The study confirmed a number of hypotheses and provided evidence that girls with disabilities are further discriminated against in education because of their gender and their disability.
The research team tried to better understand the role of religion and popular beliefs in this double discrimination.
The researchers looked at how gender, disability and age shaped the experiences of girls with disabilities regarding access to education and school retention; they also looked at other factors that aggravate their discrimination, as well as specificities related to the type and degree of disability, and protection issues.
Moreover, the team tried to identify common points and characteristics in the different environments and countries studied.
Influence of Religion & Popular Beliefs
in the Education of Girls with Disabilities in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso
The negative perceptions and attitudes of families and the community in general due to popular beliefs that are still firmly rooted in society constitute one of the strongest barriers to the schooling of children with disabilities, and girls in particular.
# In Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, as in other West African countries, popular beliefs fuel a negative perception of disability, linked to the divine and the supernatural. These representations vary from one ethnic group to another.
# This negative perception is accentuated for certain severe disabilities (especially intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, cerebral palsy and albinism) and for girls, who are more likely to be abandoned or killed at birth.
# The family is both the victim and the executioner: family members (especially mothers) are also stigmatised and are often at the root of the abuse of children with disabilities.
# Parents find the remedies of traditional healers appealing, but these remedies often worsen their children's health, and can even be fatal.
# Negative perceptions of disability are more often attributable to popular beliefs than to religion. Actually, religion – be it Islam or Christianity – extols the virtues of care and protection for people with disabilities.
# However, some parents prefer Islamic education for their daughters because they fear the values and behaviours promoted by modern education, which can be contrary to cultural norms.
# In Burkina Faso, Christian organisations - Catholic and Protestant - were pioneers in the field of inclusive education and still dominate this sector today. They tend to encourage parents to send their disabled daughters to school by fully financing their education.
Gender and Disability
In all three countries, boys and girls with disabilities experience similar instances of social exclusion at school. However, during the study meetings, girls with disabilities were regularly reported to face increased stigmatisation, lack of opportunities and further marginalisation compared to boys with disabilities.
In particular, they are less likely to receive an education than boys with disabilities.
Girls with disabilities are last in the priority list for scarce resources.
Let me Decide and Thrive, Plan International
The Costs of Girls' Schooling
Socio-cultural and socio-economic factors play a significant role in a family’s decision not to send a girl to school or to take her out of school.
Families and communities often favour boys at the expense of girls, resulting in differences in educational opportunities and outcomes.
Children with disabilities are seen as an additional burden on the family, and girls with disabilities even more so, in a context where unequal gender norms severely restrict girls' opportunities to go to school.
Persons with disabilities are considered as being “of lesser value” because they are “unprofitable”, which means that educating a girl with a disability is even seen as a loss.
The opportunity costs of sending girls with disabilities to school are considered too high, especially because of the economic loss this represents, as they actively contribute to the economic survival of the household through begging and their participation in household chores.
In all the institutions visited, boys with disabilities outnumber girls with disabilities, whose numbers are drastically reduced as they progress through school. Boys with disabilities also have a longer school career than girls with disabilities. Girls generally have higher grade repetition, failure and dropout rates than boys due to heavy domestic burdens and unequal family investment in their education.
High Opportunity Costs of Schooling Girls in West Africa
Studies by OXFAM and Plan International show that these costs are related to the “services” that the family loses when a girl goes to school. Once the barriers presented by direct and indirect costs are lifted, it is important to understand these opportunity costs. The opportunity costs of sending girls to school are particularly high because the time-consuming and labour-intensive fuel and water fetching is usually done by school-age girls. Girls also care for younger siblings when their parents work or when there is no local child care service. Girls often sell products in local markets and are involved in a wide range of commercial activities. They are also the most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Not only are they at greater risk of getting AIDS than boys, but they are also the ones who have to miss school to care for sick family members.
The decision to enrol a girl will depend on the economic and social benefits perceived by parents and people in their immediate environment.
The opportunity costs of sending girls to school vary across Africa. For example, in Sudan, the more educated a girl is, the less valuable she is considered to be, with significant opportunity costs for parents. By contrast, in much of southern Africa, an educated girl can command a higher bride than a less educated girl.
# In the countries of the study, there is a need to reduce the opportunity costs of sending girls with disabilities to school by gradually changing the negative representations associated with girls with disabilities. To do this, we have to demonstrate that girls with disabilities who are educated are more likely to be self-sufficient, to have a job, to earn better wages, and to have a better quality of life; above all, they will no longer be a burden, but a source of income for their parents.
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.
# Late enrolment: Girls with disabilities are often enrolled late. Some were refused because of their advanced age. “Transitional classes” have enabled girls with disabilities to attend school.
# 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, which is generally not the case for boys.
# Early marriage: Girls with disabilities seem to be less at risk early marriage, as it is more difficult for them to marry, except in Mali where it seems that “girls with disabilities withdrawn from school when they are between 12 and 15 years of age, so that they do not put up resistance to forced and early marriage. They usually marry older menor else boys who are themselves disabled. 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 demanding a bride price.” As a result, these girls are at greater risk of violence and of being denied access to education.
# Puberty-related risks of dropping out: girls with disabilities are withdrawn from school as they approach puberty in order to protect them from pregnancy outside of marriage, which is considered shameful. They are more vulnerable to sexual violence that may occur on the way to or from school. The lack of adapted toilets for girls with disabilities, especially during menstruation, is also a cause of repeated absences and dropout. It is estimated that 1 in 10 African female students misses school during menstruation due to a lack of adequate sanitation facilities.
