THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS
OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
The Right to Non-Discrimination and Equality for Women with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
(q) Recognizing 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,
(s) Emphasizing the need to incorporate a gender perspective in all efforts to promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities,
Article 3, General principles
The principles of the present Convention shall be:
(g) Equality between men and women;
Article 6, Women with disabilities
1. States Parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discriminations, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the present Convention.
Article 16, Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse (excerpts)
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social, educational and other measures to protect persons with disabilities, both within and outside the home, from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse, including their gender-based aspects.
2. States Parties shall also take all appropriate measures to prevent all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse by ensuring, inter alia, appropriate forms of gender- and age-sensitive assistance and support for persons with disabilities and their families and caregivers, including through the provision of information and education on how to avoid, recognize and report instances of exploitation, violence and abuse. States Parties shall ensure that protection services are age-, gender- and disability-sensitive.
5. States Parties shall put in place effective legislation and policies, including women- and child-focused legislation and policies, to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against persons with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted.
The information contained in this chapter will enable participants to work towards the following objectives:
• Explore the right to equality and freedom from discrimination for women and girls with disabilities;
• Explain the importance of these concepts for women and girls with disabilities;
• Understand the interrelationship between non-discrimination and equality for women and girls with disabilities and other human rights;
• Identify ways in which the rights of women with disabilities to non-discrimination and equality have been promoted or denied; and
• Understand the provisions on gender equality and non-discrimination in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
GETTING STARTED: THINKING ABOUT THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES
Throughout the world, women with disabilities are subject to two-tiered discrimination, based on their gender and based on their disability. Where women with disabilities belong to other marginalized groups, such as racial minorities or people living in poverty, they may be subject to additional layers or dimensions of disability. Women with disabilities are denied jobs, excluded from schools, considered unworthy of marriage or partnership, and are even barred from certain religious practices. Women and girls with disabilities are often the last to receive the necessary supports (for example, education, employment, appropriate general health care services) to enable them to overcome poverty and lead productive and fulfilling lives. They are at higher risk for abuse and violence, which in turn can aggravate existing disabilities or create secondary disabilities, such as psychosocial trauma.
The susceptibility of women with disabilities to discrimination is a global phenomenon, but understanding and treatment of this particular group varies within cultures. Women with disabilities in the developing world experience multidimensional discrimination: (1) because they are women; (2) because they have a disability; and (3) because they are more likely in the developing world to be living in poverty. In most developing countries, the opportunities and accessibility for girls and women with disabilities are extremely restricted, while prejudice against this group is overwhelmingly present.
The rights of women and girls to non-discrimination and equality are interrelated with all other human rights issues. When treated in a discriminatory or unequal manner, women and girls cannot fully enjoy their other rights. For example, a girl with a disability who receives an inferior education in relation to boys will be treated unequally throughout her work life. (See “Discrimination in Education” box). The lack of access by women with disabilities to general health care, including reproductive health, impacts not only their right to health, but also their right to information and potentially their rights in relation to family and parenthood. These examples demonstrate that human rights are indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated.
Discrimination in Education
The combination of discrimination on the basis of gender and disability results in low literacy rates for women and girls with disabilities and poor rates of school attendance. UNESCO estimates that the overall literacy rate for persons with disabilities worldwide is 3%, but for women and girls with disabilities it is 1%. In the USA, women with disabilities are five times more likely than women without disabilities to have fewer than eight years of schooling. For girls with disabilities who do not attend school, information on reproductive health is even more limited, leading to the unsurprising result in the USA that young women with disabilities are significantly more likely to be mothers three to five years after leaving school than women without disabilities. Studies also show that students with disabilities experience higher rates of sexual harassment in schools and that girls with disabilities face higher rates than boys with disabilities.
Source: Harilyn Rousso, Girls and Women with Disabilities: An International Overview and Summary of Research, Disabilities Unlimited Consulting Services (2000).
WHAT DOES HUMAN RIGHTS LAW SAY ABOUT THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND GIRLS WITH DISABILITIES?
International human rights law clearly establishes the right of all human beings to non-discrimination and equality. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) protects women and girls with disabilities against discrimination on account of their gender, as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The most important specialized international human rights treaty addressing the rights of women is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). While CEDAW does not specifically address the rights of women and girls with disabilities, it applies to all women and establishes an important framework and obligations relating to non-discrimination in the public and private spheres. The CEDAW Committee, the body that monitors implementation of CEDAW, issued a General Comment calling on States to include information on women and girls with disabilities in their reports to the Committee.
The CRPD adopts a dual approach in addressing the rights of women and girls with disabilities. This may be characterized in terms of a more general approach and a more specific approach.
