessary equipment such as sanitary products or educational materials and programs working on teachers’ education. However, according to Leonard Cheshire Disability, there is “woefully little evidence of good practice that is publicly available and shared across sectors.”
Despite the criticism, the report concludes that awareness of gender and disability discrimination and efforts to improve education access are increasing. The report makes recommendations to promote education for girls with disabilities, including national government policies and frameworks to be implemented and how to monitor their outcomes monitored.
Cooperation between mainstream organizations and disability-focused organizations is crucial. Governments should heighten investments in teacher training and child protection. Finally, the report demands more data collection, specifically on girls with disabilities, to gain a better understanding of various strategies’ success.
The report’s findings are backed by the U.N.’s Girls Education Initiative and the World Bank. On June 15, it was presented at the United Nations meeting in New York, potentially heightening the issue’s global visibility and encouraging further research and initiatives to break down barriers to education for girls with disabilities.
– Lena Riebl