COUNTRY STUDY - MALI


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Sample and Study Areas

In Mali, the survey took place in Bamako and Sikasso, in the capital and in provinces – 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.

Assessment of Inclusive Education in Mali

Mali, Among the Countries in the Region Where Girls' Access to Education is the Most Difficult

School enrolment in Mali is marked by profound inequalities between girls and boys, on the one hand, between disabled and non-disabled children on the other, and also between rural and urban areas. The achievements of a decade in terms of education have been swept away by a political and security crisis that started in 2011.

According to ONE, Mali ranks 6th among the 10 countries where girls' education is the lowest. Mali is today one of the most challenging countries in the region in terms of education.

The rate of children not attending primary school is 32.74%, among the lowest in the region (ranking fourth after Nigeria, Niger and Liberia).

# Its Gross Admission Rate (GAR) is 76.5%, the lowest apart from Niger.

# Mali has the lowest primary school completion rate in the region at 42.7% (39.9% for girls and 45.5% for boys).

# The government also has to cope with significant demographic pressure on the education system.

Emergence of Inclusive Education

In Mali, Article 18 of the Constitution of 25 February 1992 recognises that "every citizen has the right to education. Public education is compulsory, free and secular," but children with disabilities are forgotten by the education system.

Generally speaking, the school environment in Mali does not allow for quality education for all pupils, and even less so when they have a disability.

Special education is the poor relation of the Malian education system. DPOs are the originators of special education institutions. Mali has 19 special education institutions today, but they do not serve the whole country and are concentrated in the capital city or in regional capitals. They require a lot of resources for their operation, which does not allow their presence throughout the country. They educate some 2,500 children with all types of disabilities.

A Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA) was established following the Dakar Forum in 2000 in order to influence education policies in Mali for a better consideration of children with disabilities. Today, the coalition counts some 64 institutions in Mali.

Since the 1980s, institutions and DPOs – including the Rehabilitation Centre for People with Physical Disabilities (CRHP), the Malian Union for the Blind (UMAV), the Malian Association for the Fight against Mental Deficiencies in Children (AMALDEME) and the Malian Association of the Deaf (AMASourd) — have been involved in a move towards inclusive education, which integrates children with disabilities into formal education structures and creates inclusive classrooms in special schools.

In 1992, the Malian government launched an Education For All (EFA) programme led by the Ministry of National Education. A National Girls' Education Unit has been created with branches in the different regions in order to take into account regional and local specificities and better involve educational partners in the promotion of girls' education. This unit became the Section for Girls' Education and Training (SCOFI) in 2000, and then the Girls' Education Division in 2011.

Mali signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 15 May 2007 and ratified it on 7 April 2008. The Malian government has committed to making disability a priority in its development agenda. Under pressure from the Malian Federation of People with Disabilities (FEMAPH), this commitment finally produced results on 10 May 2018 with the adoption by the National Assembly of a law on the protection of people with disabilities.

DPOs hope that the law will quickly be implemented on the ground.

The advocacy for inclusive education started at the international level. Promoted by international organisations and CSOs, inclusive education has gradually been mainstreamed at the government level. However, promotion of the inclusive approach is still suffering from the lack of a real inclusive education policy in Mali. Apart from a few projects, inclusive education is not used in pedagogical approaches at the national level yet.

INAM in Bamako

In 2005, with the support of Sightsavers and USAID, UMAV launched a pilot inclusive education project in Bamako for the enrolment of children without disabilities at INAM. From Year 1 to Year 4, visually impaired and blind children receive special education. From Year 5, they are educated in a mainstream classroom with children without disabilities.


Braille alphabet painted on a school façade / INAM boarding school / Inclusive classroom with a blind teacher

At first, parents of children without disabilities were reluctant to send their children to us because some of them thought that blindness was contagious. But now our school has a good reputation.

