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Will FCDO’s Women and Girls Strategy result in change for women and girls with disabilities?

Posted on: Monday, March 27th, 2023

In March 2023 the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) launched its long-awaited International Women and Girls Strategy 2023-2030. This commitment to advancing gender equality comes at an important moment: the rights and freedoms of women and girls are being eroded in many countries around the world – a world that is coming to terms with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing costs of the climate crisis, and ongoing and new conflicts. All of these burdens are disproportionately borne by women.

What is positive about the new Strategy?

There is much to celebrate within the Women and Girls strategy, which is underpinned by three themes:

  • Educating girls
  • Empowering women and girls economically, politically and to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health
  • Ending gender-based violence

We know that these areas are critical entry points for advancing the rights of women and girls with disabilities. The ability to go to school and receive a quality education, to gain marketable skills and dignified work, to make and act on informed choices about sex and childbearing – and to do all of these without the threat of violence or coercion – are crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty and disability.

What is lacking in the Strategy?

However, it is concerning that the Women and Girls Strategy does not make reference to the FCDO’s Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy 2022-2030, which also places an emphasis on advancing rights and freedoms, education and economic empowerment. Nor does it make reference to the UK Government’s own commitments at the Global Disability Summit to meaningfully embed women and girls with disabilities across the Strategy’s priorities.

Moreover, there is little reference to disability under the Women and Girls Strategy’s three goals of driving the global conversation, placing women and girls at the heart of FCDO’s operations and developing new knowledge and evidence. These goals are likely to form the basis of the delivery plan, which is yet to be developed. Without the inclusion of women and girls with disability, the strategy will fall a long way short of the change we seek.

Why is a particular focus on disability needed?

The WHO World Report on Disability found that in low-income countries, 32.9% of girls with a disability complete primary school, compared to 45.6% of boys with disability and 42% of girls without disability. 20.1% of women with disabilities are employed, compared to 58.6% of men with disabilities and 31.5% of women without disabilities. Those who are employed tend to be in low paying, unstable work.

Sexual and reproductive health services often fail to take into account the needs of women with disabilities. The barriers include physical inaccessibility, information and communications being inaccessible, and community, family and health worker attitudes stigmatising women with disabilities as being hypersexual, asexual or unsuitable for motherhood. It is estimated that women with disabilities are twice as likely to face gender-based violence than women without disabilities.

An intersectional approach is non-negotiable to achieving gender equality: without deliberately focussing on women and girls who are marginalised on the basis of disability, race, ethnicity, caste, poverty or LGBTQIA+ status, those women and girls will continue to be left behind. The intersection between gender and disability is rightly mentioned by the Women and Girls Strategy – but it must go further.

What is needed now:

  1. Voice: It is critical that disability is mainstreamed into all aspects of the Women and Girls delivery plan, and that women and girls with disabilities are included in the formulation of the plan. Without their voices being heard and acted on, barriers to meaningful change will continue to go unaddressed.
  2. Representation: A key strength of the Women and Girls Strategy is its focus on supporting and platforming grassroots women’s rights organisations (WROs), including giving flexible, core and multi-year funding. Currently, WROs receive only 1% of global funding focused on gender equality[1], yet they play an essential role in driving change. Lack of access to quality funding is a challenge shared by Organisations of People with Disabilities (OPDs)[2]. It is critical that new funding mechanisms targeting WROs are accessible to and include organisations of women with disabilities, who have often been excluded from feminist movements and who are also underrepresented and underfunded within the disability movement[3].
  3. Adequate funding: Finally, this Strategy has been released after a series of brutal funding cuts, many of which have been to programmes targeting women and girls in the poorest areas of the world[4]. The new Strategy commits to ensuring that 80% of bilateral aid has a focus on gender equality. This is hugely positive; however, meaningful implementation of the Women and Girls Strategy can only come with reinstatement of the UK’s commitment to 0.7% of GDP towards aid which is truly focused on poverty alleviation.

We welcome and support much of the new Women and Girls Strategy, and will continue to advocate for a fair and inclusive outcome for women and girls with disabilities as the Strategy moves into its delivery phase and beyond. Together, we will keeping working towards a world where all people with disabilities are valued, respected and can achieve their full potential. 


[1] AWID 2019: Towards a feminist funding ecosystem

[2] CBM Global 2022: We have a key role now: lessons learned from partnerships with organisations of persons with disabilities

[3] IDA 2020: Increasingly consulted, but not yet participating: IDA Global Survey Report on Participation of Organisations of Persons with Disabilities

[4] IRC 2021: UK Aid cuts will negatively impact women and girls around the world

Photo: 16-year old Kumri (2nd from right) was blind from birth. She is supported by a local partner organisation: Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) and a local NGO. Thanks to CBM supporters, she has learnt braille and now attends a mainstream school.