To Achieve Inclusion, the Arab Region Must Deal With Several Challenges

With the 2010 round of population censuses, a number of ESCWA member countries have included disability in their questionnaires.  But more specialized disability-related data are needed.  Few member countries have adopted the recommended set of questions developed by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics.[1]  The answers to these questions provide specialized disability-related data at the household level, and help policymakers identify the incidence of multiple disadvantages such as disability and poverty.

In addition, social stigma and the lack of public awareness have prevented persons with disabilities from claiming their rights. Stronger policy infrastructure and regulatory mechanisms are needed to protect them from discrimination and marginalization. In the absence of such policies and regulations, the State and persons with disabilities are dependent on family support and other care providers. Women with disabilities are often at a double disadvantage, facing discrimination based on gender and disability (box 1).

Box 1. Disability from a gender perspective

International evidence suggests that women with disabilities are especially disadvantaged in terms of access to adequate housing, health services, education, vocational training and assistive devices. They are also more likely to be institutionalized. Women with disabilities face discrimination when being hired, promoted and paid for equal work, and rarely participate in public decision-making.

In the Arab region, women with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and marginalized social groups. In more conservative Arab communities, traditions and social norms trap women in a vicious circle of discrimination, thereby reducing their opportunities for marriage, access to adequate education and rehabilitation and participation in economic and social activities.


In the region, the risk of disability has increased because of an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle, political instability and armed conflict. Currently, the risks are partially masked by the large youth population of Arab countries, but Governments are well advised to plan ahead for the ageing of their populations, which will demand more care, especially health-care services.

Despite the commitments made by Arab countries in the Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities (2004-2013) disability is not yet fully approached as a human rights issue. The definition of disability varies from one country to another depending on such factors as the severity of the disability and the social perception of it. Likewise, the medical principles of rehabilitation and care still guide data collection and national policy response (box 2).

Box 2. The Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities 2004-2013

The Plan of Action of the Decade focused on 11 disability-related areas, namely: education; health; legislation; rehabilitation and employment; women with disabilities; children with disabilities; older persons with disabilities; accessibility and transport; globalization and poverty; information and awareness; and recreation and sports.

The Plan of Action establishes national committees composed of representatives from concerned governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and disabled peoples organizations to monitor the implementation of the Arab Decade and report annually to the Technical Secretariat of the Council of Arab Social Affairs Ministers.


In the region, the social protection systems are fragmented and reflect the segregated nature of the labour market. Social protection systems often exclude those who work in the informal sector, the sector in which the majority of economically-active persons with disabilities are employed.

The interplay between all these challenges results in limited social participation and autonomy for persons with disabilities.

[1] Available at