Costing Equity – How investing in inclusive education enables girls to succeed
Great strides have been made in raising awareness and securing political and financial commitments towards addressing the inequities and challenges faced by girls in accessing education – with celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Malala championing the cause. However, in honouring the commitment to leaving no-one behind, we need to elevate even more the diverse inequities and multiple disadvantage faced by girls with disabilities living in very remote rural areas or slums, girls with disabilities whose parents are pastoralists or migrant workers; girls with disabilities who are orphans or refugees. A girl’s disabled status has a bigger impact on their likelihood of going to school than location or ethnicity.
Girls with disabilities face a harder struggle to access and achieve success in education than boys with disabilities. In Malawi, more girls with disabilities in comparison to boys with disabilities have never participated in formal education. The effects on literacy and later life chances are considerable . The national data from Ghana places the literacy level of women with disabilities at 47% which is considerably lower than men with disabilities at 56% and the male population overall which stands at 70% .
The lack of education opportunities has devastating consequences. Many girls with disabilities are subjected to suffering and isolation at the hands of their own families and the community. The education of a girl, let alone one with a disability, is not regarded as a worthwhile investment by families, communities and governments at large.
Too often girls with disabilities are relegated to doing the household chores or given the responsibility of caring for younger siblings, instead of going to school. It is also not surprising that disabled girls and women are twice as likely to be victims of sexual abuse, mistreatment and exploitation as their non-disabled peers.
Yet on a daily basis, I work with some amazing women with disabilities who making incredible contributions to society. Women like my colleague, Yetnebersh Nigussie, who is visually impaired and founded the Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development – which is instrumental in changing social norms and supporting inclusion of persons with disabilities in the country. Women like Dr Toyin Aderemi, a polio survivor, who fought for the inclusion and support of children with disabilities in Internally Displaced People camps in South Sudan. Women, like myself, who received a great education because our families believed in our potential and made many sacrifices to invest in our future.
There are girls with disabilities like us, stuck in the slums of India and in remote villages in Ethiopia, dreaming of a better future with ambitions to change the world – but they will not have the opportunity, unless attitudes and the investment in the education for girls with disabilities changes.
Equitable financing solutions should involve a considerably greater investment, redistribution of existing funds and positive discrimination to effectively reach and achieve positive outcomes for the most marginalised.
The #CostingEquity report by the International Disability and Development Consortium makes a compelling case for why investing in inclusive education for children with disabilities is wise and worthwhile for both governments and donors.
The report highlights some promising examples of good practice. For instance, Uganda adopted a Universal Education Policy that lightens the burden on poor families by offering free education to four children per family, provided that at least two of the children are girls and any child with a disability. The effects of this incentivising policy needs to be evaluated as the policy has great potential.
In India, the Inclusive Education for Disabled at Secondary Education Scheme (IEDSS), launched in 2009-2010, that provides financial support to children with disabilities in government schools, acknowledges the need to specifically target girls.
On the donor front, UKAid is leading the way. The Leave No Girl Behind challenge call is pioneering and deserves a huge applause, as it specifically asks organisations to come up with solutions for the most vulnerable of girls, including girls with disabilities who have not been in school. We need other aid organisations to follow a similar approach.
The reality is that come 2030 – we will not have reached our goal of ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ for all unless we sharpen our approach to reach girls with disabilities. The Secretariat of the Africa Decade of Disability, 2012 Study on Education for Children with Disabilities in Southern Africa November 2012, original source, SINTEF, 2004.  GCE Global / Global Campaign for Education (2014) Equal Right, Equal Opportunity: Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities Johannesburg: GCE Global
_________________________About the Author Nafisa Baboo is a Senior Inclusive Education Advisor for Light For The World, an international NGO promoting the rights of people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in the poorest parts of the world. She is a qualified Speech-language therapist and audiologist, with a Masters in Inclusive Education. She has worked in several developing and developed countries, such as Taiwan, Kenya, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Macedonia, South Sudan, Senegal, Mozambique, Rwanda, Namibia, and Ethiopia. Nafisa is the chair of the International Disability and Development Consortium, Inclusive Education Task group and a Board member of the Global Campaign for Education. She has authored several prominent publications on inclusive education. She also led the development of the #CostingEquity report and campaign.