National Council on Disability Document Archive

Fact Sheet on Women and Disability

Posted by: Jamal Mazrui
Date Mailed: Sunday, August 10th 1997 02:12 PM


This FACT SHEET was prepared by Rehabilitation International and
the World  Institute on Disability in July, 1995, for use of
delegates to the UN 4th World  Conference on Women and associated
NGO Forum.  Updated in 1997, its purpose is  to provide basic facts
and data (together with references) about the situation  of women
and girls with disabilities worldwide.  For further information 
contact: Rehabilitation International, 25 East 21 Street, New York,
NY 10010  USA, Fax: (212) 505-0871: or World Institute on
Disability, 510 16th Street,  Suite 100, Oakland, CA 94612 USA,
Fax: (510) 763-4109.

Survival:  In some countries disabled females have a higher
excessive mortality  rate than do disabled males.  For example,
although polio strikes females and  males equally, research in one 
country recorded more than twice the number of  boys with effects
of polio than girls.  The one explanation is that boys  survived
polio twice as often.  (Prejudice & Dignity, United Nations
Development  Program, 1992 p. 33).  This study supports the common
observation in many  developing countries that family response to
sickness or disability among male  children is much more serious,
resulting in more visits to medical and health  services. 
Additionally, when combined with traditional practices of males
being  fed before females, and female children receiving what is
left over, the result  is that often the disabled female child
becomes malnourished as well.  In this  manner, diseases and
disabilities which can be survived by boys, become life-threatening
to girls.  In countries where "son preference" is culturally 
dominant, girls, and especially girls with disabilities, are
particularly  endangered.  Action is needed to help disabled girls
survive and obtain a better  quality of life.

Armed Conflicts:    The armed conflicts of the past decade have
created more  than 30 million (1989 numbers) refugees  and
displaced persons and the vast  majority of  these, approximately
80%, are women and children. ( Population at  Risk: Disabled,
War-Injured and Refugee Children, RI 1992 World Congress 
Proceedings, p. 266).  At the beginning of this century, only about
5% of  casualties of wars and conflicts were civilians.  As the
century closes, more  than 80% of those killed or disabled by armed
conflict are civilians, many of  whom are women and children.  (The
State of the World's Children, 1944, UNICEF,  p.4).  In other
words, those who have the least influence on the conduct of  armed
conflict are now its most frequent victims.

Landmines:    Current UN estimates are that landmines kill at least
35,000  civilians each year and disable, blind or injure thousands
more.  Children and  women are sustaining lifelong disabling
injuries, including orthopedic trauma,  emotional trauma, spinal
cord and brain injuries, and loss of vision, hearing  and mental
capacity due to landmines, bombing and other explosives. (RI/UNICEF 
Study of the Effect of Armed Conflict on Women and Children, 1991). 
They are in  immediate need of rehabilitation services, including
technical aids and  appropriate technology , yet are last in line
to receive them.  Their needs wait  until injured soldiers and
other men are aided.

The social needs of injured women and girls may be as significant,
according to  a recent UNICEF workshop on "Women, Children &
Landmines" held in June, 1995 in  Cambodia.  There, women gave
testimony as to how their disabilities had ended  their marriages,
isolated them from their families and communities, and  destroyed
their futures.  Girls recounted how they were no longer regarded as 
future wives or mothers, but were instead hidden away from society. 
They need  assistance to rejoin their communities.

Literacy and Education: Women make up more than 65% of the world's
illiterate--about 600 million women do not know how to read or
write.  (World of Work, ILO  May/June, 1995, p.4).  In Africa, this
percentage rises to 85%.  (Women and  Disability, UN
Non-Governmental Liaison Service, 1991, p. 31).  Recent UNESCO 
studies have suggested that only approximately 1-2% of disabled
children in  developing countries receive any education, and it is
well-known from field  studies that disabled boys attend schools
much more frequently than disabled  girls.  These studies are
confirmed by presentations made to the UN Experts  Seminar on Women
and Disability (Vienna 1990), that in many countries it is  still
the norm that a girl with a disability will be hidden at home.  A
1994  conference on "Blind Women in Africa" presented information
from 32 countries,  demonstrating that access to literacy programs
and education was often their  only way to avoid a life of begging
in the streets for survival.  (World Blind,  July 94-March 95, pp.

Employment: The belief that girls, and, therefore, girls with
disabilities, will  not benefit from education, predates women's
participation in the labor force.   According to the ILO (World of
Work, ibid, p. 4) in the space of this last  decade, women's
participation rates in the labor force have greatly increased, 
both in the developing as well as in the industrialized world. 
Awareness that  educating girls with disabilities can and does lead
to their participation in  the community including work, needs to
be intensified.