Director of INAM, Bamako

Findings

& Discussions

Influence of Religion & Popular Beliefs

in the Education of Girls with disabilities in Mali

Negative Representation of Persons with Disabilities Related to the Divine and the Supernatural

In Mali, as in other West African countries, disability representations are mainly spiritual, divine and relational. Disability perception is strongly influenced by popular beliefs and parents’ ignorance about the real (medical) causes of disability.

Focus Group Discussions with educational, association, community and religious stakeholders revealed that disability is most often seen as a tragedy, a punishment inflicted on the family for insulting evil spirits. Parents are therefore ashamed to show their children with disabilities to others.

Children with disabilities are neglected, hidden, sometimes locked away, because some people believe that mental disability, deafness and blindness are contagious. They are less cared for and less fed than other children, and they eat on their own for fear that they may contaminate others.

In most cases, the mother is blamed for alleged rebellion or unfaithfulness. In extreme cases, people consider that a child with a disability is bad luck and must disappear.

Parents think that their child has been exchanged in the night by a djinn. They are the first persons to adopt a negative attitude towards their child.

A teacher of AMALDEME

Usually, children with disabilities are strangled after being washed; then they say that the child used to turn into a snake and go into a pit... that it was a snake child.

The President of the Parents' Association (APE) in Sikasso

His hand looked a bit weird and he had a goitre. When there is a child like that in a family, people think there is witchcraft behind it.

A community worker of ENDA

Accentuated Negative Representation for Certain Types of Disability and for Girls

While all persons with disabilities generally suffer from negative perceptions, some groups are more vulnerable than others, including children with intellectual disabilities and people with albinism. People with albinism can be subjected to ritualistic crimes perpetrated by persons who attribute magical powers to their body parts. Their body parts are particularly in demand during elections because some people are convinced that tearing off the limb of an albino can win them an election.

Similarly, girls with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence, because some people believe that having sex with a girl who has an intellectual disability will bring them wealth or power.

On the other hand, physical disability seems to involve less stigma.

In Mandingo society, disability is not seen as a problem. The proof is that in Mali, we always talk about Soundiata Keïta. He was disabled and he couldn't walk.

Griotte, Representative of the network of traditional communicators

Influence of Traditional Healers on the Health of Children with Disabilities

In our interviews with the children, we noticed that their disability had often been incorrectly diagnosed and treated, as parents placed more trust in traditional healers than in modern medicine. Very often, the remedies of traditional healers only made children's condition worse and prevented them from receiving adequate medical care, as it was the case with Myriam.

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Myriam

Bitten by a snake and amputated

They used a tree root to put a dressing on my foot and they made me swallow a black powder. The treatment lasted one week. I had sores, the foot got infected and my parents took me to hospital, but it was too late. The venom was not dealt with in time, that's why I had my leg amputated. My parents didn't take me to hospital first because our neighbours told us that traditional medicine was faster and more effective.

Influence of Religious Organisations on the Education of Girls with Disabilities

The interviews show that the negative perceptions of disability are more often attributable to popular beliefs rather than to religion. Actually, religion – be it Islam or Christianity – extols the virtues of care and protection for people with disabilities.

Every child is a gift from God and must be taken care of. All children should receive the same care, but traditional attitudes persist. That is why we must continue to raise awareness!

An imam, Sikasso

Islam has an important place in Malian society, and parents are committed to ensuring their children receive religious education. The SCOFI unit in Sikasso (unit in charge of schooling and training for girls) has observed that children leave upper primary school to go to madrasas for religious training, even though the cost of schooling in a madrasa is higher than in a public school.

Studies show that some parents prefer Islamic education for their daughters because they are afraid of the values and behaviours promoted by modern education, which can be contrary to cultural norms.

This argument was not put forward by parents in our study sample. On the other hand, when mothers of children with disabilities are asked whether religion dictates that girls should not be sent to school, Alassane, who is 17 and out of school because of his intellectual disability but has spent a lot of time chatting with his ' friend' the imam at the mosque, reacts spontaneously: 'Girls’ education has nothing to do with religion!'

