RI Global From the Field: Groups Discuss Disability Before UN GA 71

28 September 2016

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RI Global: Office of Communications

Contact: Adrian Brune, +1 347-759-9501

Nawael, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee in a wheelchair who had been staying in a camp near Athens with her husband and three children for more than ten days had not been able to wash for weeks. Her husband would carry her to the door of the toilet and once inside, random women helped her use it.

“I don’t sleep at night because my body is itchy,” she recently told a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Ten days ago, I got my period and I swear to God, I still haven’t had a shower. And I [usually] pray, but given that I haven’t had a shower, I can’t pray.”


Life for a disabled refugee is difficult, at best. Life for a disabled female refugee can, at times, prove a lesson in tenacity beyond the pale, as a group of disability advocates discovered during a UN General Assembly panel discussion “Advancing the rights, well-being and perspectives of women and girls with disabilities” on 16 September. Advocates from RI Global, HRW, the Women’s Refugee Commission, UNICEF and other agencies gathered for the UN DESA-led discussion, which also included the Japanese ambassador to the UN, H.E. Koro Besso, to help governments, humanitarian organizations, and donors — overwhelmed with many competing priorities during emergencies — to find the way forward in ensuring that the unique needs of women with disabilities and children were addressed in humanitarian efforts.

Eight million of some 50 million displaced persons have a disability.

“Stories like this are just one of many that open our eyes to see that it’s not one size fits all when it comes to the conditions of people in the camps,” said Venus Ilagan, the Secretary-General of RI Global. “Many women who have been marginalized and discriminated against don’t realize they have rights to access aides and supplies. Instead, they are stereotyped as weak and unable to decide for themselves, when women with disabilities are the experts in their own care.”


Among the conclusions the experts developed was one in particular: advocacy groups can “no longer work in silos” regarding the care of disabled women refugees. “We need to build bridges between humanitarian actors and disabled people’s organizations on the ground,” said Georgia Dominik of the International Disability Alliance. They also determined that:

  • Collecting data disaggregated by age, gender and disability, and analyzing such data so that the rights and needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in humanitarian response was a first priority.
  • Sensitizing all international and national humanitarian staff, as well as local and national authorities on the rights, protection, and safety of persons with disabilities would strengthen their capacity and skills to identify and include persons with disabilities in response mechanisms.
  • Promoting meaningful involvement of persons with disabilities, especially women, and their representative organizations in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of preparedness and response programs would help insure appropriate coordination mechanisms.


“Japan has prioritized protection (of the disabled) based on lessons learned from the Tsunami. The notion of protection and empowerment is core for human security,” Besso told the gathering. “The 2030 Agenda must not only respect fundamental protections of women and children with disabilities, but also elevate and empower them.

RI Global: Founded in 1922, Rehabilitation International (RI Global) is a worldwide network promoting the rights and inclusions of persons with disabilities (PwDs) through advocacy, habilitation and rehabilitation to achieve an inclusive world in which all people can enjoy full human rights.

Join us at the 2016 RI Global World Congress: riworldcongress.com

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