Take Five: “We must make sure the women and girls with disabilities are consulted and heard”

Date: Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Ana Peláez Narváez is the first woman with disabilities elected as a member of the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). She also served in the UN Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for seven years and was its focal point for gender issues. Currently, Ms. Peláez Narváez is the Vice-President of the European Disability Forum, and she has championed women’s rights for more than 20 years. She was a key speaker at the webinar “Intersectional solutions to eliminate violence against women and girls living with disabilities,” organized within the regional UN Women programme on ending violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey, “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds,” funded by the European Union.  

Ana Peláez Narváez, member of the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Photo: Personal archive.

What are the most recent noteworthy achievements that have improved the lives of women and girls living with disabilities? 

The most outstanding achievement we are about to reach is to have the voices of women and girls with disabilities listened to all over the world. More organizations of women with disabilities are being established worldwide, while at the same time women’s organizations and organizations of people with disabilities have realized how important it is to incorporate the voices of women and girls with disabilities in their work to make sure that they are not left behind.

The second major breakthrough is that violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls with disabilities at global, regional and national levels are more visible, indicating that survivors are feeling empowered to report violations and are being taken seriously by authorities.

The third achievement is that the key principle of ‘we are women too’ is now more recognized. This is one of the most important demands that we, women activists with disabilities, have been putting forward to fight against gender-based and patriarchal stereotypes that continue to exist in society and fail to recognize that we are women but rather view us as ‘disabled’ or as eternally asexual women. Thanks to this joint effort, the dedicated services and programmes for women are becoming also more inclusive and more accessible for all women, without exception. 

What are the three main issues that require further investments worldwide, and specifically in the Western Balkans and Turkey?

The first main issue is to invest in a study to map the situation faced by women and girls with disabilities. This study should facilitate an assessment of current legal, administrative and policy measures for their protection and recovery and should take into due consideration concrete risk and aggravating factors such as legal incapacitation, institutionalization, poverty, rurality, age and type of disability. This will enable us to know the real situation in the region and adopt measures to address it. We must focus particularly on five issues: multiple discrimination, violence, sexual and reproductive rights, institutionalization and access to support services in cases of violence.

Secondly, all specialized services for women, including sexual and reproductive health services, services for victims of violence, legal aid and financial aid services, must be fully accessible and inclusive for women and girls with disabilities.

Thirdly, we must make sure the women and girls with disabilities are consulted and heard. In developing and implementing legislation and policies, as well as in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to them, women and girls with disabilities should be closely consulted with and included either directly or through their representative organizations.

What are the most urgent needed actions to prevent and respond to violence against women with disabilities?

The most urgent actions should be to increase the number of accessible state shelters in urban and rural areas and boost counselling and rehabilitation services to ensure that women and girls with disabilities who suffer from violence have full and barrier-free access to medical and psychological support. In addition, adequate funding needs to be given to civil society organizations providing accessible shelters and support services to women who experience violence.

Furthermore, it’s important to sysematically gather statistical data on all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities, including domestic and sexual violence, to build our responses.

Finally, women’s organizations must ensure they take on board the needs, concerns and demands of women and girls with disabilities and do their utmost to make sure they are not left behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic still represents a global scourge. What should be the key national and local short-term actions to further protect women with disabilities from the impact of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate negative impact on women and girls with disabilities. First of all, access must be ensured to health services and information, including sexual and reproductive health, for women and girls with disabilities during the current pandemic and beyond, as they are more vulnerable to violence during confinement. Many women with disabilities face insurmountable barriers to access online information as they are not digitally literate or do not have access to devices.

They are also more susceptible to institutionalization and we know that COVID-19 has hit institutions hard. Violence against women and girls with disabilities in institutions is also commonplace, and independent mechanisms to supervise what goes on and avoid situations of violence are needed.

Finally, we need to develop coordination protocols for the key actors involved in addressing violence against women: law enforcement agencies, social services, healthcare services and specialized social organizations. All measures taken to recover from the pandemic should include a gender perspective and disability perspective, and civil society must play an important role in developing these measures.

What would be your message to women and girls with disabilities so they can live a life free of violence?

We, women and girls with disabilities, must know our rights and know how to assert them. The Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence are three key tools to protect us from discrimination.

Let’s work together to make ‘nothing about women with disabilities without women with disabilities’ a reality. Let’s work together to leave no woman or girl with a disability behind. Let’s work together because we are women, too!