“Embrace empowering young women and girls with disabilities” — Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the 9th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on 15 June in New York.


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It is my honour to join in this very important discussion and focus on how to unlock the capacities of young women and girls with disabilities through coordinated action.

Today’s discussion is timely. Almost a year ago, all members of the United Nations committed to the first ever universal, ambitious and comprehensive 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Promising to ‘leave no one behind’, the 2030 Agenda holistically addresses issues across the three interrelated environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development. Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls - including young women, are confidently asserted in the Agenda as intrinsic to progress.

The 2030 Agenda includes a specific Sustainable Development Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The principle of ‘leave no one behind’ claims its utmost relevance when it addresses the compounded, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that women face based on their race, ethnicity, caste and class, marital status, and ability/disability among others. And this principle is particularly important when recognizing the exclusion, faced by women, young women and girls with disabilities as well as their resilience and contributions to development.

As 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol, let us remember that this international agreement — recalling the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) — recognizes that women and girls are often at greater risk, both within and outside their homes, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, and emphasizes the need to incorporate a gender perspective into all efforts to promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons with disabilities.

Ten years after its adoption, we recognize that by having gender equality as one of its principles, and a separate article, Article 6, on women with disabilities, as well as several provisions on gender, the Convention has galvanized momentum for increasing the voices and visibility of women with disabilities. This is reflected, for example, in the fact the concluding observations and more recently adopted CEDAW General Recommendations include specific reference to women with disabilities. Also, other normative developments specific to humanitarian action, and peace and security make specific reference to women and girls with disabilities.

However, despite recognizing progress, the stunning reality is that women, particularly young women and girls with disabilities are at greater risk of being victims of sexual violence, forced sterilization, forced abortion and exposure to HIV/AIDS, among others, but also in many cases such disabilities are caused by gender-related violence, or gender-related negligence. Practices such as son preference, abandonment of the girl child, discriminatory feeding, child marriage, dowry, honour crimes, acid burnings, stove accidents often push women and girls to their death or confine them to permanent disabilities — these factors explain the higher prevalence of disability among women (19.2 per cent) compared to men (12 per cent). If they are refugees, indigenous people, persons facing conflict and/or humanitarian crisis situations and persons living with HIV/AIDs, the risks of violence are even greater, and yet they have less access to social services and support systems.

It is increasingly recognized that women, young women and girls with disabilities remain on the margins of work on gender equality and they are virtually invisible in the decision-making processes that influence the world at large. Also, the burden of responsibilities related to the care of persons with disabilities in the household often relies mainly on women, young women and even girls, preventing them from attending school or entering into the job market. Mothers and caregivers of children with disabilities often find themselves socially isolated, often facing stigma, poverty, and lack of support systems.

Today we know that gender-neutral approaches perpetuate the discrimination and vulnerabilities that affect women disproportionately, also increasing their likelihood of developing a disability. It is therefore critical and urgent to mainstream gender equality into all policies and programmes related to persons with disabilities if 2030 Agenda is to leave no one behind. The Agreed Conclusions of the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women urges all actors to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social, educational, employment and other measures to protect and promote the rights of all women and girls with disabilities, ensuring their full and effective participation and inclusion in society, and to address the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination they face. Specific reference has been made to education and training, social protection policies, including accessible and affordable quality social services, and care services.

Also, as the discussion towards the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the 2030 Agenda continues, the target to enhance capacity-building support to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable disaggregated data, makes specific reference to gender, age, and disability. Further, the follow-up and review processes at all levels are to be inclusive, gender-sensitive, and informed by, among others, data which is disaggregated, including by sex and disability.

While gender and disability data are collected by many countries, most reported data and statistics on disability are not disaggregated by sex or age. It is therefore our duty as the United Nations to jointly contribute to improve the availability, accessibility and use of gender statistics to inform policies, funding, advocacy and accountability for delivering gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. As emphasized by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, “data on their own will not change lives, but we will not change lives without them.”

I am glad to share UN Women's Youth Strategy and the unique Youth “LEAPs” Framework – Empowered Young Women and Young Men in Gender Equality. The “LEAPs” framework calls for strengthening young women’s Leadership, promoting economic empowerment and skills development of young women, and action to end violence against young women and girls. Additionally, the framework makes the strong case for promoting participation, voice, and partnerships with young women, young women led-organizations and networks, as well as strengthening partnerships with young men and intergenerational partnerships to achieve gender equality." We have Casar as one example of an enabler and supporter - a young women champion in her own right.

I will finish by calling on all of you to embrace empowering young women and girls with disabilities, as our joint responsibility. By mentorship initiatives, partnerships with women’s movements, youth, indigenous, and other groups, and removing all barriers to young women’s and girls’ participation and leadership in all aspects of life, whether in the context of development, humanitarian or conflict situations, we have incredibly transformative power to unlock their potential to be not only beneficiaries of development, but to become examples of self-achievement and realization, and champions of inclusiveness and respect for the dignity and equal human rights of all.

Thank you.