A 1996 European Conference on Women with Disabilities (Germany,
August) received  reports from 20 countries. A major emphasis was
on the grim situation of  disabled women in the labor market,
ranging from a European Parliament estimate  that only 20% are in
the labor force to a British estimate that one-third are  employed
in that country. 

A 1996 Rehabilitation International/World Institute on Disability
Seminar (New  Zealand, September) was held on the growing
phenomenon of small business  development by disabled
entrepreneurs, evident in Africa, Asia and Latin  America.  It was
reported that disabled women are demonstrating a strong rate of 
success in self-employment, sometimes surpassing that of disabled
men. A 1997  international workshop on Wheelchair Building (Kenya,
January), included a group  of women trainees from Uganda and Kenya
who are now planning to establish  production units to build
appropriate wheelchairs.

Economic Status: Regardless of country or culture, from the least
developed to  the most highly developed nations, disabled women are
employed at rates far  lower than disabled men.  The pattern is
established early on and is similar  from country to country: as
girls they have less access to education; as  adolescents, they
have fewer chances to socialize or  receive guidance about 
planning their futures; and as adults they have fewer chances to
receive  rehabilitation services, enter training programs or the
labor market.   Additionally, unlike other women, they have little
chance to enter a marriage or  inherit property which can offer a
form of economic security.  (Studies include:  Vocational
Rehabilitation of Disabled Women in the European Community, 1988; 
Vocational Rehabilitation of Women with Disabilities, I.D., 1988;
Women with  Disabilities, the Economics of Double Jeopardy, RI,
1992, World Congress  Proceedings).

Socio-Cultural Status: For women in any society, having a
disability signifies  dependency, weakness, loss of status and
relegation to an unproductive, asexual  role in the community.  Any
girl or woman with a disability who chooses to fight  this
demeaning stereotype and take part in her community and society has
an  uphill, lonely battle.  Studies have shown that the disabled
women who do manage  to break through the walls of prejudice and
discrimination usually have  benefited from strong role models
and/or support groups of their peers.  Strong   networks, both
national and international, are needed to enable girls and women 
with disabilities to support each other in their efforts to join
the world.   (Pride against Prejudice,  1991, London).

Bioethics and Reproductive Issues: In many countries there are now
legislative  and policy pressures to prevent the birth of disabled
children, to deny disabled  women their right to bear children and
to encourage euthanasia as a socially-sanctified "option" for
people with substantial or progressive disabilities.   Around the
world, disabled women are subjected to involuntary sterilization, 
pressured to or required to seek abortions and denied appropriate
health care  and assistance during pregnancy and childbirth.  (
European Conference on  Disabled Women, IDEAS Portfolio 1997).

Violence: Physical and sexual violence against disabled girls and
women occurs  at alarming rates within families, in institutions,
and throughout society.   Disabled women's groups are beginning to
address this issue through self-defense  courses and political
pressure for studies of the situation, and pressure for  inclusion
of disabled women within shelters and other services for abused

A form of violence against women that is creating disability is
female genital  mutilation (FGM) which can cause infertility,
sexual dysfunction and serious  ongoing medical conditions. 
Although beginning to be outlawed in some countries  (MS. Magazine,
Vol. VII, No.6), FGM continues to threaten millions of women and 
has recently been identified as a priority for action by the World
Health  Organization and UNICEF.

The Girlchild: Recent research has established that the first three
years and,  certainly the first five years of a child's life, are
crucial to both her  cognitive and emotional development. 
Specifically, the more children are spoken  to and read to in a
nurturing environment, the more they respond and develop.  
Conversely, studies of institutionalization have shown that
isolation and lack  of stimulation can stunt and negatively impact
a child's development.  In many  countries, the girlchild with a
disability is given the least attention and  nurturing in the
family, and is often isolated from social interaction.  It is  of
critical importance that early stimulation and intervention
programs be made  available to girlchildren with disabilities.  As
they mature, they can benefit  greatly from contact with disabled
women who can act as role models.

Personal Assistance and Caregiving: The world over, responsibility
for care of  people with disabilities, from infancy to aging
parents, is overwhelmingly  consigned to women.  The Alternative
Copenhagen Declaration (1995 World Summit  on Social Development)
called for men to begin sharing the responsibility for  assistance
needed by children and adults with disabilities.


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