Ontario Fact Sheet
of all Women are disabled. (Health and Activity Limitation Survey,
girls are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted. (Violent Acts
Against Disabled Women, DAWN Toronto Survey, 1986)
Women are more likely to be the victims of violence.
and services for disabled mothers are almost totally inaccessible
or do not exist.
services are often inaccessible to Women with disAbilities.
doctors have difficulty dealing with Women who are both pregnant and
unemployment rate for Women with disAbilities is 74%.
most inescapable reality for Women with disAbilities is poverty. The
median employment income for a disabled woman is $8,360 (Canadian).
The median employment income for a disabled man is $19,250. (Health
and Activity Limitation Survey, Statistics
Women with Disabilities and Development
with the assistance of the Public Participation Program,
Canadian International Development Agency by CCD.
- Women with disabilities
are the poorest of the poor around the world.
- In every sphere
of life, women with disabilities in the developing world experience
a triple bind: they are discriminated against because they are women,
because they are disabled and because they are from the developing
- There are few
educational opportunities for disabled girls. When there are opportunities
for education, in special schools, boys usually receive them.
- Women with disabilities
experience a high incidence of abuse--physical, emotional and sexual.
Since most disabled women are hidden away in homes, this often happens
within the family.
- Many women are
disabled due to the practice of female circumcision and infibulation
in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Women are disabled with
urinary and gynecological infections, fistulas that prevent walking
and through trauma induced by the procedure.
- The unemployment
rate for disabled women in developing countries is virtually 100%.
- Women with disabilities
have been forming their own self-help groups in their countries and
at the world level.
- Women with disabilities
in Central America gathered in El Salvador to learn literacy skills
in February 1991. This was a joint project with CCD, supported by
the Canadian International Development Agency.
Women and Disability
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.
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.
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.
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. 66-69).
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.
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).
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).
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
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.
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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