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Vulnerability and discrimination of young displaced women living with disabilities: A case of Mandela South Khartoum/Sudan Shadia Daoud, Niveen Elmagboul and Maha Hussein Miso.


It is estimated that there are one billion people with disabilities worldwide and an estimated 50 percent of this population--500 million people--are women with disabilities; two-thirds of whom live in developing countries. In addition to being the largest minority, women with disabilities face discrimination at all levels of life (Keogh 2012).

Young women with disabilities are a large, diverse group, yet, it is hard to determine exactly who and how many are included, in part because there are many definitions of disability, not only across countries but also within the same country (Bramley, van Kraayenoord, and Elkins 1990). These varied definitions demonstrate that disability is a social construct, and is rooted in the cultural, social, political, legal and economic factors the same way that it is determined by the physical barriers associated with the physical disability if the individual as in biology. While the world Health Organization is currently leading an effort to achieve a new international definition that considers many of these factors, no consensus has yet been reached.

In the study at hand, girls with disabilities are defined as those with physical, sensory, emotional, intellectual, learning, health or other disabilities that may be visible or invisible, stable or progressive, occurring at birth or during childhood (Kessel 2015).

It is found that Females with disabilities may be particularly at risk due to stigma associated with both disability and gender inequality. They are victims of a two-fold discrimination: As women and as disabled persons. Much has been written on discrimination against women, but very little has so far been done to deal adequately with the problem of disabled women. The few attempts made have been based on a mistaken approach, since they treat the acute problem of disability as part of the general topic of discrimination against women. However, gender and disability are two separate factors which, when combined in the same person, usually reinforce each other and produce compound prejudices (Kessel 2015).

Many studies and reports recognized that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discriminations, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms (Fahd, Myfti, Masri, Makaran, 1997; Bramley, Van Kraayenoord and Elkins 1999).

Documentation of the experiences of women with disabilities has remained sparse--benignly neglected, overlooked, and understudied in the academic fields of women's studies (gender studies) and disability studies (Rousso and Waxman 2001).

This article explores the situation and livelihood of displaced young women living with disabilities. The study focuses on three folds of discrimination as a female, as a displaced and as a disabled person. This qualitative study explores the lived experiences of marginalization, and exclusion in the lives of young women who have a permanent disability.

Specifically the study aims at exploring the situations of females as displaced and disabled and analyzing their perceptions on people acceptability and discriminations, and to examine the effect of disabilities on their livelihood.

Design and methods

Mandela area is located in southern Khartoum, the area is poor outskirt inhibited by displaced persons who were recently displaced from the Nuba Mountain area. 10 young women with different disabilities were traced by the use of snowball sampling techniques. In-depth interview was used to collect data form the sample.

Data Analysis

Content analysis was used to analyze data collected from the targeted women through in depth interview as follows:

All the in-depth interview transcripts were coded and comments of respondents that simplify points to be discussed were highlighted. Then an outline of the report based on themes was arranged.

Results and discussion

The study shows that the disability affected women in several aspects which will be discussed in the following part of this paper:

Socio economic background

The study shows that all ten young women interviewed were categorized as displaced from Nuba Mountain because of war. One respondent asserted, "I migrated from Nuba Mountain because my village has been attacked by the soldier".

The majority of the respondents are [greater than or equal to] 25 years old, few of them had had only completed the secondary school; some had completed university education; few were currently married while majority were single or divorced. One unmarried young woman said, "A disabled woman cannot be beautiful, not when judged according to our scale of beauty, in any case. A disabled woman cannot certainly be sexually attractive, or be considered as a good housekeeper able to comply with the demands of her husband and children".

Theme one: Disability

The type of disabilities are diverse ranging from physical to blindness, or multiple disabilities those who are physically disabled some of them suffer compound polio on (one leg, two legs, and one hand). Most of those women who suffer physical disable explained that the main reason for their disability was that they were given the (wrong) vaccination when they were children. Some of them were born with the disability.

One lady explained, "I became disable since I was four month-old in an accident. I fall on the ground from my mother while she was quarreling with my father... It was too hard--a fall, I was told!"

Another lady stated, "I am suffering polio on my leg and hand in the same side since I had been three months old due to vaccination mistake".

Both respondents who were blind were born with the disability. One of them suffers blindness on one eye and the second is blind on her two eyes. The later explained, "I was born with a night blindness and I became completely blind at the age of nineteen".

Theme two: The effect of disability

Disability affected the life of young women mostly due to the related stigma, access to transportation services, Interaction with community and difficulties to meet their basic needs. They suffer when walking for a long distant as well as access to public places, school, and health centers. The majority of young women said that the disability affected their social life negatively because they found it difficult to interact with the society, participate in the public events and have a chance to get married. One responded explained, "Because I suffer polio on my two legs man use to refuse me as wife. They think that because I am disabled, my children may inherit the disability".

Another woman said, "I suffer polio on the two legs. Drivers of the public transportations always refuse to take me with my Wheel-chair. To avoid irrespective attitude from the bus drivers I decide not to use the chair, I crawl all the way till the bus station".

