Still left behind: Pathways to inclusive education for girls with disabilities


Girls with disabilities are among the world’s most marginalised groups of society, resulting from social norms and cultural bias around gender and disability. Those agencies committed to gender equity in education overlook the specific situation of and added barriers faced by girls and women with disabilities, and those who are committed to disability inclusion and equity fail to apply a gender perspective. As a result, girls with disabilities have limited educational opportunities.

The aim of this research was to provide a synthesis of the understanding of barriers to education for girls with disabilities and bring together evidence of effective or promising programme approaches that address these barriers.

Despite growing commitment to gender and disability inclusive education by governments, donors and (inter)national development organisations, there is still very little in the way of documentation and robust evidence on research and programmes that address the intersectional marginalisation of girls with disabilities in education.

The majority of the inclusive education programmes on which documentation was available were implemented by disability focused organisations. This may account for the greater emphasis on disability inclusion, with gender as a secondary factor to exclusion. While there has been evidence of greater numbers of girls with disabilities enrolled and retained in school, there is also consistent reference to girls with disabilities dropping out, more than boys, and often due to gender related challenges. There needs to be more in-depth analysis of the interaction between gender and disability, and more attention to power relations on which gender roles are based. Child protection issues are recognised and addressed but need more rigorous monitoring of how policies are developed and implemented.

Inclusive teaching methods are shifting to more child- and learner-centred approaches and classroom adaptations. However, girls with intellectual and profound disabilities continue to be marginalised due to a lack of policy clarity on how to provide education for children with more severe disabilities, and the gaps in resources and teacher capacities to support these children. There needs to be more in-depth impairment-specific and gendered analysis, with documentation and sharing of applied and effective inclusive education practices.

Collaboration among non-state actors is important in reviewing and submitting recommendations on adaptations to legislation and policies. It is especially critical to review policies on inclusive education with a gender lens and align policies on inclusive education and girls’ education. The intersection between gender and disability and the gendered nature of marginalisation for children with disabilities needs to be analysed in depth to help formulate and monitor policies and programmes.

The key findings and recommendations from the report are:

  • The development of gender- and disability-sensitive indicators will provide a more consistent picture of educational inclusion and allow for comparison across programmes.
  • The application of an equity-focused gender and disability lens to budgeting and resource allocation will support (hidden) costs that disproportionately affect girls with disabilities.
  • Greater efforts to embed gender equality principles in teacher training on inclusive education will promote more positive attitudes towards girls with disabilities.
  • Donors and other development partners that invest in education programmes should ensure programmes are both disability inclusive and gender sensitive.
  • Governments should develop national education policies to protect children from abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation both within and outside the school setting.
  • The integration of research and documentation of good practice on education interventions for girls with disabilities into education plans and robust processes to monitor the impact of interventions on girls with disabilities will help build a much needed evidence base.
  • Greater collaboration between mainstream and disability-specific organisations and Disabled People’s organisations (DPOs) is indispensable in order to bring all relevant expertise together towards greater impact.

Note: This is the executive summary of the report published by UNGEI, and Leonard Cheshire Disability in June 2017. You can have a PDF copy of the entire report by clicking on the link below:

Still Left Behind