Human Rights Watch welcomes the initiative by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to develop a General Comment on Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and appreciates the opportunity to provide our observations and suggestions to strengthen the draft.
Human Rights Watch congratulates the Committee on the comprehensiveness of the draft and was encouraged both by the draft’s attention to the intersectional nature of discrimination experienced by women and girls with disabilities, as well as the links made between the provisions addressing women and girls with disabilities and other CRPD provisions, notably those on humanitarian assistance, and access to justice, education, and employment. Further, we appreciate the multiple references to the need for data disaggregated by gender and disability (as well as other factors) in order to better understand the situation of women and girls with disabilities.
As you finalize the General Comment, we hope the Committee will consider the following:
- Based on Human Rights Watch research in India and Indonesia, we would urge that in addition to forced sterilization and institutionalization, in paragraph 6 of the Introduction section, the Committee mention that women and girls with disabilities may also be at risk of being forcibly administered contraceptives or being forcibly treated, particularly in institutional settings. In the Introduction section, paragraph 6, it is crucial to explicitly mention “forced labor” and “domestic violence” among the various forms of abuse and violence that women and girls with disabilities face. This paragraph could also be strengthened with a reference to the higher vulnerability of girls with disabilities in schools and educational institutions, which often lack adequate redress or child protection mechanisms for girls to report unlawful acts of physical or sexual violence and abuse, or neglect.
- In the Introduction section, paragraph 7, we encourage the Committee to include the following among the areas of concern with respect to sexual and reproductive rights: lack of accessible and comprehensive health information, lack of access to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases/infections, lack of access to safe and legal abortion services based on informed consent, and lack of access to psychosocial support for victims of sexual violence.
- While paragraphs 10, 33, and 68 of the General Comment indicate the importance of disaggregated data, particularly in relation to gender based violence, Human Rights Watch would like to emphasize the need to collect qualitative data and to consult women and girls with disabilities, particularly about their experiences of sexual and gender-based violence and accessing services and counseling, and then to use this information to develop or strengthen existing programs and services.
- Human Rights Watch has conducted research in India on the particular situation of women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities. The draft General Comment refers to women and girls with disabilities in general but, in certain areas, does not suggest a need for an emphasis on women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities or deaf women, who may be at particular risk of neglect, isolation, violence, and discrimination. Human Rights Watch research has also revealed that a lack of awareness about violence among women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities may be a significant impediment to maintaining safety, especially in the context of interpersonal violence. In the Introduction section, paragraph 10, it would be useful to highlight the need to ensure that women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities and their experiences are included in data collection. Additionally, in the section on Article 19, paragraph 47, we would encourage the Committee to recommend that states parties create community support programs and independent, supportive living arrangements for persons with disabilities, particularly women with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.
- While the draft General Comment frequently references the need to train women and girls with disabilities and health care professionals about the rights of persons with disabilities, it does not specifically mention the importance of training caregivers, social workers, the judiciary, the police, and other law enforcement officers, who are often the first point of contact in an emergency situation or when making a complaint. As such, in paragraph 32 of the section on states parties’ obligations, Human Rights Watch urges the Committee to include language in the General Comment recommending that states parties provide gender and disability-sensitive training to caregivers, social workers, the judiciary, and law enforcement officials to sensitize them on interacting with women and girls with disabilities, particularly women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities or deafness. In paragraph 32, we encourage the Committee to call on states parties to apply due diligence in protecting women and girls with disabilities not only against all forms of “exploitation, violence and abuse,” but also from “neglect.” Paragraph 32 should also note that states parties’ due diligence should include protection and assistance, including access to services. This should include access to appropriate and adequate health, medical, and social services, including accessible emergency shelters. It would be helpful for the Committee to provide guidance and to elaborate how states parties can ensure their efforts to prevent and address violence against women and girls with disabilities are accessible, involve specific and proactive outreach, and provide reasonable accommodation. Examples of appropriate interventions include accessible telephone and SMS hotlines, a support person to facilitate communication at police stations or one-stop crisis centers, and tailored awareness campaigns, etc.
- In line with the motto of the disability community, “nothing about us, without us,” we urge the Committee to include the importance of meaningfully consulting with women and girls with disabilities on policies relating to them and their rights and ensuring they are represented in “equality bodies (ministries, departments, ombudspersons),” in paragraph 33 of the General Comment.
