New Fact Sheet Available: Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Conflict and Humanitarian Emergencies

an icon of a document with the word FACTS on itAs we approach the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, WEI releases this Fact Sheet on the Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Conflict and Humanitarian Emergencies.  Women, girls, and gender non-conforming people with disabilities are disproportionally impacted by conflict and humanitarian emergencies due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that heighten their exclusion and risks. Women with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence before, during, and after conflict and in humanitarian situations.  Women with disabilities also encounter heightened barriers to programs and services in emergency settings, as well as barriers to sexual and reproductive health services.

Despite the distinct challenges facing women with disabilities—and thus the important perspective they can bring to addressing these challenges—women with disabilities are routinely excluded from both peacebuilding processes and recovery following natural disasters. Failure to engage women with disabilities in these efforts perpetuates exclusion, discrimination, and violations of their human rights. Women and girls with disabilities are entitled to the rights and protections under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, enumerated in several international and regional human rights treaties.

Read our new Fact Sheet, published on October 29, 2020, which offers guidelines on what governments must do to realize the rights of women and girls with disabilities in conflict situations.

 

Recovery is Like a Burning Rose

By Tanya Barnett

Orange header with text "Recovery is like a burning rose by Tanya Barnett"

I have to be totally honest with you…These last few months after my stroke have been so strange for me. I feel like a burning rose. Some days I wake up with a sense of joy and anticipation of what the day has in store for me. But some other days, I have no clue what I am doing or where I am going. There are times when my body cooperates with me fully and there are times it doesn’t. It is unsettling, to say the least. At times, I feel like myself and then, out of nowhere, my brain will show me that I am not.

I’ve realized that I have no control over what is happening and, like an alien, every experience is seen with a new set of eyes or senses. Those senses can be beautiful yet painful at the same time. It makes me cry when I realize I am repeating myself for the third time because I don’t recall saying the same thing twice before.

Some food doesn’t taste the same, music doesn’t sound the same and some things I liked, I don’t like anymore. It’s scary, actually. I want to see each day as a new gift, but I am afraid that I may face a new part of me that stutters and forgets things. That freaks me out. The exhaustion is the worst, though. It comes out from lurking in the shadows and tackles me without warning. His friend, Mr. Blackout, is just as ruthless.

I’ve decided I will take a night and sleep at a hotel undisturbed, just me and fluffy pillows and room service. I need the brain break and the REST. I need a break from stimulation. I need my brain to heal, so the fire can leave my brain and the rose can bloom once again.

_________________________________________________________________

About the Author

Tanya Barnett is a disabled veteran, veteran advocate, anti-racist womanist and an adjunct professor. She is a 2018 N.A.A.C.P. Hall of Famer. She is also a two-time triathlete and marathoner, a historical fiction lover and backyard gardener, a wife, mom and an energetic Glam-ma.

You can follow Tanya Barnett on Twitter at @mstanyabarnett1.

Women Enabled International Demands Justice

Women Enabled International (WEI) strongly condemns the continued police violence and murder of members of the Black community in the United States that has led to days of protests across the country and around the world.

The racist murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, and numerous other men, women, trans and non-binary persons—with and without disabilities—is a human rights violation of the highest order.

Our staff, fellows and interns mourn their deaths and commit to fighting for racial justice in the United States and globally. We stand with protestors around the world in demanding justice and action to address the systemic human rights violations in the United States that contribute to the ongoing oppression of members of the Black community in any form—from police violence, police failures to address gender-based violence  and the government failures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which disproportionally impact the Black community. WEI also strongly supports the U.S. Constitution and its provisions on freedom of expression and assembly and deplores calls by some to bring weapons to this struggle.

Disability and gender justice do not exist separate from racial justice. Now—more than ever—is the time to invest in and follow the leadership of Black women with disabilities.

WEI’s leadership and staff are currently reflecting on how we can better address racial justice in our work, confront our own privileges, and support and follow the lead of Black women with disabilities and their organizations. We invite you to join us in these reflections and to share your thoughts with us directly and on social media.

Below are just a few of the brilliant experts and resources out there. Please study their resources and support them and other activists who are doing important work to surface the intersecting concerns of race, gender, and disability:

In addition, please consider signing on to Color of Change’s #JusticeforFloyd petition and #JusticeforBre petition; joining the NAACP’s #WeAreDoneDying campaign; reading the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s statement against police killings and use of excessive force; and if you are able, donating to a local United States bail fund through the National Bail Fund Network to assist arrested protesters in the United States to post bail.

WEI is fighting for a world where women and girls with disabilities claim their human rights, act in solidarity, and lead self-determined lives. This future will never be achieved as long as our Black sisters remain oppressed. We stand with you today and everyday – Black Lives Matter.

