Women and girls with disabilities

Using both – the gender and disability lens


Gender perspectives on disability and the disability perspective on the situation of women and girls with disabilities 

Women with disabilities face significantly more difficulties – in both public and private spheres – in attaining access to adequate housing, health, education, vocational training and employment, and are more likely to be institutionalized (see footnote 1).   They also experience inequality in  hiring, promotion rates and pay for equal work, access to training and retraining, credit and other productive resources, and rarely participate in economic decisionmaking (see footnote 2Image of woman ringing bell at UN Headquarters

Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women is essential to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. Women and girls with disabilities experience double discrimination, which places them at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation. The global literacy rate is as low as one per cent for women with disabilities, according to a UNDP study (see footnote 3) . The World Bank reports that every minute more than 30 women are seriously injured or disabled during labour and that those 15-50 million women generally go unnoticed (see footnote 4).

International normative framework on women and girls with disabilities

Through setting international norms and standards the international community recognizes the need for the gender perspective and the empowerment women with disabilities to achieve the equal enjoyment of all human rights and development for all, including persons with disabilities.

The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons states that the consequences of deficiencies and disablement are particularly serious for women. Generally women are subjected to social, cultural and economic disadvantages, making it more difficult for them to take part in community life (see footnote 5).Image of two global leaders on disability issues in conversation outside a UN conference room

The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, recall the provisions in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women to ensure the rights of girls and women with disabilities, and includes references to women and girls with disabilities under several Rules, such as Rule 4 on Support services, Rule 6 on Education, and Rule 9 on Family life and personal integrity.

The Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities recognizes that women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation (see footnote 6).   To address this concern, the Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities has also taken a two track approach to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women with disabilities. It has as one of its principles equality between men and women, (see footnote 7) and it devotes an article to women with disabilities (see footnote 8).

Additionally, in its two recent resolutions on Realizing the Millennium Development Goals for persons with disabilities, the General Assembly called for the incorporation of a gender perspective. General Assembly resolution 63/150 of 18 December 2008 urges States to pay special attention to the gender specific needs of persons with disabilities, including by taking measures to ensure their full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms (operative paragraph 8).  General Assembly resolution 64/131 of 18 December 2009, calls on Governments to enable persons with disabilities to participate as agents and beneficiaries of development, in particular in all efforts aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals, by ensuring that programmes and policies to promoting gender equality and empowerment of women and improving maternal health, among others, are inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities (operative paragraph 6).

The Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace, Beijing, 15 September 1995, and the outcome of the twenty-third special session on Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action recognize that women with disabilities face additional barriers to achieving gender equality, and call for action at all levels to address and take into consideration their concern  (see footnote 9).   Additionally, the outcome of the twenty-third special session recognizes that discrimination against women with disabilities is an obstacle to the full enjoyment of their human rights and as a barrier to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (see footnote 10).

There is a need to take into account and to address the concerns of women and girls with disabilities in all policy-making and programming. Special measures are also needed at all levels to integrate them into the mainstream of development  (see footnote 11).

Panel Discussion on “Peace and Development – Leadership of Women with Disabilities – Our Forgotten Sisters: Women with Disabilities in Situations of Conflict

Organized by the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Mexico and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein, United Nations Headquarters, Conference Room E, New York, 20 October 2010

Moderator: Stephanie Ortoleva Esq., Senior Human Rights Legal Advisor, Blue Law International and Adjunct Professor, University for Global Peace.


  • Akiko Ito, Chief, Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Rachel  Mayanja, UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
  • Maria Veronica Reina, Executive Director, Global Partnership on Disability and Development.
  • Shantha Rau Barriga, Researcher/Advocate on Disability Rights, Human Rights Watch
  • Dale Buscher, Director of Protection, Women’s Refugee Commission

Interactive panel discussion on “Cross-sectionalities of gender, disability, and development:  Towards equality for women and girls with disabilities
United Nations Headquarters, New York, 4 March 2010

Moderator: Ms. Maria Veronica Reina, Executive Director of the Global Partnership for Disability and Development


  • Ms. Rangita da Silva, Director of International Human Rights Policy Programs at Wellesley Center for Women
  • Ms. Ana Pelaez Narvaez, Member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Ms. Luz Angela Melo, Human Rights Technical Adviser, United Nations Population Fund

Documents made available during the panel and related references

Internet resources on women and girls with disabilities

International Network of Women with Disabilities

The International Network of Women with Disabilities (INWWD) is comprised of international, regional, national or local organizations, groups or networks of women with disabilities, as well as to individual women with disabilities and their allies. The mission of the INWWD is to enable women with disabilities to share our knowledge and experience, enhance our capacity to speak up for our rights, empower ourselves to bring about positive change and inclusion in our communities and to promote our involvement in relevant politics at all levels, towards creating a more just and fair world that acknowledges disability and gender, justice, and human rights.

If people are interested in joining this virtual network, they can email: inwwd-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Footnote 1. Women and adequate housing, Study by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari, E/CN.4/2005/43, para. 64.

Footnote 2. “Employment barriers for women with disabilities”, Arthur O’Reilly, The Right to Decent Workof Persons with Disabilities, Skills Working Paper No. 14, Geneva, International Labour Organization, 2003.

Footnote 3. United Nations Enable “Factsheet on persons with disabilities

Footnote 4. World Bank webpage on Reproductive Health and Disability

Footnote 5. General Assembly resolution 37/52 of 3 December 1982 (see A/37/351/Add.1 and Add.1/Corr.1, annex, sect. VIII, para. 45).

Footnote 6. General Assembly resolution 61/106 of 13 December 2006, Preambular paragraph (q).

Footnote 7. Ibid., Article 3 (g).

Footnote 8. Ibid., Article 6.

Footnote 9. General Assembly resolution S-23/3, of 10 June 2000, annex, paragraph5.

Footnote 10. Ibid., para. 27.

Footnote 11. Ibid., para. 63.