- In the section on Article 8, paragraph 39, we recommend that the Committee note that “Accessible sexual and reproductive health information and services,” are required, as reproductive health information is key to informed consent and women and girls with disabilities having control over health decisions and extends beyond contraceptive information.
- In the sections on Articles 9, 11, and 24, we strongly urge the Committee to explicitly mention the need to ensure that water and sanitation facilities in particular are fully accessible to and safe for women and girls with disabilities.
- In the section on Article 11, we recommend that the Committee mention the need to include women and girls with disabilities in reproductive health services, including access to treatment for injuries, emergency contraception, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, access to safe and legal abortion services based on informed consent, and psychosocial support for survivors of sexual violence. Based on our research in Uganda and the Central African Republic, in the section on Article 11, we would encourage the Committee to note that women and girls with disabilities are also at risk of “abandonment” during situations of armed conflict, natural disasters, and humanitarian emergencies. Furthermore, we would encourage the Committee to call on states parties to actively reach out to women and girls with disabilities in the planning and distribution of humanitarian assistance to ensure it is inclusive. For example, women with disabilities should be part of consultations on refugee camp design, including water and sanitation facilities, and be represented on camp management committees where applicable.
- In paragraphs 8, 9, and 43, we urge the Committee to elaborate a broader range of issues where women with disabilities may face intersectional discrimination, including in inheritance, ownership, and control over land and property, and matters relating to marriage, divorce, and determining who children should live with after separation of the parents.
- In the section on Article 17, we urge the Committee to call on states parties to “ban” instead of solely “regulating” practices such as forced sterilization, coerced abortion, forced contraception, genital mutilation of girls or forced genital mutilation of women or intersex persons, and child or forced marriage. The Committee should stress the duty of states parties to enforce the responsibility of medical practitioners to obtain the free and informed consent of women and girls with disabilities for surgery or medical interventions, particularly for sterilization. Since involuntary sterilizations are often conducted as a means of “menstrual management,” it would be useful if, in paragraph 46, the Committee could specifically ask states parties to include practical information and trainings for women and girls with disabilities and their caregivers on how they can effectively manage menstruation without resorting to sterilization.
- In the section on Article 24, we recommend the Committee highlight the importance of accessible, comprehensive sexuality education for girls with disabilities, including in schools, and to ensure governments produce accessible and gender-sensitive materials, including in sign language and braille, to use in schools. Many girls with disabilities drop out of education before they complete compulsory education, and many may be limited in their educational choices due to their gender and their disability. In addition to mentioning “training needs,” we would recommend the Committee provide more explicit references to governments’ obligations to protect, promote, and fulfill the equal right to primary and secondary education, as well as to guarantee equal opportunities for girls and adolescents with disabilities to access higher education on an equal basis with others. This includes ensuring access to adequate sanitation facilities, services, materials and information to enable good menstrual hygiene practice to prevent lost hours or days to management of menstruation.
- In the section on Article 32, it is vital to include the need for international donor agencies (such as the World Bank and regional and bilateral development assistance) to ensure that their consultations, programs, financial assistance, and safeguards include and adequately target people with disabilities, specifically women. The list of specialized UN agencies should include the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
- In the section on Article 33, we encourage the Committee to explicitly mention systems of substituted decision-making such as plenary or partial guardianship as legal provisions that states parties need to abolish or revise in order to be in compliance with the CRPD. The Committee should remind states parties of their duty under Article 12 to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.
- Furthermore, in the section on Article 33, paragraph 63, we would recommend that the Committee encourage states parties to not only “investigate” but also “address” impediments against the development, advancement, and empowerment of women and girls with disabilities. The Committee should consider providing specific guidelines on the implementation of “measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women” with disabilities which would assist states parties in reforming their domestic laws and policies to comply with Article 6 of the CRPD.
- This General Comment also presents an opportunity for the Committee to identify good practices for the implementation of Article 6.
We hope you will find the comments in this submission useful, and we welcome any opportunity to discuss them further with you. We look forward to continuing to support the work of the Committee in promoting strong and effective implementation of the CRPD. Thank you for your attention to our recommendations, and best wishes for a productive session.