For girls with disabilities living in rural areas, life is especially tough. The barriers they face because of their “disabled status” are multiplied by the hurdles they must overcome because of their gender.

By Yetnebersh Nigussie (Devex) |

I was five when I went blind. It was a big shock for my family. But even more so for members of my local community, in rural Ethiopia, many of whom believed that a curse had caused my loss of sight.

In the community’s eyes, not only was I now somehow linked to a sin, but I had also lost my value. The destiny of a girl was to marry and bring in a dowry; and surely no man would want to marry me now.

This seeming misfortune, however, granted me a huge opportunity in life: My mother and grandmother ensured I received an education at my young age, rather than a husband. They sent me to school in the capital, Addis Ababa, and from there I excelled.

I scored the top marks in class. I made friends. I went on to university to become one of the first blind, female lawyers in Ethiopia. I now engage in international advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities with the NGO Light for the World; and was thrilled to be recognized this week by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, as one of their 2017 Laureates.

But although my personal story is uplifting; I want people to know how extremely unusual, or lucky, it is. For most children with disabilities who live in poorer countries, the chance of a quality education — and all the subsequent opportunities school brings — is very slim.

Numbers are hard to come by because data on disability is scarce, but it is estimated that at least 32 million children with disabilities in developing countries are currently out of school. That’s more than three times the entire population of Sweden.

For girls with disabilities living in rural areas, life is especially tough. The barriers they face because of their “disabled status” are multiplied by the hurdles they must overcome because of their gender.

They really are at the back of the back of the queue in life and I know their stories all too well. The girls who are expected to stay at home and care for their siblings. The girls whose parents are turned away by teachers who say they do not “accept” deaf or blind students — or they do not have the equipment to teach them properly. The girls who are unable to navigate the long and dusty roads to school in their wheelchairs or on their crutches. And of course, the girls whose parents never even let them out of the house, for the shame, or for the threat of rape and violence.

The scale — and the severity — of the exclusion of children with disabilities in developing countries is shocking. It also poses a major threat to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet the issue rarely gets the attention it deserves.

The neglect of children with disabilities must end now. Every child deserves an equal education. And when given the opportunity to succeed, people with disabilities can achieve brilliant things.

Continue reading this story at Devex
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