By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, Apr 28 (efe-epa).- Afghan women and girls with disabilities suffer systemic abuse, discrimination, and sexual harassment when they try to access government assistance, health care, and schools, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
The global rights watchdog in a new report, “Disability Is Not Weakness”, detailed the ordeal Afghan women and girls with disabilities have to undergo daily in the war-ravaged and one of the world’s poorest countries.
The report is based on interviews with 26 women and girls with disabilities and their families in the cities of Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif of Afghanistan where decades of conflict have decimated government institutions.
“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 Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
Afghanistan has one of the world’s largest populations per capita of people with disabilities. The decades of violence have left millions of people with amputated limbs, visual or hearing disabilities, and depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress.
At least one in five Afghan households includes a member with a serious physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychosocial disability, the 31-page report said.
The under-resourced Afghan health services are failing to meet the needs of this population, and women and girls with disabilities are far less likely to obtain any assistance, it added.
“For Afghan women with disabilities who live in rural areas far from medical clinics, the absence of transportation, lack of paved roads, and long distances to clinics can create insurmountable barriers to obtaining health care,” it said.
The watchdog urged the government to undertake a comprehensive review of health services for people with disabilities, particularly in rural areas, to improve outreach and access.
It alleged that government officials have sexually harassed women with disabilities when they visit them to claim disability benefits.
“I went to the ministry to get this certificate [for assistance]. They told me that they could find me a husband. When I refused, the ministry employee told me that I can get this certificate only if I agree to be his girlfriend,” an unnamed woman in Kabul told HRW.
The report said females with disabilities also suffer social isolation and are subjected to humiliation in public or within their own families, considered a source of shame for the family, or denied access to public spaces and community or family social events.
“If you are a girl and a disabled person, even if you are married, you will always have the fear that you can get divorced from your husband at any moment as he may prefer another woman to you,” HRW quoted another young woman as saying.
According to HRW, people with disabilities face significant obstacles to education and employment and rights guaranteed under the constitution and international human rights law.
An estimated 80 percent of girls with disabilities are not enrolled in school.
An official with a humanitarian group told HRW that children with disabilities cannot go to regular schools due to lack of mobility facilities as most public buildings lack ramps, elevators, and wheelchair-accessible toilets.
“Unfortunately, I cannot go to school by myself—I need someone to take me to school and pick me up. The school has no ramp, so it’s hard for me to get in and out of the classroom, and sometimes even that’s impossible,” said a student who uses a wheelchair.
Some 90 percent of persons with disabilities are unemployed even as three percent of government and private jobs are to be reserved for these people as per the law. HRW said it found less than one percent of government employees were people with disabilities. EFE-EPA