Forgotten Sisters: Violence Against Women and Girls with Disabilities


Opening Remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at Panel Discussion on Preventing and Ending Violence against Women with Disabilities. New York, 23 October 2012.

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I want to welcome you and thank you all for being here. UN Women is pleased to co-organize this event which brings attention to an issue that does not receive the attention it critically needs: violence against women and girls with disabilities.

I would like to commend the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Ms Rashida Manjoo, for making this the focus of her report to the General Assembly. As she stated in her report, despite the evolution of normative frameworks concerning both the human rights of women and of persons with disabilities, the impact of the combined effects of both gender and disability have not gained sufficient attention, and violence against women with disabilities remains largely unaddressed. Her report has successfully increased awareness and the body of knowledge on this critical issue.

I would also like to recognize the two authors of “Forgotten Sisters, a 228 page paper on violence against women and girls with disabilities based on country-specific analysis in different settings. The recommendations of this report will serve as a crucial reference for UN Women future work. I also would like to express my gratitude to Permanent Representatives of Philippines and Armenia for their commitment to bringing women and girls with disabilities to the forefront of the discussion and for being with us today.

Today's panel will contribute to building on the momentum of the fifth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPDR), last month. It is encouraging to see how the Conference brought together women leaders with disabilities. I thank you for the Secretariat for CPRD and co-organizing partners for bringing us together for today's panel.

The discussion today is particularly important in light of ongoing discussions in the Third Committee on a resolution of the General Assembly on the elimination of violence against women. It is critical for Member States to adopt a strong resolution to show the unity of the international community behind the principle that such violence is not tolerated in any country and for any reason. Member States have an opportunity to strengthen the normative framework for both prevention and response to violence against women.

This discussion is critical in light of the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) where the priority theme will be the elimination of violence against women. Strong agreed conclusions at the CSW will be another effective way to strengthen the international normative basis on this issue and accelerate implementation.

Also, prevention and working for women and young people are two of the five generational opportunities identified by the United Nations Secretary-General for his agenda over the next five years. Addressing violence against women and girls with disabilities must be a key aspect of this agenda.

We are all too aware of how the intersection of gender and disability increases the vulnerability of women with disabilities to violence. Women and girls with disabilities are more likely than other women and girls to experience violence. Disability can also be the result of gender violence. Battered women face higher risk of suffering from mental and physical disability. Sexual assault can cause permanent disability. In the case of women with disabilities, gender discrimination, violence and disability are interrelated.

Available data show that up to 7 in 10 women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their life time; and up to 50 percent of sexual assaults were committed against girls under 16. At the same time, the 2011 World Report on Disability indicates that the female disability prevalence rate is 19.2 percent, whereas it is 12 percent for men. It is clear that women with disabilities are a significant portion of the global population.

In addition to the forms of violence against women with which most of us are familiar, women and girls with disabilities also experience specific forms violence that are associated to their disability. For example, in the case of women with mental disability, their lack of understanding of the situation during a sexual assault and/or their inability to say no can be perceived as their consent to sex.

In many cases, perpetrators of violence are caregivers—either at home or in institutional settings, relatives or professional. In its most common form of domestic violence, it happens behind the walls of the home, in the kitchen and in the bedroom. This is why violence against women is often hidden behind a cloak of silence. Women with disabilities can also suffer from a ‘dependency syndrome', which means that they are reluctant to denounce gender violence in fear of losing their caregivers or becoming even more vulnerable to their caregivers.

Further, there are specific barriers for women and girls with disabilities to denounce and address violence, including information and communication, including in accessible formats; and barriers to mobility or other services that could provide assistance.

This issue of multiple discriminations deserves particular addition. Gender discrimination is compounded by disability and vice-versa. Today, I would like to draw your attention to three important areas of concern that demand concerted efforts.

First, we need to mainstream a disability perspective into the work on gender equality and women's empowerment. Starting from the work of the UN Women, special attention will be given to the needs and concerns of women and girls with disabilities.

UN Women will focus on advancing the rights of women and girls with disabilities in all aspects of society and development. Their perspectives should also be included in all aspects of work to implement the CEDAW.

In the area of addressing violence against women and girls with disabilities, UN Women has already taken a number of steps:

We provided inputs to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the development of a Thematic Analytical Study on the issue of Violence against Women and Girls and Disability.

We are giving special consideration in The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, which is administered by UN Women on behalf of the UN system, to programmes reaching especially marginalized populations including the internally displaced, refugees, victims of trafficking, and women with disabilities.

For example in Namibia, the UN Trust Fund grantee International Planned Parenthood Federation is working on promoting sexual and reproductive rights and providing related services as mechanisms to respond to violence against women. The programme includes preventive measures such as awareness raising and training targeting women and girls living with disabilities. As a result of these trainings, women living with disabilities' access to services have increased.

In Albania, we are supporting organizations of women with disabilities to ensure that the concerns and recommendations are reflected in the National Strategy on Gender Equality, Reduction of Gender Based Violence and Domestic Violence (2011-2015). This resulted in the inclusion of provisions for women and girls with disabilities in the final draft of the Strategy and its Action Plan.

In addition, our Global Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls contains information on some of the particular challenges faced by women with disabilities, and provides some guidance on how services can be more inclusive.

Our work on the elimination of violence against women and girls, including women and girls with disabilities, focuses both on prevention and protection as well as response. Beyond the importance of using these two approaches in parallel, States must go beyond ad hoc efforts and start looking at addressing violence in a holistic, comprehensive and coordinated way. This means addressing the root causes of violence, including poverty and some social norms, behaviors and attitudes that tend to perpetuate violence. Protection and support services should not only respond to violence but also aim at helping to prevent violence.

My second point is that mainstreaming disability into gender-related work is not enough. It is also necessary to mainstream a gender perspective into disability work.

I have listened to the General Assembly on social development, including questions relating to the world social situation and to youth, ageing, disabled persons and the family. Throughout the debates, representatives from a total of 80 member states or regional groups were almost unanimously in support of the mainstreaming of disability into sustainable development agenda. However, in speaking of disability issues, no member state mentioned gender or took note of difficulties facing women and girls with disabilities.

All work on disability should incorporate a gender perspective and special attention should be given to include women and girls with disabilities into the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and its monitoring and evaluation.

My third point is the urgent need to improve statistics and indicators on disability, segregated by gender and age. Data collection on violence against women and girls, including women and girls with disabilities, and monitoring and evaluation of the impact of laws, policies and programs are essential to understanding what works and where investment should be concentrated.

Violence against women and girls with disabilities cannot be addressed in isolation. Mainstream women's organizations and organizations of persons with disabilities, including organizations of women with disabilities, must work more closely together. Today's panel is an example of how we can come together to more effectively address the violence against women and girls and the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

I look forward to a very rich discussion.