We must appreciate the efforts that have been put to mitigate major contributing factors to violence and discrimination against women. The third United Nation’s World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985 provided a blueprint for action until the beginning of the new millennium.  

The forward-looking strategies from the conference linked the promotion and maintenance of peace to the eradication of violence against women throughout the broad spectrum of society.  The 157 member states in attendance were urged to take constitutional and legal steps to abolish all forms of discrimination against women, and develop national strategies to facilitate the participation of women in efforts to promote peace and development.

The Nairobi conference set in motion and re-energized efforts by women’s rights movements to advocate for the recognition of health and wellbeing of women.  In 1994, during the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, the women's movement pushed for the recognition of women's health, education, and rights as prerequisites for effective policies in population and development.  This was a huge achievement and the effects can be noted today.

Women living with disabilities experience much higher levels of sexual, physical, and emotional gender-based violence (GBV) than able-bodied women, rendering them much more likely to be insulted, made to feel bad about themselves, belittled, intimidated, and subjected to physical and sexual violence.

Challenges such as poverty, violence against women, and obstacles to adequate sexual and reproductive education, when experienced alongside disability, magnify the problems women with disabilities face in accessing suitable services and support.

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) on individuals with disabilities established that people with disabilities were one and a half times more likely to experience physical, sexual, or intimate partner violence compared to their non-disabled counterparts.  Women with disabilities are at a grander risk of all forms of violence: at home, in their community, and in institutions.  The analysis further confirmed that significant diversity among people with disabilities in terms of susceptibility to interpersonal violence, concluding that those with intellectual disability could be particularly at risk – perhaps due to their greater perceived vulnerability, the dehumanization of women living with disabilities, and inability for such women to access support, refuge, or legal reparation compared to their peers without disabilities.*

Women living with disabilities who have experienced GBV are also found to be at an increased risk of experiencing high levels of stigma, discrimination, and other human rights violations - especially in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

GBV prevention and SRHR education and support, particularly health interventions, are often not addressed in disability-specific programming.  Consequently, the specific needs of women with disabilities are not always included in the priorities of women’s organizations, which often concentrate on priorities shared by what is perceived to be the ‘average’ women, instead of the unique challenges experienced by women with disabilities.

Physical barricades to services, attitudinal barriers in community level sensitization programs and communication challenges with service providers are all examples of ways women with disabilities experience marginalization, leaving their voices unheeded.

The Beijing Declaration asserts that:

  • All necessary measures should be taken to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and the girl child and remove all obstacles to gender equality and the advancement and empowerment of women;

  • Prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls;

  • Ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in education and health care and enhance women's sexual and reproductive health as well as education.

The sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 2018) will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in March 2018.  The priority theme for CSW 2018 is: “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”.  CSW 2018 is a big opportunity to champion against GBV and human rights violations against women and girls living with disabilities.  CSW 2018 should take the lead in solidifying actions from the Beijing Declarations that provide meaningful support to women and girls all over the world who are not archetypically represented in policy, media, mainstream movements, and the like.  We therefore call upon governments, international development agencies, partners, disability specific organizations and institutions to create new programs and upscale existing interventions in order to end sexual, physical, and emotional GBV against women with disabilities.

*UNDP, 2009

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