Women and Girls with Disabilities… Success Stories Despite Double Discrimination and Legal Loopholes


By: Ranim Khallouf

Fate sometimes insists, and genes at other times, insist on betraying each other, so a girl with a disability is born, or becomes so due to an accident or medical error, for example.

Then, the lesson is harsh on them. It is a teacher and a test, which they often overcome with their powerful will.

They face double discrimination; once because they are disabled, and the second for being women!

“Because I’m a girl”!

“My grandfather’s family refused to treat me because I was a girl, and they said let her die without any treatment.”

Gharam al-Ghazi, 35, repeated the phrase “because I am a girl” three times or more. Once with bitterness, once with heartbreak, and again with success and strength.

Gharam, who was born with a disease that made her short and suffers from a motor disability, embraced difficulties and obstacles with love.

She received an education and became an employee in the Directorate of Education in Daraa, southern Syria.

She is an example of many girls and women with disabilities subject to social, family, and economic exclusion and violence.

They are discriminated against in comparison to men with disabilities, especially in the areas of education and employment.

They are also often treated as “weak, helpless beings”, out of empathy.

While they are better off treated from the standpoint of achieving justice, equality, and integration.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, noted at the conference of the member states that “more than 80% of women with disabilities are poor and live in developing countries.”

However, she did not specify the proportion of women to men, meaning that problems in developing countries are multiplied.

Success stories of women and girls with disabilities

“Umm Wissam”, an Egyptian single mother in her fifties, with a mobility disability, raising 3 children.

After being separated from her husband 18 years ago, she tried to work repeatedly, before becoming a “taxi driver.” But she felt not accepted, she said.

However, she persisted and learned to drive when she worked in an office that teaches driving to people with disabilities, despite society’s rejection of her for being a “disabled woman”.

“If she were a man, they would have welcomed her to work for two reasons: the first is empathy, and the second is the existence of laws for people with disabilities in general, without specifying laws for women, and specifying clear work ratios for them in the private and public sectors,” she told Sharika Wa Laken.

As for the Lebanese Alaa Aoun (28 years old), she became disabled because of a medical error in her childhood, the price of which was a lifelong dependence on crutches, short stature, and repeated rejection by employers.

Alaa talked about her experience with “Sharika Wa Laken”, She said: “I applied to many jobs, and the answer was always no, because I am a woman, and I have a disability at the same time.”

But she insisted on facing difficulties and obstacles, so she successfully became a beneficiary of one project of the Lebanese Union for the Disabled.

When Alaa mentioned her dreams, she sighed and explained: “I dream of being a model for people with disabilities, because I am fond of fashion.”

“I also dream of being a motivational speaker for people with disabilities and others.”

“The outside environment is important, but our self-confidence is much more important,” she told the women.

Violations against women with disabilities

The most prominent double violations against women with disabilities, which boys and men with disabilities do not face, are physical, sexual, and psychological violence.

Their sexual and reproductive rights are also severely restricted, including the right to access information, the right to motherhood, and the upbringing of and care for children.

They are also at high risk of forced sterilization imposed on them by the family.

It is a patriarchal and authoritarian practice, and a blatant control over their bodies, by giving them contraceptives without their knowledge, especially if the disability occurs after marriage.

In many cases, they are absolutely prevented from marrying on the grounds of “incapacity”. They are denied the right to have children and, on the same basis, are deprived of raising their own children.

Therefore, they and their rights and freedom to make decisions about their lives should be recognized.

Rahaf Youssef faced difficulties in drawing

The nationalities and dialects of the women we interviewed may vary, but the only constant is that they share wishes, dreams, and successes, as well as violations and clear discrimination.

We moved to the city of Tartous, where we met the fine artist Rahaf Youssef, who is deaf and dumb.

Speaking to Sharika Wa Laken, she pointed out that “the most prominent difficulty I faced was not being hired. But her family, who encourages women a lot, supported her.”

Therefore, she could rely on her studies, and her talent for drawing, and conduct her art exhibitions.

She expresses by drawing daily, to “let her message reach the whole world with colors,”.

She stressed that she “experienced hardships at work, for a girl who suffers from a disability, whatever that disability is.”

“There is no law that classifies the way work should accord with each person’s disability. There is no law clarifying the percentage of women in this category whom the authorities are supposed to employ.”

What are the legal loopholes that violate the rights of women with disabilities?

In an interview with Syrian lawyer Lama al-Jamal, she told Sharika Wa Laken that “Syrian law sets a 4% quota of jobs for people with disabilities.”

She pointed out that “there is a complete law in Syria for the disabled, and it defines the conditions that allow them to work.”

But she spoke about the loophole of not effectively implementing it, despite the existence of a law that provides for tax reductions for those who employ people with disabilities.”

“The other problem lies in the lack of special provisions for women of this category in Syrian law,” she added.

While she considered that “the most important loophole in the law is the lack of legislation to impose and oblige their employment,” she stressed that the most important thing now is “the provision of the right infrastructure for their access to their jobs.”

