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Remarks by Ms. Mona Rishmawi, Chief of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch: Side-event at the 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council Violence against women and girls and disability

27 June 2012

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for coming to this side event on violence against women and girls and disabilities.

This event forms part of our efforts to enhance protection for women and girls with disabilities who experience violence. I am very grateful to the Government of Canada, disability organisations and organisations working on disability issues for their participation in today’s event.

Surveys and studies have shown that women and girls with disabilities experience a high rate of violence by a variety of actors within a range of situations and that this violence remains largely hidden. The seemingly unseen and unreported nature of such violence has severe impact on the everyday lives of women and girls with disabilities.

In order for the Human Rights Council to address and prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities in an effective and coherent manner, in its resolution 17/11, the Council requested Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to prepare a thematic analytical study on the issue of violence against women and girls and disabilities. In preparing the study, OHCHR transmitted a questionnaire to Member States and other relevant stakeholders requesting information. We gratefully received contributions from States, organisations and individuals from every region which informed the study.

The study reviews the international legal framework for the protection of women and girls with disabilities from violence, particularly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and assesses steps taken by States and other relevant stakeholders to meet their legal obligations from the perspective of legislation, prevention and protection programmes, prosecution and punishment and recovery and rehabilitation.

Factors exposing women and girls with disabilities to violence
The study notes that both men and women with disabilities are exposed to greater risk of violence. However women and girls face an even greater risk of violence and experience disability differently from men due to gender based assumptions and expectations. Moreover, some groups of women with disabilities, such as women belonging to minority and indigenous and older women face an even greater risk of violence due to complex intersectional forms of discrimination. The stereotypical and unfounded views of women and girls with disabilities as less intelligent and as non-sexual beings can also contribute to their vulnerability to sexual violence.

This difference in gender experiences was highlighted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Committee has stressed that women with disabilities may be subjected to double discrimination wherein they are more likely to experience poverty and isolation, earn lower salaries and be less represented in the workforce, which can also heighten their vulnerability to violence.

Violence experienced by women and children with disabilities can be carried out in many ways, in their homes or institutions and by multiple actors, from immediate family, caregivers to strangers. Women with disabilities are more exposed to certain forms of violence which are not experienced by women without disabilities such as withholding of medication and assistive devices, refusal of caregivers to assist in daily functioning, psychological manipulation and harming or threatening to harm. In addition, they are also particularly vulnerable to forced sterilization and other medical interventions carried out without their consent. With regard to the risks faced by girls with disabilities, the study found that girls with disabilities are more likely to die through “mercy killings” than boys of the same age with a comparable disability. They are also more vulnerable to infanticide, early forced marriage, forced sterilization, and female genital mutilation and cutting.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

Findings and recommendations
I would like to share with you some of the study’s findings on the measures taken by states and other stakeholders to address violence against women and girls with disabilities to feed into these discussions.

On legislation, the study found that a striking number of States have laws that authorise forced or involuntary treatment of persons with psychosocial disabilities “in their best interests” but that implementation of procedural safeguards vary between States and approaches lack consistency from one State to another. In practice, it was found that many States have enacted laws that limit or deprive women and girls with disabilities of their right to exercise their full capacity. Also that the protection from violence generally accorded to women and girls may not be inclusive to those with disabilities and their specific situations.
The study recommends a national review of legislation on violence against women to take into account specific forms of violence experienced by women and girls with disabilities and to bring domestic laws in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other relevant human rights treaties.

When analysing prevention and protection programmes, the study found that linking the concept of gender violence in a meaningful way into government programmes on disability remains a challenge. States efforts to raise awareness on the underlying causes of discriminatory practices and stereotypical perceptions against persons with disabilities were general and failed to factor in the gender dimension of disability. In cases where submissions for the study made reference to specific programmes for women and girls with disabilities, these support services were often inaccessible to women and girls with disabilities due to mobility limitations limiting access to the buildings, travel to the services and also the format and presentation of the services. In addition, State organised inspections of institutions to prevent violence by professional caregivers were inadequate and ineffective due to the inappropriateness and use of data collected.

The study recommends initiating awareness raising programmes designed to change the societal perceptions of persons with disabilities. It further recommends States to ensure that services and programmes are accessible.

The analysis on prosecution and punishment was limited in scope due to insufficient information in the submissions received. However, non-governmental organizations and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have reported that societal barriers limit access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. These barriers include failure of law enforcement officials to file criminal complaints, the requirement of a legal capacity, reluctance of prosecutors to open cases and minimization of certain forms of violence by judges. The study also found that often women and girls with disabilities are less aware of their rights and the means to claim them. To strengthen access to justice, the study recommends that States provide adequate training for law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges on the forms and types of violence experienced by persons with disabilities. In addition, legal counsel and legal aid services are to be made available and accessible to women and girls with disabilities.

With regard to recovery and rehabilitation, there was little information in the submissions received on gender and disability specific measures taken by states to rehabilitate and reintegrate women and girls with disabilities who have been victims of violence. The study recommends that State response should include addressing disability-specific vulnerabilities and for government funded counselling and programmes for women and girls to be made available to women and girls with disabilities.

In conclusion, the study found that violence experienced by women and girls with disabilities remains largely invisible; that current legislative, administrative and policy efforts do not link gender and disability in a meaningful way; that there is a lack of systematized and disaggregated data on violence against women and girls with disabilities and where it exists, the data is poorly recorded, inconsistent and incomplete; and finally that States programmes on violence against women do not adequately address the specific vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities. To remedy this, the study proposes a dual-track approach - programmes to prevent and address violence against women and specific programmes and strategies targeting girls and women with disabilities.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Strengthening the protection of women and girls with disabilities from violence continues to be a priority for OHCHR. We are fully committed to working in close partnership with women and girls with disabilities, disability organisations and organisations working on disability issues. I hope that our discussion today will further our collective efforts to develop a holistic approach aimed at eliminating discrimination, promoting autonomy and addressing specific risk factors.

Thank you.