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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality
Theme: Women with Disabilities

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Seminar on Disabled Women
Vienna, 20-24 August 1990
Part 1 of 4


Women with Disabilities icon Economic and Social Council resolution 1987/24 established the priority themes for each session of the Commission on the Status of Women, through 1992. The theme for the thirty-fifth session in 1991 under the rubric equality is "Vulnerable women, including migrant women". By the same resolution, the Council requested that, when funds were available, meetings should be held to prepare for the themes. In that connection, a seminar on Disabled Women was convened at Vienna from 20 to 24 August 1990 to provide input to the report on that vulnerable group. The Commission will consider the full and constructive integration of disabled women in development at its thirty-sixth session in 1992 under the priority theme for development "Integration of women in the process of development".

The seminar focused on issues relating to the double discrimination that may be experienced by disabled women. When discrimination based on disability combines with discrimination based on sex, disabled women can be more disadvantaged than, not only able women, but also disabled men. Situations of double discrimination against disabled women can be documented in the areas of education, training, health and employment, among others. T'he seminar was attended by one consultant, 20 participants, and 20 observers from Member States, bodies of the United Nations system and specialized agencies, and other non-governmental organizations.

Women with disabilities are one group identified in the Nairobi Forward- looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2000 as meriting "special concern". They, together with young women, migrant women, elderly women and female-heads of household, are among those considered particularly vulnerable. They are considered because of their special characteristics, to experience not only the problems common to all women, but also specific difficulties due to their socio- economic and health condition, age, minority status or a combination of these factors.

The Strategies noted that recognition of the human dignity of women with disabilities and their full participation in society was still limited. In that sense, disabled women would be considered "vulnerable" until steps were taken to eliminate obstacles to full integration and participation in society. The basis for the vulnerability of disabled women as a group is their potential to experience double discrimination. Like any other woman, they may have to face disadvantaged situations due to sex, and as disabled persons, they may suffer discrimination linked to disability.

A. Preamble

The experts participating in the Seminar on Disabled Women have heard and reviewed the current situation of disabled women and girls around the world and find that corrective measures must be taken immediately to improve the lives of disabled women and girls.

The Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women1 constitute an ambitious effort to achieve equality for all women by the year 2000. The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons seeks to achieve equality for all disabled persons. Together, they constitute a normative basis for equal opportunity and full integration of disabled women.

The experts at the seminar believe that, while the United Nations and other international, regional and national governmental and non-governmental bodies have

dopted policies and legislation to ensure the civil and human rights of disabled persons, they have failed in practice to ensure effectively that those rights are granted to disabled girls and women.

Disabled girls and women can make important contributions to the world's societies and economies and the extreme subordination and discrimination suffered by them throughout the world is intolerable. Therefore, the experts agreed that the attainment of equal rights by and the creation of opportunities for disabled women and girls in social, economic and political spheres must become a reality through the world,

The experts are of the opinion that:

  • Women play an extremely important role in the development and progress of human society;
  • Prevailing attitudes of society towards the human, economic and social value of disabled women are misinformed and unjustifiably negative;
  • Women with disabilities have, up to now, been pushed aside and have not been openly accepted in the women's movement;
  • Every woman is likely to experience disability at some point of her life, either by having a disability herself or as a wife, mother or daughter of another disabled person.
  • The concept of independent living should be promoted world-wide and opportunities to implement it for disabled women should be provided.

B. Definition of disabled women

Girls and women with disabilities include women with physical, sensory and mental impairments whether visually apparent or not (including such conditions as diabetes, heart disease or breast cancer). It includes disabled girls and women of all ages, in rural and urban areas, regardless of the severity of the disability or whether they live in the community or in an institution.

In order to emphasize the interrelationship between gender and disability in an effective way to encourage constructive public discussion, the term "women with disabilities" should, until definitive terminology is agreed, be used interchangeably with the term "disabled women".

C. Implementation

The experts are of the opinion that the recommendations that follow should be vigorously implemented with political will and determination at all levels, national, regional and international, as appropriate. They are convinced that appropriate institutional arrangements, including for monitoring, should be established and recommendations are made to this effect. National governments should, in particular, implement the recommendations.

The experts call on intergovernmental bodies such as the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission for Social Development, being the specialized intergovernmental bodies, respectively, for advancement of women and for disability, to consider seriously the recommendations with a view to providing guidance to both national governments and to the organizations of the United Nations system. The Commissions should include the issue of disabled women in their agenda items on monitoring the review and appraisal of the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (FLS) for the Advancement of Women and the World Programme of Action (WPA) 5 concerning Disabled Persons. The importance of involving disabled women, individually and through their organizations in this process, at all levels and in all activities, was stressed.

1 Report of the World Conference to review and appraise the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women: equality, development and peace, A/Conf. 1 16/28/Rev. 1

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development