Those who suffer a disability on their hand find it difficult to meet their basic need such as (washing, ironing, cooking and using the toilet), and those who become disabled since their childhood, did not have a chance to play with their age-mates during their childhood.

Theme three: The effect of disabilities on economic situation

Young women explained the effect of disability on their economic situation by the following statements:

"I don't have enough money to meet my basic needs and the Financial Center does not financially support us regularly".

Another woman stated, "I don't have a regular income to secure my basic needs I do hand craft but the income is very low because of the lack of money to buy the raw materials".

Theme four: The effect of disabilities on health

During the interviews, young women described the effect of disabilities on their health as follows:

"Due to the disability I suffer many health problems since my childhood till now. As a result of polio I continuously suffer pain on my back and on the kidney".

Another respondent described her sufferings, "I suffer a daily pain on my hand and knees because I always push on them to move from a place to another and the doctor advised me to move as much as possible in order to avoid obesity".

Theme five: Discrimination

Young women interviewed identify different types of discrimination they faced as a disabled young displaced woman.

Voice of young women on perception of discrimination

One of the respondents explained, "The discrimination was found in the school, in the street, among relatives especially when they talk about marriage they describe the disabled woman as not useful so no one agree to marry me because they think that, I can't not serve my family and it will be difficult to take care of the children".

A young woman described the discrimination they faced as women living with disabilities as follow:

"I still remember my childhood in school when every teacher used to treat me differently from my colleagues and some children refused to play with me. I also faced discrimination when I applied to positions in the governmental institution.... they rejected my application because they consider me unable to perform any work. I faced the discrimination from the community that they don't treat me humanly and some time they do call me in an irrespective manner. I am also so often treated differently even from my relatives that some of them feel shame to walk with me in public and some of them treat me with sympathy".

A young physically disabled woman expressed her opinion in relations to future improvements she aspires to see in the situation of young women living with disabilities, stating, "I wish for the coming years the disabled woman could be supported financially by the microfinance projects". "I wish in the future all of the medication will be for free especially any disabled woman who needs surgeries".

I would also call that, "All the disable women should be supported by motorcycles especially for those who are attending School University or job in order to facilitate their movement".

The following are three stories of how women of disabilities survive in Sudan:

Story one:

I am a divorcee, aged 33 years from Nuba Mountain small village called "Heban", I completed secondary school. I moved to live with my family who migrated from our village because we lost our father during conflict we become displaced family headed by my mother. My family consisted of my four brothers and my mother.

When I was three years old I was infected with (polio) on the two legs. Since then, I have been suffering the difficulties of movements and others health complications. Despite the disabilities I managed to finish secondary school and could not continue for university because it was difficult to walk for a long distant. I earn income from a part-time job as a hair-dresser. Performing the job is not difficult because I just sit on the chair and perform my task. Voluntarily, I sometimes go to the disability center for providing voluntary services. Throughout my life, I have been exposed to negative attitudes and discriminations because of my disability. During the school years I suffered a lot from my class mates. Transportation was and is still my main obstacle due to the disrespectable treatment. The positive thing about the disability is that, I am motivated to accept myself as it is, look for positive processes and become self-dependent.

I receive emotional support from my family and financial support from the disability center. They also provided me with the wheelchair I use for moving and pay for half of my heart surgery costs and some of the medication costs.

Yet, as a disabled young lady, I face many type of discrimination, in the street and among the relatives specially when they refer to marriage they always consider me not useful and think that the reason, I got divorced was because of the in-laws nagging that I could not serve my ex-husband. I wish that in the coming years all of the community will be aware about the right of a disabled persons as well as that all the medication for the disable person will be for free specially the surgeries.

Story two:

I am twenty three years old blind, university educated and single young woman born in small village in Nuba Mountain called "Katcha". I moved with my mother and sisters because of the conflict in Darfur and we live in an extended family household. My mother is the head of the household. I was born with night blindness, I became completely blind at the age of nineteen and it was a terrible feeling whereby I felt that I was completely destroyed because I couldn't accept the new situation easily and I refused to communicate with the others. Been disabled affected my life in a negative way that I stopped going to the university for two years before I decided to finish my studies, it was difficult to move alone inside the university and I could not go back home alone; so my brother used to come and take me home every time I go to the university. Although I cannot move easily, I prefer to serve myself so I prepare tea at the morning, wash and iron my cloth, after finishing my home duty some time I go to the disability center for follow up and contribute in the activities and I also have a class in side home for teaching Islamic religion (what is known as the Khalwa1), and it is the only source of income for me in addition I receive a financial support from the disability center but I still find it difficult to meet the minimum basic needs.

Moving from place to another is so difficult for a blind person, sometimes I hit my body with the wall or furniture and sometimes I fall down so I always suffer a new injury on my body specially my legs and head. Been a disabled woman is one of the main reason why I couldn't get a job because disabled persons are not accepted in the private and the governmental sectors. Failure to get a job has a negative impact on my economic situation because it is difficult for me to secure a livelihood and this is the problem of all people who suffer disability so I wish at the coming years all the disable women will be financially supported and enrolled in the micro-finance projects in order to secure the economic needs.