A mother who had never been to school and who was married at the age of 15 contradicted him:

Yes, it has! Religion plays an important role in girls' schooling. It says that a girl has to get married when she starts menstruating. It’s my husband who wants his children to go to the madrasa. I respect my husband's decision.

Mother of a girl with a disability, Sikasso

The research team noted that parents tended to send their children with disabilities to Koranic schools instead of mainstream schools or special education institutions. They thought that their children would be looked after in a caring way and they did not know that they had the right to enrol their children in a mainstream or special school. However, the children did not stay long in the Koranic schools; they were rejected because of their disability.

As far as Catholic schools are concerned, they take in a few children with disabilities and they fully pay for their education. This is the case of Djibata, 12, who attends the reputed Sainte-Thérèse primary school in Bamako. Children have to take a test to enter the school.

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Djibata

12 years old, Year 5 at St Thérèse, Bamako

Djibata was born with a disability in both hands. She has been attending the Sainte-Thérèse school for three years. She is the only child with a disability in the school. She writes on her copybook with her foot. 'A good man advised my parents to enrol me in Sainte-Thérèse'. Her father, a shopkeeper, and her mother, a cleaning lady, cannot afford to pay for her school fees, which amount to 70,000 CFA francs a year. She is sponsored by Caritas. Before going to Sainte-Thérèse, she spent her first year at CRHP. That's where she learned to write with her foot. Her integration into the ordinary school was successful thanks to the special skills she acquired at CRHP, and also thanks to the kindness of her teachers and the nuns at Sainte-Thérèse.

Intersectionality &

Multiple Discrimination

Gender & Disability

The High Opportunity Costs of Schooling Girls with Disabilities

In the interviews, parents, educational actors and religious and community leaders talk about children with disabilities using economic terms such as value, cost, investment, return, loss.

For parents, educating a girl does not have the same value as educating a boy: 'Girls are destined to be married, and you won’t have to take care of them any more'. Women are traditionally valued for their fertility and their agricultural and domestic activities in a patriarchal society, and girls are primarily intended to serve other families after marriage, so investing in their formal education is considered unprofitable. It's viewed as a loss.

These children are discriminated against because children with disabilities are not “profitable”, as they say. They will never have the same opportunities as normal children. If the family is not well off, no one will take care of their education or their health.

A priest, Sikasso

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The Costs of Education in Mali

Economic considerations are therefore intrinsically linked to gender roles. In poor families, resources need to be carefully managed. Education – and the subsequent investment – is most often reserved for boys who are expected to return the investment at some point by supporting the family.

Financial barriers are the main obstacle to schooling for children with disabilities, because even though education is free by law, parents face significant indirect costs (transport, school supplies, food, uniforms, etc.).

Some parents do not enrol their children because they cannot afford to pay for a birth certificate.

The costs of education affect girls differently. Studies show that waiving direct fees often results in a greater increase in the enrolment of girls than in the enrolment of boys.

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Girls with Disabilities Have a Lower Enrolment Rate than Boys with Disabilities

Rural girls have less chance of being registered at birth and going to school. Mothers who have not been educated contribute to gender discrimination.

As a result of the awareness-raising activities carried out by NGOs, DPOs and community workers, more parents of children with disabilities understand that they have the right to send their children to school like other children. Like girls without disabilities, girls with disabilities are increasingly present in lower primary school and upper primary school, though they are still in the minority.

Age Discrimination


The age variable very often aggravates discrimination against girls with disabilities compared to boys with disabilities, particularly because of the gender difference in treatment at the age of puberty.

Risks of Dropout at Puberty

Menstrual hygiene management is a key issue in the schooling of girls.38 The lack of suitable toilets for girls with disabilities is frequently highlighted by parents – and by women's associations – as a reason for not enrolling their daughters in school or for withdrawing them when they reach puberty.