Yours in solidarity,

Stephanie Ortoleva and the Women Enabled International Team

Enabling Artists and Entrepreneurs with Disabilities – Aurora Berger

A photograph of a young woman with long blonde hair and glasses sitting in tall grass in is the center of the image.

Aurora Berger

Photographer

“Working within the frameworks of capacity and disability, I use photographs to examine and reclaim my own identity.”
– Aurora Berger

 

Aurora Berger is an award-winning photographer with visual and physical disabilities based in rural Vermont, USA. As a visually impaired artist, Aurora not only uses the camera as an extension of her perspective, but also as a weapon against ableism, and as a way to reclaim her identity.

Aurora’s artistic process, collections, and self-portraits confront the medical model of disability and internalized ableist constructs of disability, worth, and beauty. Recently, she was honored by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Preforming Arts with an Award of Excellence as part of the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program.

“My work is about existing in the body that I have, in the life that I am living. It is about inhabiting spaces, perceiving surroundings, and above all, the process of survival.” – Aurora Berger

To learn more and support Aurora’s work, visit her website (http://www.auroraberger.com) and follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @AuroraBerger. 


If you identify as a woman, non-binary, or gender non-conforming persons with disabilities whose livelihood is affected by COVID19 and want your work to be featured on our social media platforms, please fill out the linked interest form

Enabling Artists and Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

Against a white background, at the top of the graphic there are five overlapping blue, yellow, pink, and purple abstract circular shapes. Within each circle is a drawn depiction of a scene of a person at work. A person with a prosthetic leg kneels with her camera to take a picture. A person using a wheelchair reviews a blueprint. Another person is wearing an apron and holding a flower arrangement. One person is on stage and raising a microphone in the air. And another person in an apron holds an apple and is standing next to a cash register. Underneath the overlapping images, in bright complimentary colors, bold text reads, “Enabling Artists and Entrepreneurs with Disabilities.” At the bottom is the Women Enabled International logo.]

COVID-19, sometimes called the coronavirus, has impacted the health and safety of communities around the world. We at Women Enabled International believe it is having a particular impact on women, girls, non-binary, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities, including on their economic livelihoods.

This month, we’re highlighting the work of women, non-binary, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities who are economically impacted by COVID-19 on our social media platforms.

Small business owners, artists, speakers, musicians, entrepreneurs, authors, web-designers, freelancers, and others are encouraged to submit their contact and business information through the linked interest form.

If you identify as a woman, non-binary, or gender non-conforming persons with disabilities whose livelihood is affected by COVID-19 and want your work to be featured on our social media platforms, please fill out the linked interest form. A member of our staff will reach out if we plan to highlight your work.

Please share among your networks.


WEI is a human rights non-governmental organization working to advance rights at the intersection of gender and disability, particularly as related to women and girls with disabilities. If you have any questions, please contact Brittany Evans, WEI Program Assistant, at b.evans@womenenabled.org.

Unleashing the Power of Women with Disabilities

By Stephanie Ortoleva, Executive Director, and Anastasia Holoboff, Senior Legal Advisor, Women Enabled International

Post originally appeared on LeaderNet. Link to original post here.

Did you know that there are more than half a billion women with disabilities worldwide? That represents both an amazing source of untapped power and millions of women currently left behind. Empowering and engaging women with disabilities is essential to the solution.

Photo of the Convening participants, interpreters and personal assistants.
Image Description: Photo of the Convening participants, interpreters and personal assistants.

Across the world, women with disabilities are often excluded from the development of and access to rights-based health policy and programs, particularly relating to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and gender-based violence (GBV) services and programs. Despite stereotypes and attitudes to the contrary, women with disabilities, like all women, demand SRH and GBV services. Here are just a few of the troubling facts:

  • Women with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely to experience sexual violence than their non-disabled sisters, and most shelters and other programs are inaccessible to them.
  • Between 40%-68% of young women with disabilities will experience sexual violence before age 18.
  • 40-50% of gynecologists in the US reported feeling somewhat to completely unprepared to treat adolescents with disabilities.
  • Many disabled women and girls are subjected to forced sterilization, forced abortion, and forced contraception without their consent.

