Women with Disabilities Worldwide

We change Things - Step by Step

Beijing at 10 - Commission on the Status of Women - CSW meets in New York

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

Beijing at ten - under this heading, the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) of the United Nations assembled. The conference of the Commission took place from 28th February to 11th March 2005, at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the "Beijing Declaration" and of the "Platform for Action" the conference was opened to further NGO  organisations. Thus, in addition to the usual representatives from governmental and NGO circles, there were about 2,600 more women (and very few men) present from all over the world. They represented NGOs and had come to New York in order to watch and critically assess the session of the Commission on the Status of Women of the UN. They also wanted to clearly demonstrate the great meaning the implementation of the "Beijing Platform for Action" has for women worldwide.

A lot of women sitting in a plenary meeting
Foto: Weibernetz

The declared mission of the Commission on the Status of Women this year was, on the one hand, to draw up a résumé of what has been achieved since the passing of the "Beijing Platform for Action" ten years ago. Which measures have been taken in the different coUN tries; which success has been achieved?

On the other hand, which areas have stayed the same, or have even become worse? Over and above that, it should be jugded whether the "Beijing Declaration" and the "Platform for Action" with their contents and aims as well as formulated measures to be taken remains valid for the future.

Furthermore new challenges and to establish new strategies and aimsshould be defined.

NGO-women debating in a small room
Foto: Weibernetz

While government representatives and official representatives of NGOs were struggling with government reports, with confirmation of the Platform, and with the adoption of resolutions, the "additional" representatives were busy, too. Apart from "watching" and accompanying the activities of the UN , there took place a lively exchange embracing more than 170 activities.

The main focus of these work groups and talks was the area of violence against women and girls, trafficking in connection with prostitution, HIV and Aids, as well as the implementation of the "Beijing Platform for Action" in African, Arabic, and Asian countries. Here the areas of education and access to natural resources such as water were considered.

A lot of paper piles on desks in room
Foto: Weibernetz

In addition, positions valid for and common to all countries were developed in special workshops, which concerned themselves both with what happened during the session of the Commission on the Status of Women itself and with specific topics. These were circulated as resolutions of the NGOs.

These resolutions were then introduced to the Commission on the Status of Women and thereby the exchange between the commission and the NGOs was further strengthened.

Brigitte Faber and Dinah Radtke sitting side by side, smiling
Foto: Weibernetz

Women with Disabilities

Thanks to financial help from the Federal Ministry for Familiy Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, two women with disabilities from Germany were able to participate in New York, on behalf of the International Organisation Disabled Peoples' International (DPI).

Dinah Radtke, Vice President of DPI and long term activist in the disability movement, and Brigitte Faber, coordinator of projects at the association Weibernetz and chairwoman at the National Council of German Women's Organizations, emphasised the needs of women and girls with disabilities in workshops and networking groups on different topics. In doing this, it became obvious again and again how extremely important this representation of interests is in "general" women's contexts.

Basically for all areas, knowledge was in part or completely lacking regarding how much women with disabilities are affected by the problems addressed, or whether measures suggested for their solution could also be used by women with disabilities. (Naturally, the 2-3 workshops about women with disabilities constituted an exception).

Dinah Radtke, sitting in her power wheelchair contacting a black woman using a wheelchair
Foto: Weibernetz

It does not suffice here to say that women and girls with disabilities are also women and girls, and thereby general measures and agreements are also automatically valid for them.

This is because, in practice it has been clearly shown that women and girls with disabilities are confronted with additional obstacles which are not "automatically" considered in measures and programmes for able-bodied women and girls.

These added burdens can lead to women and girls with disabilities not being able to take advantage of such measures. Such a development leads to the fatal consequence that those who most need support cannot participate because of their greater difficulties.

And, as statistics do not mention the specific situation of women and girls with disabilities, there is not even the slight possibility of control.

participants, some wearing headscarf, reading papers
Foto: Weibernetz

In a position paper by Disabled Peoples' International, Dinah Radtke describes some of the specific needs of women and girls with disabilities in areas such as violence, health or poverty, and demands that in all official documents - thus also in the "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)" - or in the forthcoming UN convention for people with disabilities, the special needs of women and girls have to be mentioned.

On the whole, the arguments of women with disabilities received a receptive hearing and broad support. But the question remains, if and how this positive response following the session will find its way into documents, their implementation and into the screening of the practice of such measures.

 Date: March, 2005   Author: Brigitte Faber