RI Global Position Paper: RI Global On Women With Disabilities

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RI Global: Office of Communications

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

On 12 March, Rehabilitation International (RI) held a side event as part of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59), in order to highlight the need for the mainstream women’s movement to include women with disabilities in their advocacy efforts.

The event, entitled, “Women with Disabilities: 20 Years After Beijing,” featured disability experts from Nigeria, New Zealand, the Philippines, the United States, and Norway.

Women and girls with disabilities face various unique challenges, including attaining access to adequate housing, health, education, vocational training and employment [1]. They experience double discrimination, which also places them at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation [2].

Research into the issues facing women around the world often does not include disaggregated data on women and girls with disability, and the unavailability of this disability-specific data hinders advocacy efforts and continues to leave women with disabilities behind [3]. Therefore, the research that does exist, along with the shared personal experiences of women with disabilities, is extremely important to publicize. This is why RI has held CSW side events focusing on women and girls with disabilities for the past several years, and will continue to do so in the years to come.

At the event, Anne Hawker, former RI President and Principal Disability Advisor at the Ministry of Health New Zealand, spoke about health and rehabilitation. Despite being told to undergo surgery to render her infertile after being diagnosed with a neurological disorder, Hawker went on to have a child and fight for the rights of persons with disabilities around the world. “Often, disabled women aren’t given the tools to gain knowledge about their own reproductive health,” said Hawker. She went on to describe other health-related issues facing persons with disabilities, including barriers to accessing health services including preventative screening; a lack of data and research on health and disability; limited professional training, and more.

Dr. Barbara LeRoy, Chair of RI’s Education Commission and Director of Michigan’s University Center of Excellence on Developmental Disabilities, gave various insights about disability and education. She explained that statistics show that persons with disabilities are less likely to complete primary school than those without a disability, and women with disabilities are even less likely than males with disabilities.

“Women with disabilities also average less years in school than males with disabilities and those without disabilities. These disparities often set women and girls with disabilities up for lifetime of discrimination and poverty,” added LeRoy.

RI Africa Vice President Ekaete Umoh of Nigeria, President of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities-Nigeria, spoke about disability inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She explained that persons with disabilities were largely “invisible” in the MDGs, but the SDGs provide hope for further inclusion.

“Specifically, we now know that the 17 new post-2015 SDGs, to be adopted in September 2015, will replace and expand MDGs, and will frame agendas and policies for the next 15 years,” said Umoh. She added that advocacy efforts in the months leading up to September are crucial to ensuring the SDGs are fully inclusive.

Each presenter described what can be done to mitigate the challenges described, including lobbying governments to provide inclusive education and medical care, international support and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and increased efforts by mainstream women’s organizations to consider and include women and girls with disabilities.

“While there is plenty of work to do to ensure the full inclusion of women with disabilities in both the mainstream women’s movement and society as a whole, by working together and raising relevant voices, the disability rights community and the women’s rights community can affect change and create a more equal world for all,” concluded RI Secretary General Venus Ilagan.



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.

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[1] RI Global, “Women and Disability Fact Sheet,” (2010).

[2] Stephanie Ortoleva and Hope Lewis, “Forgotten Sisters – A Report on Violence against Women with Disabilities,” Pages 38-41, (2012).

[3] UNESCO, “Education For All Global Monitoring Report,” (2014).