Women and Girls with Disabilities
Human Rights Watch is committed to promoting the human rights of all persons, and is supportive of the movement toward codification of a specific international human rights treaty on disability rights. We are concerned that the current draft of the treaty does not yet adequately protect the human rights of women and girls. This website and the linked documents provide background on this issue and suggest improvements for the treaty.
Approximately 300 million women around the world have mental and physical disabilities. Women constitute 75 percent of the disabled people in low and middle income countries. Women with disabilities comprise 10 percent of all women worldwide.
Women are more likely than men to become disabled during their lives, due in part to gender bias in the allocation of scarce resources and in access to services. When ill, girls and women are less likely to receive medical attention than boys and men, particularly in developing countries where medical care may be a considerable distance from home. They are also less likely to receive preventive care, such as immunizations. Due to social, cultural and religious factors, disabled women are less likely than men to make use of existing social services, including residential services, and it is estimated that disabled women worldwide receive only 20 percent of the rehabilitation. A study in the Asia Pacific region found that more than 80 percent of disabled women had no independent means of livelihood, and thus were totally dependent on others. According to the World Health Organization, girls with disabilities may be more readily institutionalized than boys.
Disabled women and girls face the same spectrum of human rights abuses that non-disabled women face, but their social isolation and dependence magnifies these abuses and their consequences. Women and girls with disabilities fare less well on most indicators of educational, professional, financial, and social success than their non-disabled female and disabled male counterparts. In some countries, laws overtly discriminate against disabled women and men, including by barring them from marrying if they have any form of mental disability.
Even where the laws are not discriminatory, disabled women and girls face a host of abuses at the hands of their families, communities, and the state. Though definitive data is rare, there is some evidence that disabled women and girls face higher rates of violence and discrimination than non-disabled women.
Although human rights abuses against women and girls are rampant, they are largely ignored. Justice systems fail to accommodate disability, making it difficult for women to prove abuses of their human rights. For example, some courts will not entertain allegations of sexual violence brought by blind women, because of supposed difficulties in identifying the perpetrator. In terms of donor attention, bilateral assistance to address the needs of disabled people is rare, and poverty reduction strategies often ignore both the issues of disabled people and issues of gender.
Background on the Draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities
Since 2001, there has been serious movement toward an international treaty on disability rights. The General Assembly adopted resolution in 2001 which established an ad hoc committee to work on such a treaty. By July 2005, the ad hoc committee has had five major meetings and has produced a draft treaty covering a wide variety of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The ad hoc committee’s sixth meeting takes place from August 1-12, 2005.
In terms of women’s rights in the draft convention, they are addressed in many of the articles (e.g., ones dealing with statistics and data collection, equality and nondiscrimination, violence, work, participation in political and public life, education, health care, privacy and family issues, and social security.) There is also a proposal that there be an additional article specifically on women’s rights to highlight the fact that disabled women suffer distinct discrimination from disabled men.
The United Nations "Enable" website has comprehensive information on the drafting process for the disability treaty.
The language of the current draft of the treaty must be drawn from four different documents that reflect the status of negotiations on various articles. They key documents are:
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