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Girls & Women

Women and Girls With Disabilities Are 'Doubly Vulnerable' in Conflict and Crisis

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By Lin Taylor

LONDON, July 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Women and girls with disabilities are doubly vulnerable in conflict or crisis situations, aid groups warned on Tuesday at a global conference on disability in London.

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An estimated 1 billion people around the world have a disability according to Britain's Department for International Development, which hosted the event, and 800 million of them live in developing countries.

"Being a woman or girl with a disability is a double vulnerability. They are invisible," Yves Daccord, chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the event.

"It excludes you from society, and it's not a choice. And your community or even your family can just throw you out."

Children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to experience violence and girls are most at risk, UNICEF estimates.

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The UN children's agency said more than half the estimated 93 million children with disabilities in the world were out of school, knocking up to five percent off national incomes due to their lost potential.

"Children with disabilities are some of the most marginalised of any society," said UNICEF head Henrietta Fore.

"Children in times of conflicts or natural disaster, they're at a double disadvantage — if they can't walk, if they can't hear, or see, they can easily be separated from their families."

ICRC's Daccord said girls who had been disfigured by bombs or landmines, or were born with a disability, were often considered a burden on their families and communities.

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"In most societies people see girls in terms of what they can offer, not who they are: they can get married, they can provide sex, they can provide kids," he said.

"So when girls can't fit that role, the price they have to pay is dramatic. That's why disability is so dramatic for everybody, but even more so for girls."

Girls with disabilities can be at heightened risk of physical abuse by relatives, said Nicola Jones, gender equality researcher at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a British think-tank.

"If you layer in the cultural dimension, where there is a focus on family honour, you do come across terrible stories of adolescents who do get pregnant because of sexual violence, who will be murdered, or in most cases silenced," Jones added.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)