Human Rights Council 47th Session
Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
Statement by Nada Al- Nashif
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
5 July 2020
Madam President of the Council,
Women and girls with disabilities face particular barriers to their rights, as gender and disability intersect. Far too often, they experience discrimination, exclusion, isolation and denial of their dignity and autonomy, both in public and within their own families. They are also denied access to public spaces at community, national and international levels.
Estimates indicate that there are 700 million women and girls with disabilities in the world today. According to UN Women, the average prevalence rate of disability in the female population is 19.2 per cent, compared to 12 per cent for males, representing about one in five women.
Despite this high number, women and girls with disabilities remain largely invisible and excluded from participation in decisions that affect their lives. This leads to the increased risk of gender-based violence against them.
Global data on gender-based violence against women with disabilities is limited, which in itself speaks to this invisible crisis and suggests higher risks for women with impairments. According to We Decide, a UNFPA led initiative, between 40 and 68 percent of young women with disabilities experience sexual violence before the age of eighteen.
An impairment should not constitute a weakness that undermines the right to participate in society, equally as anybody else. What we have to tackle are social and environmental barriers that hinder the full, effective and equal participation and the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in all areas of life. This is an essential prerequisite for realization of their rights, including the right to live free of violence.
Through their meaningful participation the rights, needs, and concerns of women and girls with all types of impairments should be taken into consideration and addressed in decisions that matter to their lives. They should also be at the centre of designing, developing and implementing laws, policies, and services for prevention and response to violence they face.
To promote this full-fledged participation, we need to support them to establish or join organizations that can represent their rights; not just in disability-specific issues and mechanisms, but in all issues and in all platforms. Such organizations play an important role in representing their voices in the prevention of and response to violence.
The accessibility of all public discussions, at national or international level, is paramount and I therefore wish to acknowledge the support of the Government of Canada in making today’s panel accessible.
Isolation is another important factor that increases the vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities which affects them throughout their life cycle, in their homes or in institutions, both online or offline.
Institutions, such as long-term care homes, orphanages, and psychiatric institutions, may also expose women and girls with disabilities to particular risks due to their seclusion. For a girl child with disabilities, isolation from parents, family, and friends can increase the likelihood of abuse and violence. In institutions, such as orphanages, girls with disabilities may lack access to a functional complaint mechanism for mental, physical, or sexual abuse or violence, particularly when they have communication or intellectual impairments. They may be ignored, disbelieved, or misunderstood, which is conducive to systematic and continuing violence.
Isolation can, however, also occur when they live with their families. In rural and poor areas, girls with disabilities often represent an additional financial burden for the family, which can lead to neglect. Due to a lack of transport for those with physical impairments, are often forced to stay at home. When women and girls with disabilities are carrying out household tasks, such as collecting water and firewood, they may be targeted for violence, as they are considered less able to resist.
The COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated the risk factors of violence and abuse against women and girls as it has for many vulnerable and marginalised groups. In this context, we are aware of some countries’ efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on women with disabilities. For instance, by establishing chat services with geolocation and psychological support during isolation, enabling victims to contact the police, as well as on-line pamphlets, 24/7 helpline and email addresses, and legal services available in several languages, accessible to women and girls with disabilities.
In general, adequate support systems in terms of social networks, helplines that allow sign languages and information provided in an easy-to-read format, and shelters with universal design are essential to ensure the protection of women and girls with disabilities from gender-based violence.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 cannot be achieved without ending violence against women and girls with disabilities in all their diversity, and without a comprehensive, accessible, and inclusive approach to policies, programmes, and remedial measures at all levels.
This is everyone’s responsibility.
I wish you a fruitful discussion in this panel, which I understand is the first of its kind and builds on the Council’s work on the issue of the rights of persons with disabilities.