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Education, girls, disability: HI committed to solve the equation of exclusion

Inclusion Rights
Burkina Faso International Mali Niger

Following a study conducted in 2019 in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and on International Day of Education on 24th January 2021, Humanity & Inclusion (HI) alerts Sahel countries’ governments and international cooperation organisations about the exclusion of girls with disabilities from school.

Oumou, 9 years old, is amputated. She is a beneficiary of the HI Inclusive Education project in Mali. (Testimony included in the 2020 Inclusive Education kit)

Oumou, 9 years old, is amputated. She is a beneficiary of the HI Inclusive Education project in Mali. (Testimony included in the 2020 Inclusive Education kit) | © Pascale Jérôme Kantoussan/HI

The education of young girls, including girls with disabilities, is an injustice that Humanity & Inclusion (HI) is fighting against. It is also a major development issue in the Sahel Region that comprises many low-income countries. Worldwide, women with disabilities are three times more likely to be illiterate than men without disabilities.

The reality of girls' education in the Sahel

Very few girls with disabilities go to school in the Sahel. In Mali, less than 18% of women with disabilities can read and write.[1] In Niger and Mali, more than half of the girls enrolled in primary school do not access secondary education. In Burkina Faso, only 1% of girls have completed secondary school.  [2] Being a girl and having a disability represents a double discrimination.

Prejudices and superstitions against disability

Having a child with a disability is often seen by families as a "tragedy" or a "punishment": the child will sometimes be treated unfairly. They may be hidden from society because the family will be ashamed. Some may think that disability is contagious.

According to some beliefs, the bodies of people with disabilities have magical properties. Girls with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence because some believe that having sex with them will bring them wealth or power or cure them of AIDS.

The primacy of boys

A boy is considered to be the future responsible for the family's income. He will be sent to school and will have a better chance of getting a paid job.  A girl will be more likely confined to domestic activities. Sending her to school will be considered useless…

Children with disabilities are very often seen as an additional burden on the family, and girls with disabilities even more so. The costs of educating disabled girls are considered too high, in part because of the economic loss involved. Indeed, girls with disabilities often contribute to the economic survival of the household through begging or by participating in domestic chores.

There are many challenges girls with disabilities face at school

When girls manage to attend school, girls with disabilities face many obstacles. They often drop out of school early as they approach puberty, due to the family’s concern to protect them from sexual violence and early pregnancy. The lack of adapted toilets is also a cause of repeated absences and abandonment.

"I prefer to study but if my parents force me to marry, I will agree to do what they tell me to do" says Fata, 11, who is blind.

In rural areas, the distance between home and school is a major obstacle to schooling for girls with disabilities. For students who walk to school, long distances pose a safety risk. And the cost of transport is often too high for families.

Positive experiences 

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, research around inclusive education for children with sensory impairment has been carried out with successful outcomes. The conditions for success are based on a good assessment of the child's needs and the commitment of the teaching staff who are proficient in sign language or Braille.

"The first year was not easy with the learning of Braille. I didn't feel comfortable. But now it's okay. As time went by, I managed to make friends and we learned to understand each other. I would like to go to high school in Senegal and become a lawyer in my country." Daouda who is 16 years old and lives in Mali.

Education, a development goal

It is estimated that an additional year of study can increase a woman's income by 20%. If all adults in the world had completed secondary education, the world poverty rate would be halved. [3]

Limited access to education leads to low participation in the world of work. In some low- and middle-income countries, the cost of excluding persons with disabilities from the world of work is as high as 7% of gross domestic product. [4]

Reducing inequalities between girls and boys in access to education could bring between $112 billion and $152 billion each year to low- and middle-income countries. [5]


Humanity & Inclusion's work on inclusive education

In 2020, HI implemented 52 projects in 27 countries in West, Central, North and East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Its work focuses in particular on children with disabilities - the most vulnerable and excluded young learners in the world - in low-income countries, both in development and emergency contexts. HI aims to increase the school enrolment, participation and success of children and young adults with disabilities in education.

[1] UNESCO, “Education and Disability: analysis of data from 49 countries”, 2018.

[2] ONE, “Toughest Places for a Girl  to Get an Education =”, 2017.

[3] UNESCO, “Reducing global poverty through universal primary and secondary education”, 2017.

[4] Buckup, S., International Labour Organization, “The price of exclusion: the economic consequences of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work”, 2009.

[5] ONE, “Toughest Places for a Girl  to Get an Education ”, 2017.

Date published: 19/01/21


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