Women with Disabilities Worldwide

We change Things - Step by Step

One of the largest international Conferences ever

Conference-Poster: drawing of a woman holding a blue ball, a dove flying away

Beijing at 10 - under this title many meetings will take place worldwide this year, including in Germany, with the common topic "equal rights for women and men".

The reason behind this is the tenth anniversary of the 4th International Women's Conference which took place in Beijing in 1995. With approximately 10.000 representatives from governments and from non-governmental circles, from 189 countries, with in addition more than 30,000 Non-Government-Organisations (NGO) participants, this was one of the largest international conferences ever.

Despite this, it remained relatively unknown. Before, there had been the Women's Conferences in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), and Nairobi (1985).

At the end of the conference in Beijing, the "Beijing Declaration" as well as the "Beijing Platform for Action" was agreed on by all 189 countries present. Even these remain relatively unknown, although they are often seen as a milestone in the fight for equal rights.

With their signatures, the states concerned committed themselves to implement the vast program for equality between women and men in their respective countries. This commitment is, however, without obligation. Between participating countries, basic conditions affecting the economy and society are very much different. This fact does not help to further the worldwide implementation of the "Beijing Platform for Action".

Head Quarter of the United Nations in New York: skyscraper
Foto: Weibernetz

A global exchange between governments and recognized NGOs over the successes, but also the setbacks during the implementation process, and over the working out of future strategies takes place once every year at the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This UN-commission meets in New York in March this year. (A report on this meeting, from the point of view of women with disabilities is at the end of this article.)

But not only the Commission on the Status of Women will be taking stock of the past and giving consideration to necessary future steps in New York this year. Several women's associations, among them the "National Council of German Women's Organizations" or the "Böll Foundation", plan activities for the anniversary Beijing + 10. From a real equal participation in all areas, from an equal participation in non-gender related decision-making structures, equal participation in capital or family work, or the elimination of violence against women and girls, we are still miles apart - globally, and in Germany too. And in addition to old problems, new ones come along, such as the growing trafficking in connection with forced prostitution.

And: women's rights affect women with or without disabilities. In order to gain equally from the measures of the "Beijing Platform for Action", their specific needs have to be addressed. This is - even in spite of the best intentions - often not the case, so noted with regret at workshops at the CSW meeting in New York.

This problem can be approached from two sides: women with disabilities can take part in the on-going process at meetings and in discussions, and promote consciousness-raising. The positive effect of such an intervention became visible at Beijing in 1995 (see below). But also at this year's conference of the Commission on the Status of Women, Dinah Radtke and Brigitte Faber - as representatives of women with disabilities - could again experience how important it is that women with disabilities stand up for the consideration of their needs and thus be successful.

And women's organisations can, under the rubric of "consideration of women with different living situations", add women and girls with disabilities to their agenda. Thus, at different places in the report "Beijing + 10 1995-2005: Review of the Implementation ...", of the European Women's Lobby (EWL) the situation of women with disabilities is mentioned.

(Beijing + 10, 1995-2005: Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action by the European Union, Report by the European Women's Lobby).

"Beijing Declaration"

In the declaration, the signing states commit themselves under comprehensive statements to recognize and enforce equality between women and men and to comprehensively eliminate discrimination and violence towards women and girls. They commit themselves to undertake active measures as needed.

Main focus and aims of the declaration are:

  • Realization of the human rights of women and girls as an inalienable part of all human rights
  • Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls
  • Elimination of the existing and growing poverty of women; furtherance of economic independence for women
  • Prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls
  • Equal access for women and men to health services and education
  • Equalisation of power between women and men, equal access to decision-making positions as well as equal and full participation of women in all areas of society
  • Creation of equal rights and equal access to economic resources; equal distribution of family-raising tasks
  • Creation of peace on the local, regional, and international level, in which support for women plays a decisive role
road sign „UN Way” with 6 international flags
Foto: Weibernetz

"Beijing Platform for Action" - 12 Critical Areas of Concern

The "Beijing Platform for Action" names twelve Critical Areas of Concern of prime importance. Each one of these twelve areas consists of an introduction and is followed by a concrete mentioning of specific problems for women and girls in this area. Aims are then formulated, as well as an extensive list of necessary measures which have to be undertaken by governments and / or Non-Governmental Organizations, and possibly by economic institutions, for example the World Bank.

