Reaching women and girls with disabilities

Here’s how we ensure women and girls with disabilities are meaningfully involved in development programmes.

A woman and girl with colourful headscarfs are communicating with sign language.

Worldwide, women and girls with disabilities face double discrimination on the basis of their gender and disability.

When it comes to accessing education, employment and health, and taking part in decision-making, they face additional barriers compared to women without disabilities. They also face increased risks of violence, exploitation and abuse, including coerced contraception, sterilisation and abortion.   

Within the development and humanitarian sectors, there is an increased focus on ‘gender mainstreaming’ – ensuring women and girls benefit equitably from programmes, and that inequalities are not perpetuated. As part of these efforts, extra steps must be taken to ensure that women and girls with disabilities are meaningfully involved in projects and are not left behind. Too often they are missed in projects targeting either women or people with disabilities – as these often focus more on men.

Unless women and girls with disabilities are consulted and included, the targets to achieve universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals will not be met. 


Two female students in Nigeria in the classroom.

Why is inclusive gender mainstreaming important?

Two female students in Nigeria in the classroom.

According to UN Women, gender mainstreaming is ‘a strategy for making women’s concerns and experiences an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes, so that women and men benefit equally.’ If a programme doesn’t take the experiences and views of women and girls with disabilities into account, it’s not inclusive.

Practical steps to ensure women and girls with disabilities are included

1.Ensure meaningful participation of women and girls with disabilities at every stage, from project design to evaluation.

2. Support women-focused organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), and women leaders in OPDs to advocate for the needs of women and girls with disabilities.

3. Collect quantitative and qualitative data about who is in your project population, and barriers to their participation – including those related to gender and disability.

4. Incorporate inclusive and accessible social and behaviour change approaches into your work, to address stigma at community level and create supportive environments.

5. Anticipate, plan and address the heightened risks and vulnerabilities for women and girls with disabilities and identify inclusive and safe spaces to ensure safeguarding in development and humanitarian projects.

Across all our programmes, we ensure that women and girls with disabilities can access the health, education and livelihood opportunities we support. We design our projects to respond to the specific challenges women and girls with disabilities face.

A woman sits next to a girl wearing a school uniform at a youth club in Nepal.

What we’ve learned

Find out more about what works to meaningfully include women and girls with disabilities in development and humanitarian projects.

Read the PDF

Easy read report

Download the easy read version of our learning report.

Download the pdf


A girl and a boy are playing with coloured blocks in a classroom.

Children with disabilities are less likely to access education. Our inclusive education project in Kenya encouraged parents to enrol children with a disability in school. We found that fewer girls than boys enrolled because, even when barriers to do with disability were removed, negative or limiting attitudes about girls' education persisted.

A female student in Tanzania stands and speaks in the classroom, wearing a white headscarf.

In Tanzania, we carried out a gender and disability analysis using methods including the Child Functioning Module developed by the Washington Group and UNICEF. The findings are guiding partners on advocacy messaging, teacher training, narrowing gender disparities and improving access to education for girls with disabilities.

A teacher wearing a red T-shirt is talking to a girl wearing a white headscarf as she writes on paper at her desk.

In Nigeria, the SMILE inclusive education project (Support Mainstreaming Education so all can Learn Equally) supported women with disabilities to hold decision-making roles on the project's steering committee. They worked alongside members of local government to design the project and monitor its implementation.


A group of women in colourful dresses and headscarves are listening to someone speak. A woman in white is showing another woman a document in her hand.

Our Disability Inclusion Helpdesk has published a report reviewing factors affecting access to and uptake of family planning for women and girls with disabilities, as well as highlighting examples of good practice. It found that while the evidence base is growing, considerable gaps remain for increasing full and informed contraceptive choices.

Our inclusive family planning project in Nigeria was designed with input from women-led disability organisations, including the Network of Women with Disabilities. We identified barriers related to bodily autonomy and informed choice for contraceptives: this influenced us to design a social behaviour change campaign to address these barriers.

A group of women in Nepal attending an inclusive sexual health group. They're sitting on colourful rugs on the floor and looking at leaflets.

Our Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights project in Nepal tested ways of improving access to services, especially for young women with disabilities. We found access can be affected by gender and disability, for example due to stigma and availability of information. The project trained young women with disabilities as mentors.


Two women sitting together and sharing each other’s company.

The graduation rate in our disability inclusive graduation programme in Uganda was 68% for women, compared with 87% for men. On average, the assets of women with disabilities rose by $169 less than men’s. Women’s productive roles (working for subsistence), reproductive roles (working as caregivers), and community roles were identified as a cause: we addressed this through coaching and raising awareness.

A girl holds a jug and poses for a photograph.

As part of our vocational skills training project in Bangladesh, we visited girls and women with disabilities in their homes and invited family members to help build their confidence, as we knew their support was vital. Of 1,138 learners who completed training, over 50% were female. The high retention and completion rates of girls and women with disabilities suggest that family members maintained their support.

A woman in Kenya works at her sewing machine, stitching colourful fabric.

Our inclusive livelihoods project in Kenya showed women are disadvantaged in business due to gender norms. In Turkana, responsibilities like childcare and housework stopped women from attending training sessions. Providers now offer in-person training sessions where childcare is supported. The project also offers support for transport and meals to help women with disabilities to attend.

Our people

Lucy is wearing a colourful dress and holds a sign saying

Lucy Mulombii

Lucy Mulombii is the chair of a women-led organisation of people with disabilities and chair of Kakamega County Disability Caucus in rural Kenya. She is also a small business owner and participated in our inclusive livelihoods project.
Read Lucy’s interview

A man and a woman, Esther (right) are photographed in the middle of a group discussion at a workshop in Kenya.

Esther Mkamori

Esther Mkamori is head of programmes at United Disabled Persons of Kenya, the national umbrella organisation of people with disabilities in Kenya. She's committed to ensuring women and girls with disabilities aren't left behind in their work.
Read Esther’s interview

Useful resources

Women and girls with disabilities in development and humanitarian projects (pdf)

Summary of our learning report on including women and girls with disabilities in development and humanitarian projects.

The bottom billion: women and girls (pdf)

A summary of evidence highlighting how women and girls are affected by poverty.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights: practical steps (pdf)

Effective approaches to ensure equitable access of people with disabilities to sexual and reproductive health.

From Beijing to the CRPD: the missing keystone

Research exploring the participation of women with disabilities in the World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Strengthening gender mainstreaming in disability inclusive programmes

Blog post: applying gender mainstreaming approaches within disability-focused programmes.

Disability and gender in low- and middle income countries (pdf)

Annotated bibliography which may help with planning for gender inclusion in projects.

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