General Obligations to Address Gender Discrimination
Equality and non-discrimination form the cornerstone upon which all human rights are constructed. At its core, recognition of human rights means accepting the notion that all human beings have equal worth and are entitled to respect for their human dignity. Thus, although the precise language differs, nearly every contemporary international human rights instrument contains a provision (usually at the beginning) stating that it should be applied on the basis of equality and without discrimination.
CRPD Article 3, General principles, section (g), provides that “equality between men and women” is a general principle underlying the entire treaty. This statement means that even if a certain provision is silent on the issue of gender equality, the principle of equality still informs the application of a treaty provision. In this way, gender equality applies across the entire CRPD.
This principle places both affirmative and negative duties on the state, also known as duties to respect, protect and fulfil. In applying the provisions of the Convention, the state should always take care to respect women’s equality in relation to men. For example, in compliance with CRPD Article 13, Access to justice, the state must not do anything that favours men and further widens disparities in power between men and women in society. On the contrary, any solutions to problems identified by the Convention should protect the gains that women have already made in society and advance or fulfil their future goals for improving their position in society even further.
CRPD Article 6, Women with disabilities, explicitly recognizes that States have the duty to address the “multiple discriminations” facing women with disabilities. It declares that States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of their human rights.
Specific Obligations to Address Gender Discrimination
As a complement to (or, in some cases, instead of) a general equality/non-discrimination provision, many international human rights instruments also feature specific provisions focusing on certain themes and/or issues of particular interest to certain affected populations. The main area in which the CRPD adopts a gender-specific approach is with respect to exploitation, violence, and abuse.
In addressing violence, the CRPD moves far beyond the duty to respect, and includes specific instructions on how to protect and fulfil rights. Significantly, in so doing, the CRPD breaks down the artificial divide between the public sphere and the private or family sphere (known as the “public/private split”) by recognizing specific state obligations in each sector.
· In the public sector: Article 16(1) of the CRPD requires States “to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social, educational and other measures to protect persons with disabilities, both within and outside the home, from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse, including their gender-based aspects.”
· In the private sector: Article 16(2) of the CRPD requires States “to take appropriate measures to prevent all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse by ensuring, inter alia, appropriate forms of gender- and age-sensitive assistance and support for persons with disabilities and their families and caregivers, including through the provision of information and education on how to avoid, recognize and report instances of exploitation, violence and abuse.”
Further advancing the State’s duty to protect and fulfil, Article 16(5) of the CRPD provides that “States Parties shall put in place effective legislation and policies, including women- and child-focused legislation and policies, to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against persons with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted.” It is therefore a requirement of the CRPD that States adopt gender-specific measures in order to address violence and abuse.
The Duty to Respect, Protect, and Fulfil Obligations Relating to the Rights of Women with Disabilities
Taken as a whole, States’ obligations with regard to the human rights of women and girls with disabilities include:
1. Obligation to respect: States must refrain from engaging in any act, custom, or practice that creates barriers to enjoyment of the rights of women and girls with disabilities.
Example: The State may not restrict access to sexual and reproductive health care services for women with disabilities.
Example: The State prohibits sterilization of all women, including women with intellectual or other disabilities, without their informed consent.
2. Obligation to protect: States must take action to ensure that non-State or private actors do not violate the rights of women and girls with disabilities.
Example: The State takes measures to ensure careful monitoring of all settings where women with disabilities live or receive services, whether publicly or privately.
Example: The State includes women with disabilities in decision-making processes that concern them, such as policy making on gender-based violence.
3. Obligation to fulfil: States must take proactive steps to ensure enjoyment of the rights of women and girls with disabilities.
Example: The State undertakes information campaigns that seek to dispel the myth that girls with disabilities do not require or “deserve” an education.
Example: The State initiates training programmes for health care providers to ensure that women with disabilities receive necessary accommodations in accessing health care, such as access for women who use wheelchairs to breast cancer screening.
In sum, international human rights law makes clear that States have the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of women and girls with disabilities in all areas of life on an equal basis with others.
SPECIFIC FORMS OF GENDER DISCRIMINATION AND INEQUALITY EXPERIENCED BY WOMEN AND GIRLS WITH DISABILITIES
Women and girls with disabilities are subjected to discrimination based both on their disability status and their gender. These factors work in combination, often together with additional identity markers such as race or religion, to produce a complex picture of discrimination. The sub-sections that follow provide some illustrations of the various contexts within which women and girls with disabilities experience discrimination in various spheres. Recognizing discrimination is the first step towards taking action to end it.