The 12 critical areas of concern are:

  • Women and Poverty
  • Education and training of women
  • Women and Health
  • Violence against women
  • Women and armed conflict
  • Women and the economy
  • Women in power and decision-making
  • Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women
  • Human rights of women
  • Women and the media
  • Women and the environment
  • The girl child

Women with Disabilities

At Beijing, women with disabilities were able to achieve consideration of their needs in some essential areas both in the declaration as well as in 10 of the 12 Critical Areas of Concern in the platform for action.

Thus it is stated in the Declaration that stronger efforts need to be made for the equal realization of all human rights and basic freedoms for girls and women who have to overcome many obstacles - for example on behalf of their disability - to become possible.

In the 12 Critical Areas of Concern of the "Beijing Platform for Action", consideration of girls and women with disabilities has been mainly embedded in the measures to be undertaken.

The Women's Committee, European Disability Forum (EDF), has - on the 5th anniversary of the conference at Beijing - specified the needs of women and girls in all 12 areas ("Beijing + 5, Priority Concerns for Disabled Women 2000").

Unfortunately, no statements are to be found concerning the effect on women and girls with disabilities of those measures taken thus far in the reports of governments or NGOs. Thus it is hardly possible to know if their needs - as put forward in the Platform - are sufficiently included, and if concrete successes have been achieved.

Statements of effectiveness can only be made where countries have undertaken special efforts, for example where they have implemented laws or programmes for bettering the situation of women and girls with disabilities.

In order to be able to grasp the general situation of women and girls with disabilities and to grasp the effectiveness of measures for women and girls with disabilities special data are needed. One can thereby also see where there is a further need for action. The UN has stated the problem of missing or inadequate data in this field.

The countries themselves have notified the UN that this missing data equally prevents the development of appropriate programmes as well as their supervision and further development (see Nr. 731 Review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents E/CN.6/2005/2).

For European countries, the European Women's Lobby (EWL) has indicated this to be a problem for the critical area of "human rights" in their "Review of the Implementation …" and demands a special data capture (see Beijing +10, 1995-2005: Review of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action by the European Union, Report by the European Women's Lobby).

In particular, women or girls with disabilities are specifically mentioned in the following measures: …

Description of the 12 critical Areas of Concern

A. Women and Poverty

Strategic objective A.1.

Review, adopt and maintain macroeconomic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty

Actions to be taken:

60 By national and international non-governmental organizations and women's groups

Mobilize all parties involved in the development process, including academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and grass-roots and women's groups, to improve the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes directed towards the poorest and most disadvantaged groups of women, such as rural and indigenous women, female heads of household, young women and older women, refugees and migrant women and women with disabilities, recognizing that social development is primarily the responsibility of Governments.

B. Education and Training of Women

Strategic objective B.1.

Ensure equal access to education

Actions to be taken:

80. By Governments

(a) Advance the goal of equal access to education by taking measures to eliminate discrimination in education at all levels on the basis of gender, race, language, religion, national origin, age or disability, or any other form of discrimination and, as appropriate, consider establishing procedures to address grievances.

Strategic objective B.2.

Eradicate illiteracy among women

Actions to be taken:

81. By Governments, national, regional and international bodies, bilateral and multilateral donors and non-governmental organizations

(a) Reduce the female illiteracy rate to at least half its 1990 level, with emphasis on rural women, migrant, refugee and internally displaced women and women with disabilities.

Strategic objective B.3.

Improve women's access to vocational training, science and technology, and continuing education

Actions to be taken:

82. By Governments, in cooperation with employers, workers and trade unions, international and non-governmental organizations, including women's and youth organizations, and educational institutions

(k) Ensure access to quality education and training at all appropriate levels for adult women with little or no education, for women with disabilities and for documented migrant, refugee and displaced women to improve their work opportunities.

C. Women and Health

Strategic objective C.1.

Increase women's access throughout the life cycle to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information and related services

Actions to be taken:

106. By Governments, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations and employers' and workers' organizations and with the support of international institutions

(c) Design and implement, in cooperation with women and community-based organizations, gender-sensitive health programmes, including decentralized health services, that address the needs of women throughout their lives and take into account their multiple roles and responsibilities, the demands on their time, the special needs of rural women and women with disabilities and the diversity of women's needs arising from age and socio-economic and cultural differences, among others; include women, especially local and indigenous women, in the identification and planning of health-care priorities and programmes; remove all barriers to women's health services and provide a broad range of health-care services; (o) Ensure that girls and women of all ages with any form of disability receive supportive services.

Strategic objective C.4.