While the enrolment of girls with disabilities now seems to be less of a problem for parents — because schools take care of their children for them — they do not, however, encourage them to complete secondary school. Girls are found to perform less well in school than boys with disabilities.

Education stakeholders observe that when a boy with a disability performs poorly, parents would make him repeat a year, whereas for a girl with a disability, parents would take her out of school to help her mother at home and cut expenses.

But girls may also decide to leave school on their own initiative because they are discouraged, or because they want to obey their parents. Failure at school for girls with disabilities can be explained by the fact that they are less valued and encouraged.

The Issue of Domestic Work

Girls with disabilities lag behind because they have less time to do their homework; like girls without disabilities, they also have to do their share of domestic work (collecting water and firewood, cleaning up, doing the washing, going on errands, or cooking), which is generally not the case for boys.

In Sikasso, the girls with disabilities met during the study said they were actively involved in domestic work, but less so than their sisters without disabilities.

On the other hand, some boys with disabilities reported that they also did domestic work such as 'sweeping the yard, buying condiments for the cooking, emptying rubbish bins, taking grain to the mill, tending cattle, or working on farms', or worked to bring home some money. They are often paid in kind.

For example, Nour, a 10-year-old blind boy, was going to the mill to grind grain. He said he earned 100 or 200 CFA francs for each errand and gave the money to his mother. At first his mother did not want him to go to school so that he could continue to make money.

The Issue of Early Marriage

According to educational actors, the problem is no longer so much the enrolment of girls with disabilities in primary school, but their retention until secondary school at least. Parents are now more favourable to the schooling of girls with disabilities; however, from the age of puberty, girls are withdrawn to be married or to help the mother with domestic work.

Years 5 and Year 6 are critical, but they must have left school before Year 7. It is more difficult for girls with disabilities to marry, and they usually marry older men or other people with disabilities. Pushing girls into marriage often means taking them out of school. The future husband will decide whether his young wife will continue her studies or not.

The poor learning outcomes of girls, the low economic benefits of their education and the perceived risks make parents and/or girls believe that marriage is a better alternative.

It should be stressed that early marriage is both a cultural expectation related to gender roles and a potential coping strategy for economic survival.

West Africa is the region of the world with the highest prevalence of early marriage. Mali and Niger have the highest prevalence, with 61% and 77% respectively.

The law which was supposed to be the catalyst for the eradication of forced marriage in traditional society proved inadequate. Under pressure from certain conservative currents, a new Family Code was adopted in 2011; it marked a clear regression regarding the status of women and girls compared to the old Family Code. Article 281 of Law 2011 – 087 of 30 December 2011 on the Individual and Family Code sets the minimum age for marriage at eighteen for men and sixteen for women, and grants an age exemption to future spouses who are at least fifteen years old.

Puberty is a critical age in girls' education. Girls are removed from ages 12-15 to avoid resistance to early and forced marriage.

Deputy Mayor of Sikasso in charge of education

Many poor families try to marry off their daughters with disabilities as soon as possible in order to shift the burden of caring for them. Some parents are willing to give their daughters with disabilities in marriage “for free”, i.e. without asking for a bride price.

FGD with associations in Sikasso

Aggravating Factors

Poverty and Place of Residence

According to the 2009 General Census on Population and Housing (RGPH), the chance of attending school for a child with a disability also depends on the level of education of the head of the family and the environment in which he or she lives. In urban areas, 62.2% of children with disabilities attend school compared with only 36.4% in rural areas. The more educated the head of the household, the more children with disabilities are enrolled in school.

The Issue of Begging

People with disabilities are often associated with begging. Begging is still the main source of income for the vast majority of people with disabilities in both rural and urban areas. Children of persons with disabilities are often out of school and are prone to begging and juvenile delinquency.

Begging by children with disabilities is also a concern, but the exact extent of this phenomenon is not known.