Women with disabilities experience high rates of violence, both at the hands of family members and of personal assistants. In addition to family members, caregivers can include attendants, interpreters, homemakers, drivers, doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, psychiatrists, therapists, counsellors, and workers in hospitals and other institutions. This large number of people and the intimate physical and emotional contact involved in the care they provide greatly increase the risk of abuse to persons with disabilities. Furthermore, because they must often depend on caregivers, women with disabilities face even more difficulties than other women in pursuing a remedy for abuse.
1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women
For the purposes of this Declaration, the term "violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
(b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
(c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.
Source: Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, General Assembly Resolution 48/104 (1993): http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm
Access to Justice
Access to justice for any historically marginalized group is essential in order to address wrongs and seek remedies. Women and girls with disabilities are often doubly disadvantaged in accessing justice on account of their gender and their disability status. Far from ensuring that justice is assured, the justice system itself often presents barriers. Rooted in discriminatory attitudes towards women and persons with disabilities, these barriers serve to perpetuate and reinforce inequality. Some examples include lack of safe and accessible transport to legal proceedings, insensitive and untrained police and court officials, and negative attitudes about women with disabilities, such as the false idea that their disability makes them unfit for parenting. For more on access to justice, see Part 2, Chapter 12, Access to Justice.
Access to Rehabilitation Services
Rehabilitation services are not available to the vast majority of persons with disabilities who may benefit from them. Furthermore, services that do exist are very often inaccessible or unavailable to women and girls. In many war-affected countries, rehabilitation services are available only to men. In developing countries, women and girls with disabilities are far less likely to have access to orthotic and prosthetic services for a variety of reasons, including lack of information, inability to travel alone for services, and lack of financial resources. For more on the right to habilitation and rehabilitation, see Part 2, Chapter 9, The Right to Habilitation and Rehabilitation.
Access to Essential Health Care
Women and girls with disabilities also face major barriers related to their right to basic health care. Obstacles in accessing general health care for women and girls with disabilities include discrimination and bias, lack of information, lack of transportation, and lack of respect for autonomy and privacy. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that few schools of medicine, nursing, public health, dentistry, pharmacy, allied health professionals, or schools of social work offer any disability-related training or coursework and those that do are very narrowly focus on clinical and rehabilitation care. For more on the right to health, see Part 2, Chapter 8, The Right to Health.
Right to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care
Women with mental and physical disabilities must fight to participate in decisions about their health care. In many cases, health workers persistently refuse to advise women and girls with disabilities on appropriate family planning services and methods. All too frequently, decisions are made for them without their consultation or consent, leading to a variety of human rights abuses, including forced abortion, sterilization, and psychiatric drugging. In 1997, the Government of Japan acknowledged that between 1949 and 1992, some 16,500 women with disabilities were sterilized without their consent in order to prevent “against birth of defective descendants.” The Government rejected calls by the disability community for compensation on the basis that the procedures were legal according to the domestic law at the time. When seeking reproductive health care, women with disabilities often face abusive treatment at the hands of physicians who do not understand their particular circumstances. A study in the USA, for example, showed that women with disabilities were significantly less likely to receive pelvic exams than women without disabilities.
Right to Marry and Form a Family
Women with disabilities also face limitations on their rights to marry and found a family. Legal limitations may exist that expressly exclude women with disabilities from marrying. Women with disabilities may be regarded as unfit for parenting or in other cases may be falsely told that having a child would be unsafe or unwise because of their disability. Those who have children often lose custody of them. In some countries, it is also almost impossible for women with disabilities to adopt children. Restrictions on health rights may also stand in the way of their right to found a family, as noted in the previous sub-section with regard to forced sterilization of women and girls with disabilities. For more on family rights, see Part 2, Chapter 7, Integrity, Home, Privacy, and the Family.
Education and Literacy
Gender bias results in low literacy and education rates for women and girls with disabilities. Disability discrimination combined with gender discrimination serves to keep women and girls with disabilities out of school. In many countries, schools are inaccessible or too far away or may exclude both girls and boys with disabilities from attendance. Imagining that their daughter who has a disability will have few opportunities in life, parents may see little reason to send her to school. UNESCO estimates that the literacy rate for persons with disabilities worldwide is only 3%, while rates for women and girls with disabilities are about 1%. For more on the right to education, see Part 2, Chapter 13, Right to Education.
The labour market does not adequately accommodate women with disabilities, nor are there sufficient laws to prevent and punish harassment – either sexual harassment or harassment on the basis of disability. According to the United Nations, only one quarter of women with disabilities worldwide are in the workforce. They are two times less likely to find work than their male counterparts. Workplace harassment of persons with disabilities is also commonplace and biases can be particularly severe with regard to people with “hidden disabilities,” such as mental disabilities. Pervasive ignorance frequently leads potential employers to reject women with disabilities because they mistakenly assume that the women will not be able to fulfil job requirements or that reasonable accommodation will be extensive and costly. The unemployment rate for women with disabilities in developing countries is virtually 100%. For more on more the right to work, see Part 2, Chapter 10, The Right to Work.
