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Make Equality A Reality: Ending Extreme Poverty For Women With Disabilities7 min read

Make Equality A Reality: Ending Extreme Poverty For Women With Disabilities

Together, we can solve the world’s biggest problems; together, we can work to end the extreme poverty of women and girls with disabilities; change begins with, and through us, is this possible?

We know that one person cannot change the world on their own. But when we work together, utilizing the full force of our resources, to lift each other, we can then create a more robust, healthier, and happier world for all.

Girls and women of all ages with any form of disability are generally among the more vulnerable and marginalized of society.

Empowering persons with disabilities, including women and girls, to receive a worthwhile education, access health and rehabilitation services, gain a livelihood, and participate fully in society, is essential to ending the cycle of poverty and disability.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank, an estimated 1 in 5 women have a disability. Women and girls with disabilities face systemic barriers to participation and inclusion and represent a disproportionate percentage of the world’s poor due to this discrimination.

This is especially true of women with disabilities who face multiple and intersectional discrimination.

Poverty and marginalization are compounded when gender and disability intersect. Women and girls with disabilities face multiple barriers to realizing their rights: environmental, physical, and informational accessibility issues, including lack of resources and inadequate access to services, as well as widespread discrimination, stereotyping and social stigma.

Women constitute 75 percent of the disabled people in low and middle-income countries. Women with disabilities comprise 10 percent of all women worldwide.

In low-income countries, 22.1% of women have a disability compared to 14.4% in higher-income countries.

It is estimated that disabled women worldwide receive only 20 percent of the rehabilitation.

A study in the Asia Pacific region found that more than 80 percent of disabled women had no independent means of livelihood and were dependent on others.

The Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes that women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment, or exploitation.

UN Building with all the flags.

To address this concern, the CRPD has also taken a two-track approach to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment with disabilities. It has as one of its principles equality between men and women, and it devotes an article to women with disabilities.

At the Fourth World Conference on Women, 25 years ago, it was thanks to women with disabilities that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a progressive blueprint for women’s rights, referenced women and girls with disabilities throughout. In particular, the Platform for Action calls on governments to “ensure non-discrimination and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by women and girls with disabilities, including their access to information and services in the field of violence.”

In crises, loss of community support and protection mechanisms exacerbates the risk of rape and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), especially for women and girls with disabilities who already face limitations on their personal mobility.

Recently COVID-19 has brought new visibility to the inequalities women and girls face. Ongoing restrictions on movement and lack of income have placed women and girls with disabilities at heightened risk of violence by abusive partners.

Women with disabilities are also at greater risk of poverty because of their discrimination in employment, education, and access to livelihoods.

The closure of economic opportunities and food shortages caused by COVID-19 have hit women and girls with disabilities hard. Shifts to remote working and schooling have created additional challenges for women with disabilities, who may not have access to information and communication technology or appropriate assistive devices.

photo of women stretching together
Photo by Cliff Booth on

However, exclusion persists. Structural discrimination against women and girls with disabilities and negative attitudes and stigma are among the main barriers to the full realization of rights. This is particularly true for adolescent girls with disabilities and displaced women and girls.

Despite these barriers, women with disabilities make positive contributions to their community, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work in their communities and at home.


Effectively addressing poverty means understanding the needs of women and girls with disabilities; they must not be excluded.

Women with disabilities experience inequality in hiring, promotion rates and pay for equal work, access to training and retraining, credit, and other productive resources, and rarely participate in economic decision-making

Women with disabilities experience both material and non-material poverty, and these experiences of poverty are not the same as those experienced by men with disabilities.
We need to apply an intersectional lens to humanitarian action to greater attention to women and girls with disabilities.

Policies remain hampered by a shortage of information on the specific barriers faced by women and girls with disabilities. This lack of information means policymakers cannot understand, let alone respond to, the experience of people with disabilities living in poverty and the ways they are excluded from full participation in their societies.

We should increase recognition of women and girls’ leadership, and expertise with disabilities bring to the table.

Feminist and humanitarian forums should lead the way to be more inclusive and ensure that women with different disabilities are represented and listened to.

Women and girls with disabilities must participate in all future decisions, including humanitarian, development, and peace and security issues.


Together we should be working hard to change attitudes and help decision-makers understand that women and girls with disabilities have a voice and valuable contributions to make.

By addressing the challenges faced by persons with disabilities across the world and specifically in low- and middle-income countries, we not only achieve the human rights of persons with disabilities, but everyone benefits from their contribution.

Therefore inclusion, across all development sectors is essential.

Governments, law, and programmatic reform need to recognize and respond to the intersectionalities of gender and disability to effectively mainstream the rights and perspectives of women with disabilities into the landscape of the broader gender empowerment programs and increase leadership within the disability rights movement.

We believe in the strength and capability of women and girls with disabilities. When given equal access to services and opportunities, they can reach their full potential.

We are working hard to change attitudes and help decision-makers understand that women and girls with disabilities have a voice and valuable contributions to make.

By addressing the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries, we not only achieve the human rights of persons with disabilities, but everyone benefits from their contribution.

There is a need to set targets for inclusion in existing programs, including economic strengthening programs, recruit women with disabilities as volunteers and staff.

Billion Strong


Ruh Global IMPACT and Billion Strong movement work to commit to making communities better, so it is joined the Global Citizen movement of engaged citizens worldwide who are acting to effect change in their communities and change the world.

To ensure no one is left behind, it is essential that an inclusive and intersectional approach, where all women and girls with disabilities, in all their diversity, and across their life course are included as equal partners across the humanitarian-development continuum, and their rights and agency are fully realized.

Together we are stronger towards full and effective participation and gender equality.

About the Authors

Debra Ruh

Debra Ruh

CEO and Founder of Ruh Global IMPACT, Human Potential at Work (HPAW) Talk Show Host and Co-Host of AXSChat

Debra Ruh is the CEO of Ruh Global IMPACT. The UN President’s office invited Debra to address the United Nations General Assembly at the Conference of State Parties 9th session on May 13, 2016. Selected as the North American representative for UN ILO Global Business and Disability Network (GBDN). US State Department global speaker and ambassador since 2018. Nominated as Global Goodwill Ambassador in 2018. Author of three books, Inclusion Branding (available in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Voice via Audible), Tapping into Hidden Human Capital, and Finding Your Voice using Social Media. Learn more at or

Nabil Eid

Nabil Eid

Director of Global ICT Accessibility and Inclusion, Ruh Global IMPACT 

His role as the CIO is to help set and lead the ICT accessibility strategy for Ruh Global IMPACT. Nabil has held several positions and worked with numerous NGOs, civil society networks, UN agencies, governments, private sector, and grassroots organizations to successfully create positive change at global, regional, and national levels.

With 20+ years of experience in disability inclusion strategies and ICT4D marginalized communities. Providing counseling, research, evaluation & monitoring, and ICT accessibility solutions and assistive technology services. Author of 8 books about disability inclusion and ICT accessibility

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