ALERT- New Factsheet explores challenges in education for girls with disabilities in the Sahel | January 24, 2021
Most girls with disabilities do not have the opportunity to access education and to thrive in school. They are exposed to multiple discrimination owing to their identity as girls and as children with disabilities. Comprehensive measures are needed to ensure their right to inclusive and quality education. Download the factsheet Persistent exclusion of girls with […]
Most girls with disabilities do not have the opportunity to access education and to thrive in school. They are exposed to multiple discrimination owing to their identity as girls and as children with disabilities. Comprehensive measures are needed to ensure their right to inclusive and quality education.
Persistent exclusion of girls with disabilities, in the Sahel and beyond
The factsheet “Education, girl, disability: an equation to solve” builds on the findings of a research conducted by Humanity & Inclusion in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger and conveys messages and recommendations aiming to inspire action and thus improve educational opportunities for girls with disabilities.
In the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 5% of children with disabilities attend primary school. For children with disabilities who do make it to school, schools and education itself are often not adapted to their needs and they do not achieve the desired educational outcomes. Restrictions on access and achievement in education become even more severe when multiple discrimination factors, such as disability and gender, intersect. The available data suggest that the gap is considerable: compared to men without disabilities, women with disabilities are three times more likely to be illiterate.
Over the past ten years, supported by an international context evolving towards more inclusion in education, the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have developed inclusive education strategies aimed at providing an education that takes into account the learning needs of all children, including children with disabilities. Despite improvements, these countries continue to face significant educational challenges. School closures following attacks and threats of violence have further reduced learning opportunities for girls, even more so for girls with disabilities.
Multiple factors shape the experiences of girls with disabilities in education
Looking more closely at the situation of girls with disabilities, a number of challenging factors emerge:
- Popular beliefs perpetuate stigma and exclusion – Disability is most often seen as a “tragedy” or “punishment” inflicted on the family and leads to discrimination against children with disabilities.
- Education for girls with disabilities is seen as a cost, not as an investment – Educating girls with disabilities is considered as an economic loss for the family. In fact, girls with disabilities often contribute to the household through begging or performing domestic chores.
- The “age” variable worsens discrimination against girls with disabilities – Puberty increases the risk of dropping out of school. Many girls with disabilities are taken out of school as they approach puberty to protect them from possible sexual violence and early pregnancy.
- Socio-cultural and socio-economic factors have a major impact on schooling – A girl with disabilities from a poor family, living in a rural area, will see her chances of schooling significantly reduced.
- The type and level of disability determine educational opportunities – schools are often better prepared to welcome children with physical disabilities than children with moderate or severe intellectual or sensory disabilities.
- Gender-based violence strongly affects girls with disabilities – Violence and abuse, largely invisible because undocumented, have a devastating impact on the development and the well-being of girls and are a major obstacle to their education.
The education of children with disabilities is above all a matter of poverty. If a girl with disabilities comes from a wealthy family, she won’t have a problem going to school. A poor relative once told me: “Before, my child brought me 2,500 francs a day, by begging. She hasn’t brought anything to me since she has been in school!” (Secretary General of the Town Hall of Maradi 1, Niger).
Key recommendations so that girls with disabilities are not left behind
Moving towards inclusive education systems requires understanding the specific needs and tackling the specific challenges faced by girls with disabilities. We call on:
- Governments to apply an equity-based gender approach to education sector planning, budgeting and resource allocation that will better take into account the needs of girls with disabilities. Provide solutions for reducing the costs of education for the most vulnerable families (school grants, cash transfers, canteens, transport).
- Donors to use an intersectionality perspective in the development of strategies and programmes, paying particular attention to the specific situation of girls with disabilities and emphasising the importance of equal participation in education and in society.
- Civil society organisations to create partnerships, as well as spaces for discussion and capitalising on experiences among actors involved in gender, disability, and inclusive education —at the local, national, and international levels— in order to strengthen the intersectional approach.