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close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 9: Women with Disabilities
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View the documentSelf-esteem
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Open this folder and view contentsSexuality and Sexual Health
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View the documentWorking for Change


The following letter came from a group of women with disabilities in Ghana, West Africa. But it could have come from any community, because all over the world, women - and especially women with disabilities - are taught not to value themselves.

Our Association was formed in 1989 by women with disabilities to help promote the welfare of the woman with a disability. We have 21 members with various disabilities (sight, hearing, speech, and movement). We hold a meeting once a month to talk about our problems and to try to find solutions.

We all agree that women with disabilities are often discriminated against because:

· we are women.
· we have disabilities.
· we are mostly poor


We are: rejected as suitable marriage partners or regarded as the ‘wrong’ image in the work place. Girls and women with disabilities are often not able to get an education, even when education is available. For example, even in special schools for children with disabilities, boys usually receive priority.

We are unlikely to receive training for any kind of work. We experience abuse - physically, emotionally, and sexually. Unlike all men and women without disabilities, we are seldom allowed to make decisions at home or in the community.

But for each of us in the Association, the biggest problem is lack of self-esteem. We are taught by society not to value ourselves. We are generally considered to be incapable of keeping a man and bearing children, and unable to do meaningful work. Therefore we are considered worthless. Even our extended families only want us if we prove valuable to them.

- Doarmaa Ahenkro, Ghana

If a woman grows up with the support of her family, school and community to live the best life she can, her feelings of self-worth will be very high, whether or not she has a disability. But if a woman grows up feeling she is worth less than others because she has a disability, she has to work hard to learn to value herself. This process is never easy, but it can be done by taking small steps.


The first step is to meet other people. If you are a woman with a disability, you might try sitting at the door of your home and greeting your neighbors. Then, if you are able, go to the market and talk to people there. As they get to know you, they will find out that women with and without disabilities are not really very different from each other Each time you go out it will become easier to meet and talk with others.

A second step is to start or join a group for women. Talking with others can help you begin to learn about your strengths and weaknesses. A group can provide a safe place for women to speak freely - if you all agree not to speak outside the group about anything that is said inside the group.


You can also join or start a group for women with disabilities and share your thoughts and experiences about the special challenges that come from having a disability. You can all support each other during both happy and difficult times.

You can support each other in learning how to become independent, too. All over the world women with disabilities are working as doctors, nurses, shop keepers, writers, teachers, farmers, and community organizers. With each other’s help, you can begin to prepare for the future, just as any woman would.

Focus on what you can do, not on what you cannot do.