This activity is possible and lucrative because of the religious beliefs associated with it. Indeed, Islam and Christianity recommend supporting the poor and say that God rewards those who give alms to the needy and the most vulnerable, including people with disabilities.

Begging is de facto more prevalent in Muslim communities, as children in Koranic schools are forced to beg to pay for tuition and equipment. Begging is said to have been originally instituted to enable disadvantaged families to enrol their children in school. Every day, each pupil devotes some time to begging for food. The system has been perverted and students often spend a large part of the day begging for their Koranic teacher instead of studying.

Transport Issues Leading to Dropout

Transport is the first reason given by parents as to why they do not send their children with disabilities to school. For instance, Amatou, a 12-year-old girl living in the Mali neighbourhood in Bamako, is currently out of school. She has a motor disability in her lower limbs. She used to go to CRHP for physical disability rehabilitation and to attend classes until the centre's bus broke down. She was in first grade. Her mother could not afford to pay for her transport to allow her to continue her education and the physical disability rehabilitation sessions at CRHP. The mother wanted her daughter to go to school, but the only nearby school was a private school that she could not afford. Amatou still has no schooling opportunity.

Every year, EDA in Bamako enrols new students, but a large number eventually drop out the same year because of the transport issue. The director explains: 'The First Lady granted a school bus to EDA, but the school can no longer afford to pay for the fuel, and the bus is not used. When the bus was operating, children paid 2,000 CFA per month, which was not enough to cover petrol costs, although this amount was already too high for some families'.

Public schools do not have canteens, and this obliges students to walk long distances in order to go and eat at home. The double-shift system has developed; half of the children attend school in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. Only special education institutions such as INAM, EDA or AMALDEME have a canteen. This helps to keep children in school and reduce dropouts, according to educational actors.

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Housing Problems for Female Students with Disabilities

INAM and AMALDEME are the only institutions that have a boarding school. While at INAM the boarding school is mixed, at AMALDEME the boarding school is open only to boys, because 'if there was a boarding school for girls, parents would tend to abandon their daughters to associations or NGOs', according to the teachers and the director of AMALDEME.

Having family members or a guardian near the school increases a child's chances of being enrolled.

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Fanta

14 years old, is taking the DEF this year

I have been at INAM since first year thanks to my uncle who lives in Bamako. I stay at the boarding school on weekdays and I go to my uncle's at weekends. My parents are in the village, I only go home during the holidays. I would like to be become a journalist. I would like to go to high school next year, but I know it will be difficult because it is too far from here. I will no longer be in a boarding school, because no one will take charge of the costs like here.

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Nour

10 years old, Sikasso

Nour was able to attend a mainstream school in Sikasso that receives blind children thanks to HI which provided training to the teachers. Parents have been sensitised by the community worker, but his family lives in another town. The president of the DPO has agreed to become Nour's guardian. The guardian's son looks after Nour at school and after school.

Specificities Related to the Type and Degree of Disability


Of all children with disabilities, children with physical disabilities are those who can most easily be educated in a mainstream school near their homes, provided that physical accessibility is improved (ramps, adapted toilets, mobility aids). However, visual, hearing and, above all, intellectual disabilities are more difficult to deal with. It is very difficult for these children to attend a mainstream school if teachers are not well trained in sign language and Braille, and if awareness-raising among other students and their parents is neglected.

Portrait of Oumou

To read the subtitles in French, activate the option on Youtube.

Hearing Impairment

In the regions, there is no upper primary education for children with hearing impairment. Hearing-impaired students in Bamako who pass the DEF are usually sent to the agropastoral training centre, but the lack of follow-up leads to many dropouts. They have no opportunity to move on to secondary school or to go to a vocational or technical school due to the lack of adequate support.

