Gender Equality must include disability

Tessa Hughes, RMIT University.

During the 63rd Commission of the Status of Women (CSW63) I have been keeping a keen eye open for any themes in relation to interlinking of disability and gender inequality. As the priority theme this year focused on ‘Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls’ I assumed that disability would be significantly addressed. However, this has not been the case. Upon looking at CSW63’s side events disability only appeared in the title of one event facilitated by a Canadian organisation.  

Intersectionality refers to ‘the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect’ (IWDA, 2018). These forms of discrimination include many social stratifications including race, disability, gender, class, age or sexual orientation. Women and girls with disability often face intersecting discrimination. 

The challenges of intersectionality in relation to disability and gender was address by the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres during the Townhall Meeting of Civil Society after receiving a question from a participant from Mongolia who raised that women and girls with disability are often left out of the mainstream gender equality movement. The participant asked the Secretary General and the United Nations what can be done about this issue. Guterres’s response was very honest discussing that although the United Nations is working on disability, it fails to consider the intersecting discriminations stating that the “United Nations is under-performing and needs to improve” in this area. 

Similar sentiments where echoed during a meeting with Natasha de Silva, the Senior Policy Executive at the Australian Human Rights Commission. Both in Australia and at the Australian Human Rights Commission intersectionality in relation to gender inequality and disability is not well understood and is not being handled in a comprehensive and holistic manner. 

One in five women and girls worldwide have a disability and as a result the intersectionality between disability and gender inequality cannot be ignored. Around the world females face this intersecting discrimination in numerous ways often faced with isolation and stigma. Women with disability have significant lower employment rates worldwide than their male counterparts with disabilities (WHO, 2011). Women and girls with disability are 10 times more likely to be subjected of gender-based violence and nearly 3 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than those females without a disability. Women with disability are least likely to have access to sexual and reproductive rights which can result in sexually transmitted diseases and high rates of pregnancy (UNFPA, 2018).  

The lack of the disability consideration in the gender equality movement fails to recognise the intersecting discrimination for women and girls with disability. As discussed in the Canadian side event ‘Empowering Women and Girls with Disabilities: How intersectional research and policy development can impact women and girls, including women and girls with disabilities, in Canada and around the world’ you cannot have a conversation about gender inequality including violence, sexual assault, harassment without discussing women with disability. 

References: 

IWDA. (2018). WHAT DOES INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM ACTUALLY MEAN? Retrieved 15th of March 2019 from https://iwda.org.au/what-does-intersectional-feminism-actually-mean/

UNFPA. (2018). Five things you didn’t know about disability and sexual violence. Retrieved 15th of March 2019 from https://www.unfpa.org/news/five-things-you-didnt-know-about-disability-and-sexual-violence

World Health Organization. (2011). World Report on Disability. Retrieved 15th of March 2019 from http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf