CSW62: Ensuring the voice of women with disabilities at a key international forum

Oumou (left) with her best friend Bissara doing their homework for school in Niger. Oumou had her right leg amputed due to a deformity. Now she walks with a prosthesis and is completely included and attends secondary school.

The United Nations 62nd Commission on the Status of Women will be held at the UN Headquarters in New York from 12 to 23 March 2018, with attendees coming from parliaments, government agencies and international NGOs. It is the main policy making body on women’s rights and gender equality operating within the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is responsible for promoting and monitoring women’s rights and pushes for the implementation of international legal commitments by States.

Why is gender equality important for disability inclusive development?

Women with disabilities are increasingly taking the forefront at women’s rights forums and within the disability movement. Disability is not gender neutral – while all women and girls face inequality, women with disabilities often face additional, severe disadvantage due to discriminatory social norms and perceptions of their value and capacity. Indeed, while both women and men with disabilities face discrimination in accessing employment, research shows that women and girls with disabilities have less access to education and employment opportunities due to the intersection of gender and disability inequalities. Gender equality has emerged as a core issue within the CRPD: Article 6 and General Comment number 3 on women and girls recognises the greater situation of discrimination and risk facing women and girls with disabilities and that additional measures are necessary to address them. 

As such, CBM views disability and gender as interconnected and recognises that using a gender mainstreaming approach is necessary to ensure equality between women and men with disabilities. At the same time, CBM believes that taking specific measures to redress gender inequalities by empowering and advancing the rights of women with disabilities is essential for its disability inclusive development (DID) work. 

How does CBM ensure a gender lens in our programmatic and advocacy work?

Through the support provided to its partners, CBM strives to challenge and remove the many barriers faced by women and girls with disabilities. These barriers hamper their ability to access the services they need and prevent them from achieving their full potential and playing an active role within their community.  

CBM and partners contribute to gender equality by: 

  • Supporting access to education and initiatives that increase the enrolment, retention and completion ratio of girls and boys with disabilities.
  • Promoting access to employment and livelihood opportunities for women with disabilities through mechanisms such as business management training and micro-credit schemes.
  • Facilitating access to health including sexual and reproductive health services.
  • Recognising and redistributing unpaid care work by working with men and families to change perceptions on care and gender roles.
  • Supporting agency and voice in public and private life through collectives and leadership skills development.
  • Challenging attitudes around gender based violence and removing barriers for women to access justice, and empowering women and girls with disabilities to speak out about their rights and needs.

Working closely with its network of partners CBM is also active in advocacy for policy reforms at national, regional and international levels. This involvement entails promoting and defending the equal rights of women, girls, men and boys with disabilities. In its advocacy work, CBM fosters the leadership and empowerment of women with disabilities through capacity building (training, mentoring, etc. particularly on the CRPD) and by supporting their participation in political forums so they can advocate for their rights. The CSW is one of those key international platforms (e.g. AWID) and provides a great opportunity for advocacy of women and girls with disabilities’ rights.

What will CBM do at the CSW?

Over recent years CSW has made efforts to become more inclusive of disability. This marks a great opportunity for women with disabilities to have their voices heard in such a large scale UN meeting, one with a different audience to those typically reached through disability specific events such as the Conference of State Parties and CPRD committee. This can lead to broadening our messaging and leadership in these areas.

In 2018, CBM is supporting the participation of Rama Dakhal, a disability and women’s rights activist from Nepal to the CSW. For over 20 years Rama has worked to promote women’s rights and those of women with disabilities in Nepal and the region. Rama currently works at the National Association for the Physically Disabled Nepal coordinating programmes and facilitates disability, leadership and organisational development training for organisations of persons with disabilities and mainstream NGOs. She works on issues related to on sexual and reproductive health rights, GBV and WASH. She has also been an election observer at Nepal elections.

Rama is taking part in several important side-events of the CSW such as the:

  • “Gender Parity and the CRPD Committee” meeting;
  • “AccountAbility Toolkit” Launch organised by Women Enabled International;
  • “Showcasing Women’s Empowerment and Development in Nepal” organised by Zonta International and Nepalese Mission on Women’s Empowerment and Development in Nepal entitled;
  • “Silent Tears – Disability, violence, and survival of rural women globally” led by the UN Women National Committee Australia, Blur Projects International; and the
  • “Advocacy on the margins: Women with disabilities addressing violence at the grassroots level” organised by Humanity and Inclusion/Making It Work Gender and Disability Project, the International Disability Alliance and the Disability Rights Fund.

CBM believes that supporting women with disabilities to participate in global forums where they can connect, share their experiences and advocate for their rights, allows us to make a significant, positive contribution towards reducing gender inequality and promote the rights of women and girls with disabilities around the world.

What is the background of the event?

This year’s CSW priority theme is: ‘Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls’. Its review theme, which allows for monitoring and follow up of previously made CSW commitments, will be the ‘Participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women’.

Outside the formal programme of the CSW session, Civil Society Organisations (CSO) represented by activists and advocates from around the world organise parallel events promoting and defending women’s rights. Last year, 3900 civil society representatives attended the CSW. Women activists with disabilities convene at the CSW every year to ensure that their voices are heard at such key international events. The CSW provides an opportunity for women with disabilities to bring issues they have been advocating for locally and nationally to the forefront of international discussions. The CSW also enables them to hold their respective governments to account on the commitments they make and push for policy reform at national level.