Adequate Standard of Living
In countries where women are most valued for their productive and reproductive capacities, women with a disability face even greater discrimination. Typically, they are often allocated the smallest amounts of food and other resources. As a result, the survival rate of girl children with disabilities is lower than that of boys. Few developing countries offer educational opportunities for girls with disabilities. Where opportunities for education exist in schools for children with disabilities, boys usually receive them. Women and girls with disabilities living in urban slums face particularly extreme circumstances, lacking adequate shelter, clean water, and sanitation, and are exposed to high levels of gender-based violence and environmental pollution. For more on the topic, see Part 2, Chapter 11, The Right to Live Independently and with Dignity in the Community.
WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES AS ORGANIZERS
Since the beginning of the current independent living movement, women with disabilities have been active organizers and advocates for the rights of all persons with disabilities. Women with disabilities are not only taking active and leading voices in disability movements all over the world, they are also creating autonomous organizations and committees focused on the concerns of women with disabilities. These efforts are not without struggle. Issues of importance to women with disabilities are still seen as a small part of the struggle for independent living in most national and international disability organizations. Yet women in the disability community are becoming increasingly sophisticated about articulating their issues. Women with disabilities have created goals that have been included in diverse resolutions from the 1995 UN Women's Conference "Platform for Action" to individual country and organizational plans for remediating long-standing discrimination against women with disabilities.
INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS TO ADVANCE THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN WITH DISABILTIES
1995 International Symposium on Issues of Women with Disabilities, preceding the UN Fourth World Conference and NGO Forum on Women in Beijing China, coordinated by Mobility International USA (MIUSA).
1995 Disabled Women's Caucus at the NGO Forum and the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, coordinated by an international caucus of women leaders with disabilities, calling themselves “Women's International Linkage on Disability.”
1997 Mobility International USA (MIUSA) coordinated the International Women's Institute on Leadership and Disability, bringing together 35 women with disabilities from around the world for an intensive two-week leadership training program in the US.
1997 The International Forum on Issues of Women with Disabilities, coordinated by the World Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation International, with support from the US Departments of Education and Health and Social Services.
1998 MIUSA International Symposium on Microcredit for Women with Disabilities, held in Eugene, Oregon, USA.
2000 MIUSA Global Options for Women with Disabilities in Leadership and Employment, Eugene, Oregon
2006 UN adopts Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The efforts of the Women’s Caucus secured a provision on women with disabilities in the Convention and other provisions on gender.
USEFUL RESOURCES ON GENDER AND DISABILITY
· CEDAW Committee, “General Recommendation No. 18 (tenth session, 1991), Disabled women”: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/recomm.htm
o Recommendation focused on women with disabilities within the context of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
· Mobility International USA: http://www.miusa.org/
o Oregon-based organization focusing on worldwide leadership programmes for women with disabilities.
· Human Rights Watch, As If We Weren’t Human (Aug. 26, 2010): www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/08/26/if-we-weren-t-human
o Report detailing human rights abuses against women with disabilities in Northern Uganda.
· Women’s Refugee Commission, Disabilities Among Refugees and Conflict-affected Populations (June 2008): http://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/docs/disab_fulll_report.pdf
o Report addressing barriers to inclusion for refugees and displaced persons with disabilities, with a particular focus on women and girls.
· Women Enabled: http://sites.google.com/site/womenenabled/
o Website devoted to the human rights of women with disabilities containing useful resources on the CRPD and disability.
· World Institute on Disability: http://wid.org/
o Organization with a mission to work in communities and nations worldwide is to eliminate barriers to full social integration and increase employment, economic security and health care for persons with disabilities with numerous programmes to empower women with disabilities.
· UN Enable webpage on women with disabilities: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/women/
o Webpage containing resources on women with disabilities.
· UN Women: http://www.unwomen.org/
o Official website for United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, established in 2010.
 World Health Organization, Draft Policy on Disability (Unpublished manuscript, 1999).
 DPI Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples International, “Counter Report of the Report of the Japanese Government Made at the 26th Session of the Extraordinary Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” (Geneva,13-31 August 2001): http://homepage2.nifty.com/ADI/Counterreport.html.
 Nora Groce, “Women with Disabilities in the Developing World,” 8 Journal of Disability Policy Studies: 177-93.
 Human Rights Watch, “Women and Girls with Disabilities” webpage: http://hrw.org/women/disabled.html
 Dawn Ontario (Disabled Women’s Network Ontario), “Factsheets on Women with DisAbilities”: http://dawn.thot.net/fact.html