To Be a Girl with Disabilities from West Africa



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The Forgotten Children

Of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion. Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are among the 10 countries where girls' access to education is the most difficult. In these three countries, girls with disabilities are the most neglected in the education system.


Research Questions

1 / To what extent does the interrelation between disability and gender influence the educational pathways of girls with disabilities?

2 / What are the characteristics related to the type and degree of disability (physical, visual, hearing and, intellectual disability)?

3 / What are the characteristics related to the age of girls with disabilities?

4 / What issues do young girls with disabilities face, particularly in terms of child protection?

5/ What contextual characteristics emerge in the three countries of the study and in the different study areas?

6/ What role do religion and popular beliefs play in the discrimination against girls with disabilities?

7/ What conducive factors for the education of girls with disabilities can be identified in the different study areas (family/community/institutions/policy)?


Study Design

This study is based on a qualitative, comparative, participatory and intersectional approach.

We mainly used testimony, observation and debate through:

# Biographical interviews with school-age girls and boys with disabilities

# Participatory observation in inclusive schools and special education institutions

# Individual interviews with institutional actors

# FGDs with parents, disabled people's organisations, women's associations promoting girls' education, educational actors, and religious and community leaders.

The comparative approach used in the three countries and in different contexts (rural/urban area, capital/province) helped identify trends and specificities.

At the same time, a critical literature review on “gender, disability and inclusive education” was carried out (academic sources, press, reports, official documents and project documents), as well as an analysis of existing statistical data.

Fifteen days of fieldwork (between January and Mai 2019) were necessary in each of the three countries to carry out the survey.

A female research assistant was recruited and trained in each of the three countries to facilitate the fieldwork and, in particular, to translate so that the interviewee could speak more freely if he or she could not express himself or herself freely in French.



In each country, the selection of survey areas was limited by the security context, with some areas not accessible to the research team. The selection focused on areas where HI was implementing inclusive education projects so as to facilitate access to the field and to the actors.

In Mali, the survey took place in Bamako and Sikasso. The comparative approach made it possible to analyse the education of girls with disabilities in the capital and in the regions – more precisely in Mali's second-largest city – both in areas where HI was active and in others where it was not, in order to avoid skewing the results.

In Niger, the survey took place mainly in Maradi and Niamey.

Most of the observations and interviews with children with disabilities and associative, educational, community and religious actors took place in Maradi. In Niamey, interviews were conducted with institutional and associative actors at the national level as well as with heads of special schools. This helped examine the situation of girls with disabilities in greater depth, both in the capital of Niger and in a province reputed to be religiously conservative.

In Burkina Faso, the survey took place in Ouagadougou and its outlying rural communes (30 km maximum) where HI has been working for a long time. This helped compare the situation in the capital and in rural areas.

Target Population

Girls with disabilities of school age (6-16) who are in school (in mainstream and special schools) and out of school. All types of disabilities were taken into account (motor, mental and sensory disabilities), as well as severity, including children and young people with albinism.

# To analyse the specific barriers to education for this group, it was important to compare their situation with that of boys with disabilities of the same age and to survey the perceptions of actors in the living environment of girls with disabilities, namely:

# Fathers and mothers of children with disabilities (or family members where applicable).

# Education stakeholders: teachers, principals of mainstream and special schools, associations of mother educators (AMEs), parents' associations (APEs), school management committees (COGES), and inspectors.

# Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs), women’s associations, associations promoting education, NGOs, community and religious leaders.

# Institutional actors: town councils, ministries and regional directorates working in the fields of education, the promotion of women and children, and support for people with disabilities.

Sample and Study Areas

More than 370 people met in the 3 countries during participatory observation in schools, individual interviews, and FGDs.


Research Findings

The study confirmed a number of hypotheses and provided evidence that girls with disabilities are more discriminated against in education because of their gender and their disability.




Based on an analysis of facilitating elements from the interviews with children and the actors involved in their education, recommendations were made to improve the schooling of girls with disabilities.


Country Studies

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    The achievements of a decade's progress in education swept away by the political-security crisis starting in 2011.


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    The education in Niger, a problem for all children, and girls in particular.


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    One of the first countries in Africa to become aware of the need to educate children with disabilities.