The research team met a group of 4 girls who were still hanging around the EDA in the Hippodrome area even though they were no longer in school. Two of them had passed the DEF, but they had no professional prospects when we met them. One of them wanted to train as a secretary, but her mother didn't agree because she would have been the only hearing-impaired girl in the class.

The third girl had dropped out in Year 3 because of the cost of travelling to school. As for the fourth girl, she had dropped out in Year 9 because it was too difficult. She also had problems with the teacher and with her parents. She had a lot of domestic work to do and no longer wanted to continue her studies. She will soon marry a boy with a hearing disability.

Although parents prefer to invest in the education of boys to make sure they can work and make money later on, we met parents who no longer believed that school would provide a future for their boy with a disability. For example, Cissé is a boy in Sikasso whose father took him out of school although he was a good pupil and wanted to continue his studies. The father took this decision because of the situation of his nephew, who is also deaf. The nephew went to Bamako to take his DEF and do vocational training. When he came back to Sikasso, he was unable to find work.

Visual Impairment

When they are in school, blind children also find it difficult to continue their studies after passing the DEF. Those who manage to reach secondary school study humanities, a subject that is easier to understand than science, due to the lack of trained teachers and adequate teaching materials. The few students who read science have become blind later in life.

Blind pupils lack Braille books; they usually have copies. School supplies for blind students are excessively expensive: a punch costs up to FCFA 850 compared to FCFA 75 for an ordinary pen; a ream of paper costs FCFA 20,000 while a notebook costs FCFA150 to 200 ; a tablet can cost up to FCFA12,000 and a Braille typewriter up to FCFA 1 million, and so on.

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Daouda

16 years old, is taking the DEF this year

I lost my vision as a result of glaucoma at the age of 5. This is my tenth year at INAM. I left the boarding school because hygiene conditions weren't good and the food was poor. Now my elder brother drops me off every morning and picks me up in the afternoon. I remember that learning Braille was not easy at all in my first year. I didn’t feel at ease. But now it's all right. Over time, I managed to make friends and we learned to understand each other. My only regret is that I failed to convince my boyfriend, who is also visually impaired, to continue his studies. He preferred to spend his time begging.

After the DEF, I would like to go to secondary school in Senegal and become a great lawyer in my country. I did some research on Google and I discovered that there is a good school for the visually impaired there. I have installed software on my smart phone to allow me to navigate on the Net. I plan to continue my studies there at the beginning of the coming school year. I am satisfied with the education provided at INAM; my teachers are competent and have no difficulty in their teaching. They showed me how to accept my disability and prepare for a bright future like children without disabilities do.

The Management of Intellectual Disability Remains a Challenge

According to DPOs, the more severe the disability, the greater the risk of exclusion and abuse. Children with multiple disabilities rarely attend school due to the lack of adequate institutions. Of all the types of disabilities, the enrolment of children with intellectual disabilities in mainstream schools remains the most difficult due to a lack of trained teachers, as these children require constant attention and classes can be as large as 100 students.

AMALDEME is the only actor that takes care of this type of disability, and its resources are very limited. This is why projects that promote inclusive education by enabling children with intellectual disabilities to attend a mainstream school near their home make sense.

The expected outcome of all the activities conducted by AMALDEME is socio-professional integration. According to the association, in order to encourage parents to take care of their daughters, income-generating activities for girls with disabilities should be promoted by involving the family, and the mother in particular.

AMALDEME had a vocational training project for girls with disabilities aged 15-30 and for their mothers for the production of soap; however, the project is at a standstill for lack of funding. The association has created vocational training centres, including the Djélibougou training centre (for girls only) and the independent living home in Baguinéda (for boys only). All these centres have ceased to operate for lack of funding.

The objective of their schooling is not the acquisition of knowledge, but rather socialisation with peers in order to foster the children’s development.

