In order to answer this important question, one needs to apply a gender lens. Undeniably, there are many challenges facing girls and women in Africa but there are some that are specific to those living with disabilities.

Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

GBV in its entirety, against women and girls with disabilities, is one of the major issues. GBV is a vice that goes beyond social, economic, and geographic precincts. Impacting girls and women all over the world, GBV is engrained in power disparities between the sexes and fuelled by several factors, including cultural norms, social acceptance of harmful practices, and inadequate legal protections. As long as girls and women living with disabilities fear for their safety, they cannot realise their full potential. Safeguarding their dignity rests upon eradicating the threat of GBV and harmful practices everywhere.

Lack of Legal Aptitude & Decision-Making Power

The one constant and haunting refrain I’ve heard from people with disabilities has been: “I am treated as less than human.” United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms that:

  • Article 5 States: “Parties recognize that all persons are equal before and under the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law…”
  • Article 6 States: “Parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the present Convention.”
  • Article 12 States: “Parties reaffirm that persons with disabilities have the right to recognition everywhere as persons before the law.”

It is upon governments and institutions to adhere to the above provisions of the law in order to uphold the humanity of people living with disabilities. In addition, girls and women living with disabilities should be able to make choices regarding their sexuality. Forced sterilisation and treatment should never be allowed. It is also important to understand that sexual and reproductive health and rights are more than anatomy. They are about identity, bodily integrity, pleasure and a person’s ability to choose if, when, and how many children to have. To uphold these rights, girls and women living with disabilities need access to accurate information and comprehensive health services including contraception, counselling, and treatment. I personally believe girls and women with disabilities should be able to enjoy:

         The right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity

         The right to a safe, satisfying sexual life

         The right to live a sexual life free of discrimination

         The right to privacy

         The right to sexual health

Lack of Education

The other important issue would be education.  Girls and women living with disabilities should never be left behind. Studies show that girls are one and a half times more likely than boys to be denied their right to primary education. Ninety percent of children living with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school and sixty-three percent of illiterate adults are women. In some African communities, women with disabilities are doubly discriminated against; first, because they are women and secondly because they have disabilities. Barriers to education faced by women and girls with disabilities include attitudes of well-abled people towards their ability to learn. However, in some cases, parents fear that their disabled children will be assaulted or attacked in a school set up. Education is so often a key to employment and economic opportunity. Statistics show that girls and women with secondary education can earn nearly two times more income than women with no education. In addition, girls and women who are better educated have fewer unintended pregnancies, are less likely to be victims of early marriages, and are more likely to drive national economic growth. Educating girls and women living with disabilities is a powerful investment that benefits both individuals and society by unravelling the potential to improve health, nutrition, social justice, democracy, leadership, human rights, social cohesion, and economic prosperity for present and future generations.

In conclusion, girls and women living with disabilities can not only be leaders in the disability rights movements but also in human rights and development movements. Girls and women with disabilities are thought of in terms of “needing protection” rather than being in positions of leadership and decision-making and indeed designers of all-encompassing programmes. Having women with disabilities in positions of influence is key because development and human rights programmes must reflect the needs of women and girls with disabilities, and secondly, so that there is an integrated and intersectional approach. 

Eradication of GBV and harmful practices is both ethical and practical. While little data exists regarding the cost-effectiveness of GBV interventions, the costs of failing to act – including physical and mental health impairments, loss of productivity, and costs related to social, legal, and medical service provision – are astounding. Enacting and operationalising laws and policies that protect individuals’ humanity, together with comprehensive sexuality education and stigma-free health services, greatly improves health and wellbeing.


“Wherever inequality thrives, there are girls and women able to turn the wave of adversity into a tidal wave of progress and development. We simply have to commit to these women, especially those living with disabilities.”

About the Author.