Dignity and respect for adolescent girls with disabilities
This week I will be attending the Global Disability Summit, hosted by the UK and Kenyan Governments and the International Disability Alliance.
The Summit is a welcome opportunity to galvanise commitment to reaching people who experience some of the worst discrimination and abuse and are all too often left behind and ignored.
In our work around the world, Plan International sees that adolescent girls, particularly those with disabilities, face barriers in all aspects of their life such as child marriage, violence in and around schools and poor sexual and reproductive health and rights.
#NowIsTheTime for states, policy and change makers, and service providers to do much more to tackle the discrimination and exclusion faced by people with disabilities, particularly girls and young women.
Girls and young women with disabilities are often discriminated against, left behind and become invisible in society. The hurdles they face posed either by their gender, age or disability alone can be great, but when all three come together, they intensify to overwhelming exclusion.
Families and communities continue to be bound by stigma and taboos that leaves girls and young women with disabilities excluded and vulnerable.
33 million children with disabilities are not in school, and girls are significantly less likely to attend school than boys. Girls are also more likely to drop out early, and the quality of education they receive is frequently below that of their peers.
Unsuitable school buildings, low expectations and belief that children with disabilities are incapable of learning are just some of the barriers children face.
As girls reach adolescence, managing menstrual hygiene is a further barrier to overcome to attend school. The taboo around menstruation affects many girls around the world but can have particularly debilitating effects on girls with disabilities.
A lack of appropriate, accessible sanitation facilities in schools combined with an absence of comprehensive sexuality education results in many girls and young women staying at home.
The right to decide
Girls and young women with disabilities have the right to make decisions about their bodies and live free from violence and fear. Yet globally, they are the least likely to enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Stigma and taboos around disabilities, combined with existing gender inequality in communities, can result in overwhelming discrimination. Our research, Let Me Decide and Thrive, shines a light on the significant barriers girls and young women with disabilities face to make decisions over their own bodies.
For example, sterilisation of girls and women with disabilities is up to three times higher than the general population and forced abortion and contraception are also all too common.
That is why I will be calling on governments to support comprehensive education about reproductive health, rights and sexuality for all girls and young women with disabilities.
Delivering dignity and respect
I am proud to be signing the Global Disability Summit Charter for Change, a ten-point action plan that is striving for real change to ensure the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion for all persons with disabilities.
Plan International UK is committed to confronting and challenging discrimination and human rights violations based on gender, disability and other forms of exclusion. Through our programmes in communities across the world we deliver lasting change against discriminatory norms, policies and laws for the most vulnerable and excluded children.
During the Summit I will commit to further investment in effective approaches for out of school children, particularly girls and children with disabilities, to enter and re-enter education in safe learning environments.
To eradicate extreme poverty, we must commit to putting those last first and to leave no one behind in our ambitions for progress.
I hope that the Summit will deliver an urgent call to the international community to address the systemic exclusion and discrimination faced by people with disabilities.
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