Director of AMALDEME

Gender-Based Violence &

 Protection of Girls with Disability


Due to the lack of transportation, students often have to walk long distances to school. When parents send their daughters with disabilities to school, they need to be sure that they will be safe on their way to and from school. For parents, 'being outside is dangerous for girls, especially for girls with disabilities', and 'danger also looms at school'. They say that they tend to take them out of school at puberty in order to protect them from sexual assault and unwanted pregnancies, and avoid shame.

Thus, the distance between home and school is a determining factor in the decision of parents to let their daughters go to school, and this highlights the need to reduce the distance to school and to support transport schemes.

Studies show that girls are more vulnerable to sexual violence than boys, and girls with disabilities – especially girls with intellectual disabilities – are up to four times more likely to be abused or sexually assaulted than their peers without disabilities.49 Another study by Save the Children shows that for 68% of girls in Mali, teachers are the primary perpetrators of sexual harassment.

When rape and pregnancy occur, the family puts pressure on the perpetrator to marry the victim. But in many cases, the girl becomes a single mother, is left to fend for herself, or the baby is abandoned.

According to the Regional Directorate for the Promotion of Women, Children and the Family, there are no data or studies allowing a better understanding of this phenomenon.

Analysis of Facilitating Elements & Recommendations

1 / Children with Disabilities & their Parents

It has been observed that the vast majority of parents of children with disabilities are influenced by sociocultural burdens that lead to discrimination, desertion or seclusion. Furthermore, they are often unaware that children with disabilities can learn and be successful in school.

Most of them do not know about the existence of special schools, neither do they know that their children with disabilities have the right to attend public schools.

It has been observed that when girls with disabilities are supported by their family, they perform better in school than boys with disabilities and even better than children without disabilities. Most often, mothers are committed to girls' education and encourage them to go to school, but this study highlights the determining role of fathers or more broadly of a father figure (brother, uncle, etc.) in the educational success of girls with disabilities. Fata, a little blind girl in Sikasso, and Yah, a girl with a physical disability who lives in Bamako are both at the top of their class. Their success is largely due to their fathers’ support.

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Fata

11 years old, Year 2 in Sikasso

Fata is currently in Year 2 in an inclusive school where the teacher has received Braille training from HI. Before attending public school, she went to Koranic school.

'Thanks to HI, I learned that visually impaired children could go to the ‘white man's school’ and could learn to write like children without disabilities. I want her to continue her studies and become an important person in this country!' her father explains.

Fata is a young girl who is always in beautiful bright dresses. Although shy, she participates actively in class.

When I lost my vision at the age of 8, I didn't know what to do at home. I was in despair and I was always crying. Now I am comfortable, I am independent and I don't see myself as different from the other children.

I am happy, despite my disability, and I am proud because I am at the top of my class. My elder brother helps me to study at home and I also attend HI’s weekly support classes. I had no difficulty learning Braille. A few days before the start of the school year, I attended a preparatory training course which helped me a lot.

Later on, I want to continue my studies and become a teacher. I will do everything to succeed and further my studies.

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Yah

15 years old, Year 8 in Bamako

Yah's mother abandoned her but her father has supported her since birth:

It was a huge shock for the mother. She preferred to divorce me to avoid taking care of her daughter. I was desperate; I had to remarry because it is not easy for a man to take care of a baby, especially a baby like her. When she was young, Yah would keep asking me to send her to school. When she was 7 years old, I enrolled her at the school in the Mali neighbourhood.

Yah is now 15, she is in Year 8 and already shows great determination.

I consider myself as a person who can do everything that others can do. I don't envy anyone; I have the same rights as other children who do not have disabilities. I decided to fight and always be at the top of my class. I am determined to complete my education and become an accountant. My advice to my brothers and sisters with disabilities is to study in order to have a better future one day!

2 / Children without Disabilities & their Parents

Parents of children without disabilities often do not set a good example and they contribute to stigmatisation by students. However, when children without disabilities are sensitised, they show empathy and solidarity with their peers with disabilities (like the son of Nour’s tutor).

