Women with disabilities
According to the United Nations (UN), 20 percent of women globally experience a disability. Two-thirds of these women live in low and middle-income countries.
Women and girls with disabilities are known to be discriminated against and have less access to services. For instance, women with disabilities are three times more likely to be illiterate as compared to men with disabilities. They face barriers in all areas of their lives that are exacerbated by situations of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against them. As a result, they lack equal participation in social activities or access to services such as education, health, in particular to sexual and reproductive health and services, economic opportunities, social interaction, access to justice, and the ability to participate politically.
Women with disabilities often have little autonomy in their lives and are denied a voice to demand their rights. They face multiple discrimination as a result of the intersection of gender and disability and other identities. They are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and violence including gender-based violence (GBV) and they have limited access to support and services that could reduce their risk and vulnerability. It is therefore unsurprising that they do not have equal representation and rarely hold leadership positions even in Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs). As a result, specific requirements of women and girls with disabilities do not find the place they should in development or humanitarian processes. They may have difficulty accessing assistance and support due to a variety of societal, attitudinal, environmental and communication barriers. This also makes it critical to make extra efforts to ensure the participation of women and girls with disabilities and to address all aspects that exclusively or disproportionately affect them.
Specific attention is required to ensure that there is gender equality amongst persons with disabilities in the participation process. Some useful steps to ensure the participation of women and girls with disabilities are as follows:
- Strengthen capacities of project staff: Build internal capacities of project staff by providing awareness-raising, sensitisation workshops, and training on addressing specific issues and risks encountered by women with disabilities in the project cycle. Such sessions may be facilitated by women with disabilities themselves, and address aspects such as their rights, competencies, specific risks, and the contributions of women and girls with disabilities in all their diversity. They may also provide knowledge on the inclusion and participation of women with disabilities in the project cycle.
- Engage women with disabilities and their organisations: It is good to have clear articulation on the role that OPDs led by women with disabilities would play in designing, monitoring and review of the project. Drawing from their experience and expertise can add quality to the project. Efforts may be made to involve women with disabilities who are survivors of violence to play a central role in project design. This will strengthen accountability and enact the principle of ‘nothing about us without us.’
- Create an enabling environment: Financially support the participation of OPDs led by and working for women with disabilities through travel costs and reimbursing time invested. In addition, provide individual women with disabilities with reasonable accommodations such as recruiting local sign language interpreters– selected by participants to ensure optimal communication. Provide appropriate financial resources for the interpreter’s internet and mobile data access. Closed captioning should be provided throughout an online meeting and accessible PowerPoint presentations and other meeting material shared in advance. For face-to-face meetings, ensure physical accessibility of the venue. Since women are still predominantly responsible for looking after their children, consider providing childcare options to enable women to participate.
- Strengthen capacity to collect disaggregated data: Collect data disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and other relevant characteristics. Engaging OPDs led by and working with women with disabilities in data collection related to them is useful. Moreover, development results indicators requiring disaggregation by sex and disability status in reporting may be used.
- Promote the exchange of experiences by women and girls with disabilities in the area of all programmes and projects on the rights of persons with disabilities. Share such learnings and practices with other project partners and stakeholders.
- Provide sustainable financial support to women-led OPDs: Working with women-led OPDs and providing consistent and sustainable funding to women-led OPDs, particularly those from crisis-affected and resource-limited countries is important. This enables them to participate on an equal basis with other civil society organisations in the coordination, planning and implementation of humanitarian and development programmes. Donor governments and other funders should set targets and monitor funding to women-led OPDs through both their development and humanitarian programmes.
Nothing without women with disabilities
Women with disabilities are powerful, willing and able. Without taking them into account the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be fulfilled.
- UN WOMEN (2019), Series: Briefs on women and girls with disabilities.
- UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2016) General comment No. 3 on Article 6 – women and girls with disabilities.
- CBM (2019), Disability and Gender Analysis Toolkit. Or in French or in Spanish.