On the other side, the legal loopholes between Lebanon and Syria do not differ, as Law No. 220 was issued in Lebanon in 2000.

However, according to the national coordinator of the socio-economic inclusion program for people with disabilities in Lebanon, activist Nada Azair, it remains “ineffectual.”

She explained that what “was achieved from the program is very little and was only limited to obtaining a status card for the physically disabled.”

The physically disabled haven’t achieved their rights even though the law allows them to do several things: housing, work, rehabilitation, education, health services, driver’s licenses, and the right to the eligible environment.

She pointed out that “people with disabilities constitute 15% of the Lebanese population, 83% of whom are outside the labor market.”

The law also indicates that “the employment rate of people with disabilities must reach 3% of jobs.”

However, according to Nada, “the law is not well effectuated, although Lebanon signed the International Convention on Persons with Disabilities.”

International Convention on Persons with Disabilities

The provisions of this 60-article United Nations Convention aim mainly to highlight the importance of the policy guidelines contained in the World Program of Action concerning Disabled Persons.

As well as the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, to promote, formulate, and evaluate policies, plans, programs, and actions, nationally, regionally, and internationally.

The Convention also emphasizes the importance of integrating disability issues as an integral part of sustainable development strategies.

Its provisions indicate that discrimination against any person based on disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and self-worth of the individual.

It also recognizes the need to promote and protect the human rights of all persons with disabilities, including those who need more support.

Egypt is ahead of Lebanon and Syria in the percentages allocated to people with disabilities at work, even if it is a very small percentage.

Egyptian law obliges governmental and private institutions to employ women and men with disabilities at 5% of the number of employees.

But the problem is that it does not specify a percentage reserved for women. Nevertheless, cars equipped for them are exempt from customs at a certain rate, and they can use public transportation for free.

Laws are neither implemented nor guarantee justice

Syrian activist May Abu Ghazaleh suffers from a motor disability caused by cerebral palsy. She is very popular among people with disabilities.

Some consider her to be a godmother of perseverance and determination. That thirty-year-old lady, who progressed in her job between the private and government sectors.

May refused office work and ran the “Inclusive Kindergarten” project.

She told “Sharika Wa Laken” that women with disabilities in Syria face many challenges.

She said they suffer from “male discrimination, as women and girls, and or being disabled. Many are subjected to violence, various abuses, harassment, and rape, amid the silence of parents.”

They are always labeled under the category of being disabled, so imagine how it is if they are women at the same time.

Today, May is one of the most important feminist activists in disability rights in Syria. She seeks to train and empower them.

She stressed that she also “blames the media, which only presents the success stories of women with disabilities, without thinking and focusing on integrating them into society, and without thinking about the new generation of this group, especially with the increase in their numbers after the war in Syria.”

Sins of houses!

Some Arab societies still believe that having a person with a disability in the home is caused by a sin that God is trying to punish the people of the house with.

Homeowners have to bear this guilt because it saves them from the torment of hell!

So what if it is a girl or a woman?

Then, the guilt is compounded according to these communities, and the family feels shameful, especially since they consider women “incapacitated”, even if they are not disabled.

In an interview with “Sharika Wa Laken”, feminist activist Mariana Al-Hanash stressed that “discrimination against them is terrible, amounting to hostilities, physical and verbal violence, both inside and outside the home.” Men with disabilities are usually not exposed to it.

“What compounds the discrimination against them is their inability to file a complaint. To whom does a woman with disabilities complain about such violence, if she is considered incapacitated by law?”.

“The authorities concerned with this issue are primarily responsible for supporting and preserving their rights,” she pointed out.

“Another form of double discrimination they suffer from is the hiding them from people because they are shameful to families, which contributes to their marginalization, lack of enjoyment of their basic rights, and affects their self-confidence.”

Feminist activist Haneen Ahmed pointed to “another context of the discrimination they suffer from at work. Naturally, employers offer fewer opportunities to women than men, because this society considers that, even if they are not disabled, they are inferior simply because they are women, and therefore not worthy of responsibility.”

“When she was a civil servant, the state law approved the employment of 4% of people with disabilities but did not specify a percentage for girls and women. There were only four men and two women working in the institution.”

Women with disabilities are still left in the dark!

Although most countries in the world admit that women with disabilities are subject to multiple forms of discrimination, they are still largely left in the dark, and enjoy far fewer rights and opportunities than men.

These violations are not limited to double discrimination. States must not only work to end it but also guarantee their right to empowerment, access to health services, education, employment, and other rights.

For example, girls with disabilities are more likely to be deprived of education than boys.

They are also more vulnerable to domestic violence than women and girls without disabilities.

While men with disabilities enjoy more privileges, the most important of which is inclusion, girls and women with disabilities are segregated in most Arabic-speaking societies.

Theresia Degener, a member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said: “Policies for women have traditionally kept disability out of sight, and policies on disability have disregarded gender. But if you are women and girls with disabilities, you face discrimination and barriers, both because you are women or girls and because you are disabled at the same time.”


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