Promote research and disseminate information on women's health

Actions to be taken:

109. By Governments, the United Nations system, health professions, research institutions, non-governmental organizations, donors, pharmaceutical industries and the mass media, as appropriate

(d) Increase financial and other support from all sources for preventive, appropriate biomedical, behavioural, epidemiological and health service research on women's health issues and for research on the social, economic and political causes of women's health problems, and their consequences, including the impact of gender and age inequalities, especially with respect to chronic and non-communicable diseases, particularly cardiovascular diseases and conditions, cancers, reproductive tract infections and injuries, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence, occupational health, disabilities, environmentally related health problems, tropical diseases and health aspects of ageing.

D. Violence against Women

Strategic objective D.1.

Take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women

Actions to be taken:

124. By Governments

(m) Ensure that women with disabilities have access to information and services in the field of violence against women.

Actions to be taken:

126. By Governments, employers, trade unions, community and youth organizations and non-governmental organizations, as appropriate

(d) Take special measures to eliminate violence against women, particularly those in vulnerable situations, such as young women, refugee, displaced and internally displaced women, women with disabilities and women migrant workers, including enforcing any existing legislation and developing, as appropriate, new legislation for women migrant workers in both sending and receiving countries.

F. Women and Economy

Strategic objective F.4.

Strengthen women's economic capacity and commercial networks

Actions to be taken:

175. By Governments

(d) Support programmes that enhance the self-reliance of special groups of women, such as young women, women with disabilities, elderly women and women belonging to racial and ethnic minorities.

Strategic objective F.5.

Eliminate occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination

Actions to be taken:

178. By Governments, employers, employees, trade unions and women's organizations

(f) Implement and monitor positive public- and private-sector employment, equity and positive action programmes to address systemic discrimination against women in the labour force, in particular women with disabilities and women belonging to other disadvantaged groups, with respect to hiring, retention and promotion, and vocational training of women in all sectors.

(j) Ensure access to and develop special programmes to enable women with disabilities to obtain and retain employment, and ensure access to education and training at all proper levels, in accordance with the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities; adjust working conditions, to the extent possible, in order to suit the needs of women with disabilities, who should be assured legal protection against unfounded job loss on account of their disabilities.

G. Women in power and decision making

Strategic objective G.2.

Increase women's capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership

Actions to be taken:

195. By Governments, national bodies, the private sector, political parties, trade unions, employers' organizations, subregional and regional bodies, non-governmental and international organizations and educational institutions

(a) Provide leadership and self-esteem training to assist women and girls, particularly those with special needs, women with disabilities and women belonging to racial and ethnic minorities to strengthen their self-esteem and to encourage them to take decision-making positions.

H. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women

Strategic objective H.3.

Generate and disseminate gender- disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation

Actions to be taken:

206. By national, regional and international statistical services and relevant governmental and United Nations agencies, in cooperation with research and documentation organizations, in their respective areas of responsibility

(k) Improve concepts and methods of data collection on the participation of women and men with disabilities, including their access to resources.

I. Human rights of women

Strategic objective I.2.

Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice

Actions to be taken:

232. By Governments

(p) Strengthen and encourage the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, 30/ paying special attention to ensure non-discrimination and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by women and girls with disabilities, including their access to information and services in the field of violence against women, as well as their active participation in and economic contribution to all aspects of society.

Strategic objective I.2.

Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice

Actions to be taken:

233. By Governments and non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and other international organizations, as appropriate

(a) Translate, whenever possible, into local and indigenous languages and into alternative formats appropriate for persons with disabilities and persons at lower levels of literacy, publicize and disseminate laws and information relating to the equal status and human rights of all women, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Declaration on the Right to Development and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, as well as the outcomes of relevant United Nations conferences and summits and national reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.


L. The girl child

259. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that "States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or status" (art 2, paragraph 1). (…)

270. The girl child with disabilities faces additional barriers and needs to be ensured non-discrimination and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

Strategic objective L.3.

Promote and protect the rights of the girl child and increase awareness of her needs and potential

Actions to be taken:

278. By Governments and international and non-governmental organizations

(d) Facilitate the equal provision of appropriate services and devices to girls with disabilities and provide their families with related support services, as appropriate.

Strategic objective L.4.

Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and trainin.

Actions to be taken:

280. By Governments and international and non-governmental organizations

(c) Ensure access to appropriate education and skills-training for girl children with disabilities for their full participation in life.

 Date: January, 2005   Author: Brigitte Faber