Women and Girls with Disabilities Must Be No Longer the ‘Forgotten Sisters’!

By Stephanie Ortoleva, Esq.

As we discuss the impacts of violence and militarism on our livOKes and the women, peace and security framework, we must not forget women and girls with disabilities and effects of the intersections of gender and disability, the ‘forgotten sisters” in these discussions! Women with disabilities work for peace in the home to peace in the world: We challenge militarism and seek to end gender-based violence against all women! December 3, International Day for Persons with Disabilities, falls in the midst of the 16 Days Campaign, stressing that gender-based violence is an international human rights violation, affecting all women, including women with disabilities.

Clearly, it is outrageous and bewildering that women and girls with disabilities are ignored during our work in conflict and post conflict situations given that conflict and the ravages of war often results in disabilities and exacerbates existing disabilities. Thus, humanitarian and peace building efforts must incorporate women and girls with disabilities. Effective efforts can only be developed through our leadership of the design and implementation of such processes. We cannot just be recipients of aid.

The notion of “protection” in such situations is often the only element of humanitarian aid, ignoring the roles women with disabilities must play in re-building our societies and managing our own lives. We demand access to information on sexual abuse, sexual violence, and avenues to redress these violations of our most basic human rights. We need accessible and disability aware sexual and reproductive care and support. We need physical access to and reasonable accommodation in justice systems and legal representation. We must be included as the international community addresses the concerns of women as we re-build our societies and its institutions. Peacemakers across the globe recognize that conflict resolution is more binding and longer lasting when all voices, including the voices of women with disabilities, are heard during the process of rebuilding countries.

The 2011 groundbreaking World Health Organization and World Bank “World Report on Disability” documented the dramatic increase in the number of persons with disabilities worldwide from prior estimates of 10% to a current 15% and there are significant differences in the prevalence of disability between men and women in both developing and more developed countries: male disability prevalence rate is 12% while female disability prevalence rate is 19.2%. Women with disabilities experience double discrimination due to both their gender and their disability and face unique challenges, offer unique perspectives, enabling us to make necessary contributions to the peace-building process. Moreover, our participation ensures that our needs and concerns are addressed and effectively represented.

Pursuant to the Disability Treaty (CRPD), Articles 6 and 11, the concerns of and participation of women with disabilities must be incorporated into these efforts. Provisions in the Women’s Treaty (CEDAW), especially in the Preamble on conflict and post-Conflict Situations, brings into focus the synergy between the two treaties.

The 2012 Report on Violence Against Women with Disabilities of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women highlights the high incidence of violence against women with disabilities in conflict situations and that disability is a significant factor among other identities which exacerbate discrimination and marginalization of women with disabilities. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent research demonstrates that war increases the number of women with disabilities at shockingly high rates.

Nonetheless, women with disabilities are generally invisible to the women’s rights and the international humanitarian relief and development communities and are erroneously stereotyped as incapable or useless and not having anything to contribute to peace-building and post-conflict efforts. Those of us who have immobility and other disabilities are, devastatingly, a low priority in humanitarian relief, emergency preparedness and refugee and internally displaced persons camps. The Women’s Refugee Committee highlights that often in refugee camps, housing and toileting facilities are inaccessible, water and other resources are far away from the camp site and no accommodations to the disability of the woman or her family are provided. In times of no conflict, women with disabilities are marginalized in employment, education, social life, and political life and in times of conflict, these issues are exacerbated.

There are women and girls with disabilities who are leaders working for the rights of women with disabilities worldwide. Women Enabled International collaborates with organizations of women and girls with disabilities internationally to advocate for our rights at the United Nations and with UN and regional mechanisms, our respective governments and the international development community, clearly demonstrating that there are women leaders with disabilities in the community who should be part of the peacebuilding efforts and decision-making. Women Enabled International’s ground breaking work has provided a blueprint for the United Nations, governments and advocates as they develop and implement Women, Peace and Security policies, strategies and National Action Plans to include women and girls with disabilities on a greater – and more consistent scale. For example, we made Recommendations to the CEDAW Committee to include women and girls with disabilities as the Committee elaborates a General Recommendation on Women, Peace and Security and there were a few mentions of women with disabilities in the CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation. However, there were clear gaps, as mentions of disability only relate to the particular risk of violence, especially sexual violence faced by women with disabilities and protection of women with disabilities rather than our engagement in post-conflict peacebuilding, government reform and accessible infrastructure redevelopment.

Our law review article, “Women with Disabilities: The Forgotten Peacebuilders,” is the first major research paper to bring this issue to the forefront of international policy and thereafter, our law review article, “Who’s Missing? Women with Disabilities in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 National Action Plans,” presents a guide on the importance of and “how to” include women with disabilities in 1325 National Action Plan development and implementation.

The brief mention in UN official documents is more than symbolic, but it is just the beginning and only a small step toward full inclusion by governments and humanitarian aid organizations. Inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in future resolutions on the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda pursuant to UNSCR 1325, its National Action Plans and other inclusion would add to better response in conflict and post-conflict peace-building.

Stephanie Ortoleva is a highly recognized and published author, researcher and international human rights lawyer and consultant on issues of women’s rights, disability rights, and the rights of women with disabilities.  She is the Founder and President of Women Enabled International, which educates and advocates for the human rights of all women and girls, with a special focus on women and girls with disabilities.  Her articles are available at www.WomenEnabled.org/publications

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