Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Afghan women and girls with disabilities are being confronted with barriers, discrimination, and sexual harassment when trying to obtain government assistance, health care, and education.
A report published on April 28 from the right groups details the obstacles that Afghan women and girls with disabilities face on a daily basis in one of the world’s poorest countries, where more than four decades of conflict have destroyed government institutions and resulted in one of the largest populations of persons with disabilities in the world as well as a severely weakened health-care system.
"At least one in five Afghan households includes an adult or child with a serious physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychosocial disability," says the 31-page report, titled 'Disability Is Not Weakness': Discrimination and Barriers Facing Women and Girls with Disabilities in Afghanistan.
The report is mainly based on interviews with 26 women and girls with disabilities and 14 health and educational professionals living in the Afghan cities of Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif, because access to rural areas, where most Afghans with disabilities live, has become particularly difficult as fighting has been intensifying since 2016.
"All Afghans with disabilities face stigma and discrimination in getting government services, but women and girls are the 'invisible' victims of this abuse,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the author of the report.
The document also points to the "entrenched discrimination" that persons with disabilities face in trying to access education, employment, and health care even though those are rights guaranteed both by the Afghan constitution and international human rights legislation.
It says that gender bias and violence against women, which are endemic in the Afghan society, has an aggravating impact on women and girls with disabilities.
"Obtaining access to health care, education, and employment, along with other basic rights, is particularly difficult for Afghan women and girls with disabilities, who face both gender discrimination and stigma and barriers associated with their disability," it says.
Both married and or single women with disabilities are often regarded as a burden on their families and face increased risks of violence.
Girls with disabilities are often denied access to education altogether, because of lack of both adequate transportation and medical care.
"Families who have children with disabilities incur additional costs for treatment if they seek medical care. Even minor costs can mean that treatment is out of reach for many," the report says.
HRW urged the Afghan government to rapidly implement reform policies and practices that prevent women and girls with disabilities from exercising their basic rights to health, education, and work.
It also called for efforts to develop sustainable solutions to increase access to quality, inclusive education for children with disabilities, particularly girls, and calls for faster moves to ensure all public buildings are accessible by building ramps and making toilets and other facilities accessible.