Michelle Bachelet’s Introductory Remarks at a Panel on "Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities"

Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet’s Introductory Remarks at a Panel on "Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities," 8 March, 2013


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I would like to welcome you and thank you for being here as we gather to shine a light on a subject that has been too long hidden… overlooked … and discounted. 

I’m speaking, of course, of violence against women and girls with disabilities.  

We are all too familiar with the disturbing statistics on violence against women and girls around the globe. More troubling, however, is the fact that women and girls with disabilities are three times as likely to experience physical and sexual abuse. And they have less access to social services and support systems.

If they are refugees, indigenous people, persons in situations of conflict and persons living with HIV/AIDs, their risk increases yet again.

Women and girls with disabilities experience unique forms and causes of violence that occur in the home and in the community. 

The violence is physical, psychological, and sexual. It includes neglect, social isolation, trafficking, institutionalization, psychiatric treatment and even forced sterilization.

And sadly, its victims face significant barriers to escaping such violence, reporting such crimes and accessing justice and services. 

The good news is that increased attention is now being paid to the rights of women and girls with disabilities. It is the reason why UN Women has co-organized this event – so that those of us championing this cause can come together to share our efforts and experiences. 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has addressed the concerns of women with disabilities in its recommendations, as has the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). One critical concern is reproductive rights and the right to sexual reproductive health, rights that belong to all women, and are stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  

UN Women encourages both Committees to continue exploring the intersections of gender and disability, and to engage governments to be proactive concerning the laws, policies and practices to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. 

More concretely, we would like to propose a joint session between the CEDAW and CRPD committees to identify gaps in protection, and to refine approaches to combat these problems. 

Together we are challenged to apply what we have learned to ensure that both information and services are “accessible” to all.  

This means a deaf woman who may require information or services has access to sign language interpretation.  

It means a girl in a wheelchair who may require a ramp to enter a building is not prevented from receiving information or services there. 

It means a blind woman who has been the victim of sexual violence is trusted, believed and provided services, even though she cannot see.

The other side of access, I believe, is inclusion. This means persons with disabilities are included and reflected in decision-making that affects their lives. 

We must continue to demonstrate that everyone is of value; that all persons count, not only in terms of education, but in terms of economic empowerment. 

In this area, information is power. So UN Women encourages national policymakers to collect data that is disaggregated on the basis of gender and disability across all sectors. 

This information about the number and location of women and girls with disabilities will encourage governments to consult with these individuals in formulating laws and policies and allocate disability-specific budgets and resources. 

Women with disabilities need access to justice for rights violations, and to health care that is sensitive to both gender and disability.  

I’m happy to report that some of this is taking place right now. For example, AusAID, working with Cambodian partners, recently studied the prevalence and experience of violence against women with disabilities, and the programmes and policies in place to address it. 

Sierra Leone’s 2012 Sexual Offences Bill covers sexual offences against women with mental disabilities. And important work to help all women and girls with disabilities is taking place in Albania, Bolivia, Denmark, Macedonia, Namibia, Republic of Korea, Spain, the Sudan and elsewhere.    

As we look forward, both here at this session of the CSW, and in preparation for the High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development in September, I’d like us to keep in mind the recommendations of the Secretary-General and those of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.             

Those recommendations include:
  • Providing accessible multi-sectoral services and responses for women and girls with disabilities and women and girls living with HIV/AIDS, and
  • Collecting data desegregated by age, sex, disability and other relevant factors in order to assess the design and effectiveness of multi-sectoral services and responses.
As for UN Women, we pledge to work together with other UN agencies to become a more active participant within the Inter-Agency Support Group in mainstreaming issues and solutions of gender and disability within the UN system.
This means doing a better job of highlighting the intersection of gender and disability, both at the policy level and on the ground at the country level. 
As we do so, however, we must be mindful that all decisions on policies and legislation are to be made with the meaningful participation of women with disabilities themselves. 
Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” 

Through your dedication and commitment to this cause, women and girls with disabilities can be assured that they have a friend to walk with, through the darkness into the light. 

Thank you so much for your kind attention. I look forward to hearing from the other panel members now.