Advancing the Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities: The Need for Inclusion
According to the World Health Organization, people with disabilities make up 15 percent of the world’s population, with women ranking higher among those with disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities are subjected to various forms of discrimination than women without disabilities as they experience multiple layers of discrimination based on their gender and their disability which is commonly known as “double discrimination”.
There are several challenges faced by women and girls with disabilities, and these include;
- Lack of access to employment and good-paying jobs suitable for their disabilities;
The United Nations estimates that 75 percent of women with disabilities are unemployed and women with disabilities who are employed often earn less than their male counterparts and women without disabilities. Despite international Statutes, Conventions, and Acts, women with disabilities continue to experience discrimination in many areas of life, including employment. This issue has led to a gender pay gap and an increase in poverty faced by women and girls with disabilities
2. Women with disabilities experience many hurdles to sexual and reproductive healthcare;
Women with disabilities experience barriers in accessing information and education as regards sexual and reproductive health rights and information. Adolescent girls are mostly not given access to sexual and reproductive education, usually based on a presumption that they do not need it, and can, in turn, lead to sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancies, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Medical health practitioners hold incorrect views based on stereotypical presumptions that women with disabilities are not sexually active, leading to medical neglect, lack of support, and insensitivity for women with disabilities. Also, health care facilities and equipment are usually physically inaccessible and not designed for women with disabilities in mind, a lack of information by healthcare providers on how to accommodate women with disabilities, which can lead to difficulty or a strain in receiving health care.
Furthermore, there is an unspoken or perceived stigma faced by pregnant mothers living with disabilities. When women with disabilities access maternal healthcare services, people are mostly of the stereotypical opinion or perception that women with disabilities should not get pregnant which can, in turn, lead to substandard health care services and negative treatment which and prevent a pregnant woman with a disability for seeking pre-natal healthcare.
3. Gender-based Violence
Studies have shown that women and girls with disabilities are more than 10 times more likely to experience gender-based violence than women without disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities are often abused because they are seen by their oppressors as weak and vulnerable due to their disability which can be a limited means of communication or physical movability.
As young girls with disabilities enter adolescence, their risk of experiencing sexual violence increases.
Harmful myths make them easy targets. In some African countries, for instance, it is believed that having sex with a virgin girl or a girl with Albinism may cure HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Girls and young women with disabilities are often perceived as A-sexual, and thus presumed virgins and targeted because of their disabilities.
Gender-based violence experienced by women and girls living with disabilities can take the form of rape, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, and molestation. This Violence against women and girls living with disabilities can start at an early age and last throughout adulthood which can lead to a negative effect on the physical and psychological health and well-being of older women.
All the different forms of discrimination, stigma, abuse, and the exclusion of women and girls living with disabilities can have a negative consequence on any society.
The exclusion and violence against women and girls with disabilities in any country carries heavy financial and social consequences. Discrimination against persons with disabilities hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.
It is important to note that the inclusion of everyone in the society, women, and girls without disabilities, children, people with disabilities, women, and girls living with disabilities, all sectors and groups can foster economic growth.
Here are some recommendations that are crucial to advancing the rights of women and girls with disabilities;
- Easy and accessible health care services, to be provided for women and girls with disabilities.
- Adopt measures to address the needs and inclusion of women and girls with the needs of pregnant women with disabilities.
- Put an end to stereotypes, stigma, and discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities.
- Adopt stringent policies to increase and ensure meaningful participation and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in all areas of life such as politics, employment, education, and entrepreneurship.
- Put measures in place to curb gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities. Rehabilitation centers, health services, shelters, mental health services, should be made accessible for victims and survivors of Gender-based violence.
- More information and materials should be made accessible by health care providers on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Education for women and girls with disabilities and also pregnant mothers with disabilities.
Author: Miracle Oluwafemi