Women and girls with disabilities belong to two vulnerable groups, so they potentially face double discrimination. In Ghana, the majority still do not have self-esteem and confidence that is needed to facilitate their full inclusion in general society.
Challenges faced by women and girls with disabilities make us lose out in all aspects; health, education, justice. So if we are able to address these issues, we can develop a better world where we are leaving no one behind – the motto of the Sustainable Development Goals.
We still have a big gap in representation and in the understanding of the challenge. Development actors do not fully understand and recognise that disability is a cross-cutting issue. For instance, when you advocate for mentioning disability in gender work, you hear concerns that if they mention disability then every marginalised group would be asking to be mentioned. But in every marginalised group you will find women with disabilities so there shouldn’t be the fear of mentioning women with disabilities as a stand out issue to be addressed.
Because women with disabilities still remain in the bracket of ‘vulnerable people’ by most states, they do not get specifically mentioned. That’s why data disaggregation by disability becomes very critical. When we are able to report on what percentage of women with disabilities are included, we will begin to better understand and appreciate what we have to celebrate and what the gaps are.
[To address this], disability data disaggregation is one key role; another is the clear understanding that women with disabilities is a cross-sectional issue and should stand out.
And affirmative action [is needed]. Not in terms of tokenism – some people don’t support affirmative action because they confuse it with a person being there whether they are capable or not. It’s about creating the space for women to be included.
Due to the poor access to education, [few women with disabilities are] gainfully employed. Lack of education and poverty further forces them into limited access to health care, including reproductive health care.
Access to justice, general participation in matters that affect them and representation also tend to be a challenge. The most disheartening part is that although there is some improvement, issues on women with disabilities are not sufficiently included in issues of women in general. Similarly, [issues facing] women and girls with disabilities still do not enjoy the same level of attention as men and boys with disabilities.
Since there has been some progress over the years resulting from human rights and development approaches, it requires continuity until equality is achieved.
Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame
Gertrude is Sightsavers’ Global Advocacy Advisor, and Ghana’s nominee for the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.