Helen Rangoro is 16 and like many young disabled girls in south west Kenya started primary school later than we're used to in the developed world.
Helen's family struggled to find a school that would let her enrol because of her physical disability. Her only way to get around was to crawl on the ground. In the global south, the situation for people with disabilities has long been stark but for younger people - especially girls - it can be desperate.
Like many, she could have been set for a life of early marriage, menial work or worse. This can include a higher risk of bullying and violence. Disabled girls like Helen suffer double discrimination and a new study from Leonard Cheshire Disability and UNGEI (United Nations Girls Education Initiative) released recently at the UN has synthesised thought on this important issue.
Still Left Behind; Pathways To Education For Girls With Disabilities, examined the prevailing barriers faced and confirmed they're not necessarily benefiting from existing international efforts to improve access to education.
It included recommendations that offer greater consideration of disability and gender when allocating resources, developing aid programmes and designing policy. It also stressed the need for greater collaboration so it was fitting we worked closely with UNGEI on the project. The World Bank and UNICEF also joined us to speak on a united platform at the UN in New York.
Research across 20 organisations working to support educational access found just 1 in 3 (7) could provide meaningful information that related to girls with disabilities. The few evaluation reports that were available didn't distinguish between the education outcomes and experiences of disabled girls compared to disabled boys.
In developing countries, only 10% of children with disabilities attend school and UN figures estimate that 62 million young people worldwide lack basic literacy skills. But what really shocked me was the fact that while the literacy rate for adults with disabilities is 3%, just 1% of women with disabilities worldwide are literate.
Helen is now enjoying life at school in Kisumu and wants to become a doctor. She could've become almost invisible, hidden away at home, at least free from the very real threat of sexual violence, one of the reasons girls drop out of school early. Her disability restricted her life chances further.
Gender-based violence is still rife in parts of Africa, where generally women do 90% of the work of gathering water and wood. US Aid figures tell us that 45% of women between 15 and 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence. A DFID (Department for International Development) funded hotline in north east Kenya offers women the chance to report these crimes while the same government agency funds our work through The Girl's Education Challenge in south west Kenya's Nyanza region.
Sophisticated approaches are needed to tackle the prejudice and inequalities that blight the lives of many disabled girls in developing countries.
Ensuring access to education for all won't be easy, but the needs of disabled girls and women must remain central to international development efforts.