I’m currently in the process of completing a project for DAO called ‘A history of disability – including the involvement of disability arts’. It has involved researching attitudes towards disabled people over the centuries including the many prejudices and superstitions that existed.
As much of this took place hundreds of years ago, and we’ve now moved into more enlightened times, imagine my distress when I received a link from an organisation called Humanity & Inclusion contradicting this assumption.
In parts of West Africa, having a disabled child is still seen by families as a punishment for some ‘sin’ committed by family members. Because of this the child will often be hidden from society, never venturing out or receiving any formal education. Some think that disability is contagious and react accordingly, ostracizing both the child and the family and in some circumstances driving them from their home.
Others believe that the bodies of disabled people have magical properties. Also, girls with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence because some believe that having sex with them will bring them wealth or even cure them of AIDS.
Humanity & Inclusion are playing an important role in challenging these prejudices and superstitions, and in particular supporting disabled children with achieving an education, especially young girls. As with many societies, young girls are often at the end of the queue for even the more basic educational opportunities. Being a girl and having an impairment represents a double discrimination in this part of the world.
In Mali, less than 18% of disabled women can read and write. In Niger and Mali, more than half of the girls enrolled in primary school do not access secondary education. And in Burkina Faso, only 1% of girls have completed secondary school with very few disabled girls in the Sahel region going to school at all.
When disabled girls do manage to attend school, they still face many obstacles. They often drop out of school early as they approach puberty, due to the family’s concern to protect them from sexual violence and early pregnancy. The lack of adapted toilets is also a cause of repeated absences and abandonment. And in rural areas, the distance between home and school is another major obstacle to schooling for disabled students with the cost of transport being too high for families.
To find out more about how this organisation are bringing help and a future for disabled children in West Africa, and how you might be able to help, please click on this link.