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Rights of women and girls with disabilities to education

19-09-2014
© Robin Wyatt 2014: see www.robinwyatt.org
The Chamkol programme in India supports the government's response to the health and wellbeing of individuals with or at disk of disability. For Primary Health Centre (PHC) workers such as Shilpa - seen here addressing a meeting of anganwadi workers - this means informal support during disability screenings, vaccination and immunisation outreaches.

CBM in its recent submission on education to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee highlighted how lack of access to education and rehabilitation services by women and girls with disabilities denies them the opportunity to create a sustainable future for themselves and their families. The submission recommended a close working relationship with the Committee of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the CEDAW committee to strengthen human right protection for women and girls with disabilities in education.

Women and girls with disabilities and education: the facts

When it comes to education, disability is strongly associated with being out of school and out of the 57 million children worldwide not at school, it is estimated that boys and girls with disabilities make up a large proportion. Some estimates suggest that on average across seven developing countries, a child with a disability is half as likely to be in primary school as a child without a disability.   For women and girls with disabilities this exclusion is higher. Statistics from the World Report on Disability highlight that 50.6% of males with a disability have completed primary school, compared with 61.3% of males without a disability. For females with a disability the report notes that 41.7% completed primary school compared to 52.9% of females without a disability.   Furthermore, in developing countries, the estimated literacy rates for women with disabilities are reported as being as low as 1%, and less than 20% of women and girls with disabilities are estimated to receive rehabilitation services.  Lack of access to education and rehabilitation services by women and girls with disabilities denies them the opportunity to create a sustainable future, as education be it formal or technical (vocational training) is considered one of the key routes out of poverty.

What are the barriers to inclusion in education for women and girls with disabilities?

Young smiling girl typing on a computer ©CBM/Wyatt
Vocational courses using accessible technologies open a range of opportunities for persons with disabilities such as Pallavi in India.
Women and girls with disabilities encounter barriers related to their gender and also because they have a disability and often they face barriers as a combination of both. This multiple discrimination or double discrimination manifests itself through a range of barriers that prevent women and girls with disabilities participating in different areas of life including education. These barriers can include social traditions and deep-rooted religious and cultural beliefs. Some of the key barriers are elaborated below :

•    Cultural bias: In general women face barriers in accessing education due to the commonly held belief that a woman’s role is as a wife and/or mother/caregiver and therefore does not need to be formally educated
•    Stereotyping of women and girls with disabilities: As disability is a source of stigma in many cultures, many women and girls with disabilities are hidden away by their families and are therefore prevented from educational opportunities
•    Gender bias in the provision of education: While information on outcomes of education between boys and girls with disabilities is difficult to obtain, there is some evidence to show that some gender bias exists. For example, in India despite the fact that there is a higher rate of blindness among females, out of ten schools for blind students in New Delhi, eight of them are exclusively for boys.
•    Inaccessible transport and Inaccessible education infrastructure: Lack of access to accessible transport is a major barrier for women and girls with disabilities. So also are a lack of accessible school facilities and in particular lack of accessible and non-unisex hygienic toileting facilities.

How is the right of women and girls with disabilities to education protected?

The right of women and girls with disabilities to education is protected by a number of international treaties. Both CEDAW and the CRPD protect women and girls with disabilities right to education albeit with different emphasis. Article 10 of CEDAW recognises the right of women, including women and girls with disabilities, to have the same opportunities as men in all aspects of education and training throughout the whole education cycle.  Article 24 of the CRPD recognises the right of persons with disabilities to education and sets out a range of obligations to ensure the inclusion of women and men and boys and girls with disabilities in education, including the provision of reasonable accommodation.  In addition, Article 26 of the CRPD also recognises the right of women and girls with disabilities to comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services and programmes, particularly in the areas of health, employment, education and social services.  Finally, Article 28 of the CRC recognises the right of children to a primary education.

CBM’s recommendations to the CEDAW Committee

CBM makes the following recommendation to the CEDAW Committee to further strengthen the rights of women and girls with disabilities to education:

1.    For States Parties implementation and CEDAW Committee monitoring of Article 10 - CEDAW should consider Article 24 and Article 9 of the CRPD to provide guidance on how to achieve inclusive education for all
2.    The CEDAW Committee should consider asking States to include disability disaggregated data when reporting on their implementation of Article 10
3.    Women and girls with disabilities must be included in post- 2015 goals on gender and education.

You can download the full submission below.


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