Conversely, when children without disabilities are not sensitised, their mockery seriously affects children with disabilities and leads to their failure at school. Children who have been introduced to sign language at a very early age in inclusive classes in Sikasso will contribute to bridging the gap with the hearing impaired.

3 / Political, Religious, and Community Leaders

Political, religious and traditional leaders exercise great influence in their communities. They can play a crucial role in raising awareness. Although religion – both Islam and Christianity – encourages benevolence towards people with disabilities, believers sometimes do not demonstrate open-mindedness.

On the other hand, as far as gender issues are concerned, some religious and traditional leaders do not encourage the schooling of girls, because “modern” education leads to the perversion of traditional values.

4 / DPOs, Women's Associations, and Structures Promoting Inclusive Education

In Mali, inclusive education was introduced by international organisations. DPOs have now joined the movement and have developed innovative initiatives, but they are limited by lack of funding. The special education institutions run by DPOs are located in the capital and in large urban centres such as Sikasso.

DPOs say that the issue of the education of children with disabilities must be correlated with vocational inclusion and access to employment. They regret the lack of vocational training centres and opportunities for their students. Stakeholders working on disability and girls' education stress the importance of coupling education and vocational training in order to encourage parents to send their children to school, especially their daughters. Children with disabilities who leave primary or secondary school should have access to vocational training.

The experience gained by special education institutions should be capitalised on and strengthened in order to promote inclusive education. It is crucial to mobilise resources to build the capacities of associations on the inclusive approach, because some have a rather conservative and protective vision of girls with disabilities. For example, during the focus group discussions in Sikasso, women's associations were in favour of keeping girls with disabilities apart (i.e. not sending them to school with other children) in order to protect them, while disability associations were in favour of inclusion.

5 / Educational Stakeholders

In the education sector, there is a marked shortage of skilled teachers trained in the inclusive approach, both in special education institutions and in state schools. Teachers are seen to have a key role to play in getting children into school (for example, by preventing early marriage). However, some teachers do not want to accept children with disabilities into their classrooms, which are already overcrowded, with more than 100 students sometimes. For the Deputy Mayor of Sikasso, 'the teacher plays a central role. If the teacher doesn't buy in, things don't work. They need to be sensitised and trained to accept children'.

The lack of teacher training was frequently mentioned as a major obstacle to the schooling of girls with disabilities in our interviews. Some parents are reluctant to send their children with disabilities to a mainstream school because they think that teachers who are not proficient in sign language or Braille will not know how to properly care for their children.

For Mr Adama, the father of a child with a disability and a teacher in the Yrimadjo neighbourhood of Bamako, there is an issue that HI does not address:

"It is a good thing to educate all children with disabilities; but to do so, all the necessary conditions have to be fulfilled by our leaders. Often, we are brought children that we cannot accept because of the lack of trained teachers. I call on you to get the message across to the relevant people: think about teacher training to allow full inclusion."

Teachers should also be sensitised and trained to develop a gender and disability sensitive pedagogy. Existing teaching and learning materials and processes reflect male-centred views and power hierarchies. The absence of role models for women with disabilities in educational materials, in the media, and as educators and mentors highlights women’s lack of visibility. Role models and positive representations are needed in order to change attitudes and encourage girls with disabilities – and their families – to continue their education. There is evidence that the low representation of women in classrooms, especially in rural areas, negatively affects girls' enrolment rates

6 / Institutions & Public Policies

The problem of education in Mali is general. The government must continue its efforts for universal primary education. In order to reach girls with disabilities in particular, the government must ensure the implementation of the national policy on girls' education (and take into account the specificities of girls with disabilities), and the law on the protection of persons with disabilities must also be enforced.

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Recommendations

There is a need for a double approach to promoting the education of girls with disabilities, which involves improved access and quality education for all children as well as targeted programmes for girls with disabilities in particular. To allow the planning of these policies, there is an urgent need to fill the data gap on disability and gender.

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