# While the idea of enrolling girls with disabilities in school is beginning to make headway in the minds of parents, parents do not encourage them to move on to secondary school. Education stakeholders observe that when a boy with a disability performs poorly, parents are more likely to make him repeat a year, whereas in the case a girl with a disability, parents would take her out of school to help her mother at home and to reduce expenses.
Poverty and Place of Residence
Censuses and studies show that the chances of attending school for a girl with a disability depend on her socio-economic background, the level of education of the head of the household, and her place of residence.
# Living in a rural area is far more detrimental to a child's schooling than being a girl. Being a girl who is double orphan and living in a rural area considerably limits the chances of schooling. Similarly, being a girl with a disability in a rural area is a major obstacle to schooling. There are also significant disparities within countries and between regions.
# Children with disabilities are often left with grandparents, especially in Niger; in this country, the researchers came across many cases where parents of children with disabilities divorced after the father or mother had left home because of a child's disability. In polygamous remarriages, children with disabilities were often left with grandparents.
# Begging: the main concern for the stakeholders interviewed is the exploitation of children with disabilities due to the poverty of households. It appears from the interviews that begging by children with disabilities is a major problem in Niger — more so than in Mali or in Burkina Faso — and that the image of people with disabilities is strongly associated with begging. Begging is done by both boys and girls with disabilities.
# Transportation problems leading to dropout: In all three countries, special or inclusive schools are usually located in the capital and in major cities. Even when school fees are subsidised, the cost and the time spent on transport are often an insurmountable obstacle for parents and put them off the idea. Long walking distances between home and mainstream public schools – especially in rural areas – also raise the issue of the safety of children with disabilities, especially girls, and are an additional reason for parents not to send their daughters with disabilities to school. This is why bringing mainstream schools closer to children with disabilities is paramount.
# Educational actors note that the existence of a school canteen increases school attendance rates, as it motivates parents and allows children to spend the day at school without having to go home for lunch.
# Problems in providing housing to enable girls with disabilities to attend school: Few special or inclusive education institutions are boarding schools. In Mali, the AMALDEME boarding school for children with intellectual disabilities is for boys only, because “if a boarding school for girls were available, parents would tend to abandon them to associations or NGOs”. Having family members or a guardian near the school increases a child's chances of being enrolled. However, parents are reluctant to leave their daughters without adequate supervision for reasons of safety and protection. Rural families are more likely to send a boy with a disability to study in town than a girl with a disability. In Burkina Faso, UN-ABPAM faced challenges in schooling blind girls in the provinces, as the association was unable to find host families for them. “For ethnic and clan reasons, families are reluctant to take in girls with disabilities”.
Specificities Related to the Type and Degree of Disability
Of all children with disabilities, children with physical disabilities have the least difficulty in being educated in a mainstream school near their homes, provided that physical accessibility is improved (ramps, adapted toilets, mobility aids).
# Children with visual, hearing and especially intellectual disabilities have more difficulty in this regard. Most of the time, there are no solutions for children with severe disabilities. Parents don't even try to send their children to school. Special and inclusive institutions are rare and are mainly located in the capital or in large urban centres. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to special or private schools, above all if they live in rural areas, and the vast majority of mainstream public schools are unable to receive them. Children with visual, hearing or mild intellectual disabilities are often sent to mainstream schools where teachers have not been trained in inclusive education and where neither the facilities nor the teaching method are adapted to their needs.
# The integrated education system (CTIS) for children with hearing and visual impairments seems to work well in Niger and Burkina Faso when teachers are well trained and the teaching method is adapted. This system teaches the basics of sign languages or Braille to children of different ages in the early years of learning, and integrates them later into mainstream classes in the same school, with an itinerant teacher to support the regular teacher.
# The inclusive classroom system for children with hearing and visual impairments appears to work well in Mali, provided that there is sound initial training for teachers and children before the start of the school year, close support by itinerant specialist teacher, and continuing education for teachers, children, and parents throughout the year outside the classroom.
# The cost of specialised equipment for blind children is particularly high, and this limits their learning.
# When children with hearing and visual impairments are enrolled, they have difficulty getting beyond primary school because the teaching method in secondary school is not adapted. Children with a hearing impairment seem to have more difficulty, as they often do not have professional sign language interpreters and receive less support than children with a visual impairment. Children do not have the same learning problems. Deaf children often have problems with language due to the syntax of sign language, while blind children often have problems with science.
# Support for children with intellectual disabilities remains problematic in all three countries, especially in Niger, where the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities has noted significant gaps. The more severe the disability, the greater the risk of exclusion and abuse. Children with multiple disabilities very rarely attend school due to the lack of adequate institutions. Enrolling children with intellectual disabilities in mainstream schools remains extremely difficult because of the lack of trained teachers. The few specialised structures that exist lack resources for children who have specific needs.
& Protection of Girls with Disabilities
Studies show that women with disabilities are abused far more often than women without disabilities.
# Girls with disabilities are also more vulnerable than boys with disabilities and more likely to be abused, mistreated and sexually assaulted.
# Sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence awareness programmes should be developed to guarantee their physical and psychological integrity and prevent sexual abuse. DPOs have raised the issue of supporting girls with disabilities when they are raped or have unintended pregnancies, because “they can no longer stay with their family, are abandoned and have to fend for themselves”.
# There is no institution or public policy to support these young mothers with disabilities. Moreover, legal proceedings are rare due to sociocultural burdens. The phenomenon remains largely invisible because it is very poorly documented.