Over the past 10 years, since the Fourth World Conference for Women, Beijing 1995, countries have made tremendous strides in the area of women’s development and women’s rights. A review of the activities for this period reveals a number of country strategies and national action plans that have dealt with the 12 “critical areas of concern” regarding women’s lives, health, safety, employment and rights.
In 2000 the Millennium Development Goals reiterated the most critical areas relating to girls and women, namely literacy and education, poverty and health. Once again countries expressed commitment to the Goals and their intention to meet them by 2015.
The achievements of women in the past ten years have been impressive; from increased participation in politics and other areas of public life to higher enrolment rates of girls in education. Even in developing countries women have gained status and rights.
These are achievements to be celebrated. They are also achievements that bode well for the future. However, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, I am compelled to share what I have gleaned from my observations and experiences reviewing the situation of persons with disabilities and my work on monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules.
In most countries of the world, and not exclusively in developing countries, women with disabilities have yet to be considered part of the general population when it comes to rights and development.
The 12 areas of critical concern of the Beijing Platform for Action does not mention the women with disabilities—the most vulnerable of the female population in any given country, society or community. The same invisibility that afflicts disabled women at the level of local and national communities, also plagues them when it comes to the international, national and community development agenda.
One of the most dismaying discoveries I have made in the past year, was that UNIFEM—an organization concerned with advancement of women and dealing with all aspects of women’s rights—has no programmes dealing with the rights, needs, issues of women with disabilities.
Girls and women, despite the advancements they have made, still suffer discrimination, violence, deprivation, abject poverty, inadequate health care, poor education and fewer opportunities for participation in all aspects of social and public life than boys and men. In the same way, persons with disabilities generally, suffer equally from discrimination, deprivation and denial of opportunities.
It is therefore, not surprising to know that girls and women with disabilities suffer the discrimination of being women and of being disabled, in many developing countries, of being poor and thus marginalized.
In that context, it is important that women with disabilities, their rights, their issues and their needs be given their rightful place on the development agendas of international, regional and bilateral organizations, as well as women’s organizations from which they have been almost nearly absent.
The following brief points, summarize the situation of girls and women with disabilities in their own countries and in vis a vis the development agenda:
- Despite their significant numbers, women and girls with disabilities, especially in the developing countries, remain hidden and silent, their concerns unknown and their rights unrecognized;
- Throughout the developing world, in urban and rural communities alike, they face triple discrimination - because of their disabilities, being female and poor;
- Studies on women with disabilities in rural areas of many countries have found that more than 80 percent of women with disabilities have no independent means of livelihood, and are totally dependant on others for their very existence;
- UNICEF has reported that women and children receive less than 20 percent of rehabilitation services;
- Disabled women are less likely than men to make use of many social services;
- The problems that confront women with disabilities are even more severe in the rural areas due to lack of information, awareness, education, income, and result in extreme isolation and invisibility;
- CEDAW is a human rights treaty, which seeks to promote equality for women with men, but lacks a clear disability perspective. Therefore, the State signatories to the treaty do not consider discrimination against and violations to the rights of girls and women with disabilities;
Therefore, and based on all the above, I would like make the following recommendation:
- Development, international and bi-lateral organizations should recognize the specificities of the issues of girls and women with disabilities;
- Bi-lateral and development organizations should encourage, help and fund the design and implementation of National Plans of Actions, that would include the elements of CEDAW and the Beijing Platform while referring to the specific needs of women with disabilities;
- Development organizations along with governments should conduct public awareness raising campaigns to counter the effects of discrimination, isolation and marginalization of women with disabilities;
- Development organizations and governments in developing countries should ensure that girls and women have the same right to an adequate standard of living, including nutrition, clean water, sanitation, health care and safe shelter;
- Girls and women with disabilities be guaranteed the right to life and survival should include early identification and intervention, and information, rehabilitation and support services;
- Governments, social structures, communities and families should ensure that girls and women with disabilities are free of all forms of violence and abuse including emotional, physical, psychological and gender-based violence such as sexual interference, assault and rape, forced sterilization, forced marriage and isolation.
- Information and communication should recognize the special and particular needs of girls and women as well as alternative and accessible means of communication;
- Family rights should ensure right to marriage and family;
- Governments and employers should uphold the right of women work and present the opportunity for access to various occupations and fair compensation;
- Women and girls with disabilities should have equal protection of law.
- The International, Comprehensive and Integral Convention to Protect and Promote the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, needs to take into consideration the double and triple forms of discrimination that girls and women disabilities suffer and make allowances for their protection;
On the occasion of International Women’s Day this year, I would like to urge all national, regional and international organizations to mainstream the issues of women with disabilities on their development agendas in the same way as gender issues have been mainstreamed. At this time of review, when we are reviewing the international commitments made in Beijing and Copenhagen it is an ideal time to add the issues of women with disabilities onto the international development agenda, and take their needs and requirements into consideration.