Sunday, December 07, 2008

Women and Disabilities

Some time back, my wife and I sat in on a teleconference around disability abuse. We were shocked to hear of the plight of women becoming disabled by domestic violence in America. It is pandemic how many women are abused throughout the world. This article from the Antigua Sun Weekend shows some startling data...

Women and disabilities

What are the numbers of women with disabilities worldwide?

According to the World Health Organisation, women with disabilities comprise 10% of all women worldwide. Approximately 300 million women and girls around the world have a mental and/or physical disability.

Globally, women make up three-fourths of the disabled people in low- and middleincome countries; between 65 per cent and 70 per cent of those women live in rural areas.

In most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, women report higher incidents of disability than men.

Conversely, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that women are at an increased risk of becoming disabled throughout their lives due to neglect in healthcare, poor workforce conditions, and gender-based violence.

What is the situation of women with disabilities in the developing world?

The World Bank estimates that 20 per cent of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability and tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged. Women with disabilities are recognised to be multiply disadvantaged, experiencing exclusion on account of their gender and their disability.

The ILO states that women with disabilities are at an increased risk of being sicker, poorer, and more sociality isolated than either men with disabilities or non-disabled women.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the literacy rate for women with disabilities is as low as one per cent.

The United Nations estimates that, worldwide, only 25 per cent of women with disabilities are in the workforce.

Neglect, lack of medical care and less access to food or related resources have resulted in a higher mortality rate for girls with disabilities. For example, a UNICEF study in Nepal found that the survival rate for boy children several years after they have had polio is twice that for girl children, despite the fact that polio itself affects equal numbers of males and females.

What are some of the specific issues related to women with disabilities and development programmes?

Gender-based violence: Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse. For example, a small 2004 survey in Orissa, India found that virtually all of the women and girls with disabilities were beaten at home, 25 per cent of women with intellectual disabilities had been raped and six per cent of women with disabilities had been forcibly sterilised.

Rule of law: Legal barriers exist for women with disabilities that hamper their right to marry and start a family. For example, in Tanzania, consent for marriage must be given “freely and voluntarily”. However, consent is not considered valid when either party has a mental disability based on the assumption that he or she cannot fully understand the nature of the ceremony. Similar laws exist in Cambodia and China.

HIV/AIDS: A recent World Bank study states that women with disabilities are at a higher risk of obtaining HIV/AIDS due to lack of awareness and lack of access to traditional HIV/AIDS programs. Furthermore, the folk belief that individuals with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, can rid themselves of the infection if they have intercourse with a virgin poses a particular risk for disabled children due to the mistaken belief that individuals with a disability are sexually inactive – hence virgins.

Human trafficking: Women and girls with disabilities are at risk of being trafficked and forced into prostitution. In Thailand, for example, UNICEF reports that proprietors of houses of prostitution have specifically sought out deaf girl children and adolescents, with the idea that such young people will be less able to communicate their distress or find their way back home in a world where neither their customers nor their employers or fellow sex workers are able to speak sign language. In Taiwan, a recent study found that the proportion of child prostitutes who had mild developmental disabilities was six times greater than what might be expected from the incidence in the general population.

What are the barriers?

Physical barriers:Physical barriers exist that prevent women and girls with disabilities from receiving various services and participating in international development programs. For example, a recent survey in South Africa has found that the services for battered women, with a few exceptions, are generally not accessible or appropriate to the needs of women with disabilities.

Attitudinal barriers: People with disabilities often face stigmas and exclusion resulting from limited knowledge and understanding of the causes of disability. For example, in India, women with physical disabilities are not eligible to receive reproductive health services because they are considered to have no marriage prospects.

Organisational barriers: Projects are often implemented without adequate consultation from people with disabilities or the disabled community, which can result in programs that are not accessible or discriminate against people with disabilities.

What can be done to better integrate people with disabilities?

Conduct outreach: International and national Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) and disability leaders are an excellent resource and can help in the design, implementation, and evaluation of development programs to ensure that they are accessible to people with disabilities.

Hire Staff, Interns, and/or Consultants with Disabilities: Improving diversity within the workplace improves and ensures diversity of programs and activities.

Ensure accessible facilities and materials: Make sure that the trainings or activities you are conducting are in an accessible venue. Also, provide materials in alternative formats, such as documents in large print or information on compact discs.

Educate and Train: Conduct trainings for your staff and partners on inclusive practices and disability awareness-raising on physical, organisational or social barriers.


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