Story three:

I am 25 years old from the Nuba Mountain. I used to live in a small village called "Kohlyat", I went to school and dropped out after I completed the basic education. I am single, live in an extended family household. My mother is the head of household. I migrated from Nuba Mountain to Khartoum with my family in 2012 because of the war conflict in western Sudan.

I was born blind and have a physical disability (double disability) at the left eye and the left leg. Thus, I lost any chance to do many things since there is no car to use and it was difficult to walk for a long distance depending on one leg or (using sticks) while the road is not appropriately fitting for the disabled persons. Thus, going to school was difficult for me because it was too far from home. It was terrible and unforgettable event when my village had been attacked by the soldiers. People ran away to the next village in order to protect themselves from being shot. I could not run with them because I had to run across the mountain in a place filled with stones which hindered my way so I left the village on a donkey and that was even more difficult.

Suffering from disability did not stop me from working because I kept working inside and outside home that I took the responsibility to perform all types of work inside home like cooking, washing and ironing and after finishing my the house work, I prepare the material for making local cake which I sell in my small shop at the evening near my house. Both my mother and sister help me to make the cake every day and encourage me because I always complain that the outcome I earn from this job is not equal to the effort I make because I cannot satisfy my basic need although sometimes I design some hand craft for sell but I still suffer that the income is insufficiency and instable. However, I know that all the disable people suffer financial difficulties. We are treated as if we are not original citizen in our own country, since they consider that we cannot fully perform tasks like other women. I hope in the coming years the disability center can be supported by the micro-finance projects in order to help handicaps improve their economic status as well as to have those who are responsible for the handicaps to produce programs to raise awareness about the right of disabled women.


Women with disabilities who live in poor displaced community are suffering socio-economic problems and express their sufferings referring to the exclusion and isolation they experience among the community members. Young women at the age of marriage are hindered by the disability to get married because of the stigma and discrimination and negative perceptions of Sudanese men towards women with disabilities. This demonstrates how negative social attitudes block the integration of young women with disabilities into society. Study by Singal, Bhatti, and Malik (2011), demonstrated the constrictive effects of negative societal attitudes in preventing individuals with disabilities from mainstreaming into the society. Women with disabilities face significantly more difficulties--in both public and private spheres. Young women with disabilities clearly referred to the discrimination they faced during childhood, schools and from members of the community. Other in-depth information about disability discrimination in a number of settings, including employment and transportation interactions with public and community were as well been referred to by women with disabilities. Young women with disabilities are at a further disadvantage because of the combined discrimination based on gender and discrimination based on disability.

Young women with disabilities identified solutions for their economic vulnerability to by stating that the establishment of solid source of livelihood may help to support their case. Yet, these suggestions also need deeper focusing in the case because as Arthur O'Reilly (2003) stated When women with disabilities work, they often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal access to training and retraining, unequal access to credit and other productive resources, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation, as well as that they may rarely participate in economic decision-making. Related to this issue the United Nations estimates that only 25 percent of women with disabilities are in the global workforce. In general, there is a lack of counselling and career guidance to respond to the specific needs of women with disabilities.


This paper highlighted the barriers faced by women and girls with disabilities in achieving their full capacities of workforce and other contribution to the society. When we look at these barriers, we see that some are specific to the situation of women and girls with disabilities while others fit within the continued struggle of all women for equal rights and opportunities.

It can be said that Women experience a higher prevalence of disability and women with disabilities remain among the most marginalized, vulnerable members of society. Moreover Women with disabilities face the "intersection" of gender and disability, which combines to create a distinct and particular experience of disadvantage and discrimination, not suffered by others.

In relations to the employment, it can be said that women in general face discrimination in employment. For women with disabilities, this discrimination is even greater. In situations where there is high unemployment, opportunities for remunerative work tend to be severely limited. When disabled women do find jobs, they receive considerable lower wages.

Finally, it can be concluded that young women with disabilities in poor communities face obstacles and challenges arising from the triple barriers of gender, displacement and disability.

Women with disabilities expressed some recommendations relevant to their situations which can be summarized as follows:

There is a need to provide specific measures for women and girls with disabilities in terms of rights protections and also the need for general gender goals and objectives to be inclusive of women with disabilities.

Additional training and workshops for income generating activities is needed to be provided to the disability centers by the ministry of social welfare.

Further studies on people with disabilities are needed to identify the needs and the obstacle of disabled persons.

Rising awareness regarding the right of disable person specially the right for education and job opportunity is needed for the community, the drivers of public transportation and for the disabled woman.

Consider people with disability when constructing public places. Provision of micro-finance project for the disability center.

Note on contributors

Shadia Daoud, is a professor of Rural Extension and Development at Ahfad University for Women/Sudan.

Niveen Elmagboul is an assistant professor of Rural Extension and Development at Ahfad University for Women/Sudan. and Maha Hussein Miso was a graduate student at the School of Rural Extension and Development at Ahfad University for Women/Sudan.


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(1) The Khalwa is the traditional religious school in Sudan where traditional healers and religious groups get the basic Islamic education.

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Publication:Ahfad Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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