And yet most SRH and GBV services are inaccessible to women with all forms of disability. We at Women Enabled International (WEI) know that engaging and supporting women with disabilities to claim and fight for SRH and GBV services is essential to improving access and creating long-term change. That is why we recently hosted our Asia-Pacific Regional Convening of Advocates for the Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities in Thailand. Building upon the success of WEI’s convenings in Europe, Latin America, and Africa, WEI invited twenty-two women with disabilities from ten countries in the region and allies from the women’s rights movement to come together to strategize and build one another’s’ capacity to engage with national governments and the international and regional human rights systems to advance the rights of women and girls with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Four people having a conversation around a large sheet of paper where they have been writing their brainstorming ideas. One of the women is speaking sign language and looking at her interpreter who is signing back.
Image Description: Four people having a conversation around a large sheet of paper where they have been writing their brainstorming ideas. One of the women is speaking sign language and looking at her interpreter who is signing back.

Attendees participated in sessions based upon WEI’s accountABILITY Toolkit, which includes briefing papers on SRH and GBV. Together we shared good practices and brainstormed how to work most effectively as a regional movement. One of the primary themes throughout the week was the scope of SRH and GBV rights violations experienced by women with disabilities across the region and the barriers to accessing quality SRH and GBV services. For example, participants shared stories of forced sterilization, exclusion from local contraceptive programs, and the power of personal narratives to highlight the barriers women with disabilities face. The convening discussed how organizational development, fundraising, and sharing good practices contributes to empowering the disabled women’s rights movement. We concluded by identifying four categories for action: 1) engage in regional forums to push for the rights of women with disabilities; 2) strengthen the regional network of women with disabilities and allies; 3) provide feedback on debates concerning Abortion, Pre-Natal Testing and Disability; and 4) Engage in international women’s rights forums to ensure that the global feminist movement includes women with disabilities.

We know our rights and how to claim them. Now we ask what you are going to do to partner with the powerful disabled women’s rights movement and to dismantle the barriers that exist throughout the health system? We have two ways for you to get started:

  • Check out the resources on Women Enabled International’s website to build your and your organization’s capacity for disability inclusion. For example, the Guidelines we produced with UNFPA on inclusive SRH and GBV services and the WEI accountABILITY Toolkit, which includes briefing papers on SRH and GBV legal standards as well as strategies on how disabled women can advocate for our rights at the United Nations.
  • Connect with your local group of women with disabilities and ensure that they have access to your programs. Don’t know who they are? Check out our global map of advocates or contact us. We are happy to help.

Together, we can build a more inclusive future where all women and girls with disabilities claim human rights, act in solidarity, and lead self-determined lives. Reach Women Enabled International at Info@WomenEnabled.org and engage with us on social media @WomenEnabled.


About the authors Stephanie Ortoleva, the Founder and President of Women Enabled International, is a highly recognized international human rights lawyer, policy and development consultant, author and researcher on issues of women’s rights, disability rights and the rights of women and girls with disabilities. As a woman with a disability herself, she brings the development, academic and legal perspectives to her work as well as her personal experience as a woman with a disability.

Anastasia Holoboff is a Senior Legal Advisor at Women Enabled International. At WEI, Anastasia’s work has included the research and drafting of the innovative UNFPA and WEI publication, Guidelines for Providing Rights-Based and Gender-Responsive Services to Address Gender-Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for Women and Young People with Disabilities. Anastasia also researches and develops submissions to U.N. treaty bodies and mechanisms, and other forms of legal advocacy and substantive publications that aim to strengthen the human rights standards on the rights of women and girls with disabilities around the world. Prior to joining WEI, Anastasia served as a Staff Attorney in the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (PADD) program at Disability Rights New York (DRNY). Anastasia graduated magna cum laude from Cardozo School of Law in 2014, where she was awarded the Telford Taylor Award for Outstanding Achievement in the fields of Constitutional Law and Human Rights.

Visibility and Its Real-World Implications

by Hope Randall

Background image of open water. Black text in a white box reads, "Visibility and its Real-World Implications by Hope Randall." The image has a dark blue border.
Background image of open water. Black text in a white box reads, “Visibility and its Real-World Implications by Hope Randall.” The image has a dark blue border.

In my work as an advocate for greater awareness of the global burden of diarrheal disease and the tools that can help solve it, I’m struck by how illness is so often a proxy for inequitable access to basic needs. There’s even a term for it: “diseases of poverty.” Diarrhea is rarely a killer in places like the United States, but is the second leading infectious killer of children in places where access to healthcare and clean water and sanitation are poor. Access to the most basic tools is the deciding factor between living and dying.

As usual, women bear the brunt of this crisis and on multiple fronts, particularly when it comes to the consequences of unsafe drinking water and sanitation. Women spend many hours a day collecting water for their families that may not even be safe to drink, and a lack of toilets exposes them to the danger of sexual assault when they seek privacy under the cover of darkness. The long-term effects of repeated enteric infections – malnutrition and stunting – follow girls throughout their lives as they become malnourished mothers that give birth to underweight babies. The cycle is multigenerational.

“As usual, women bear the brunt of this crisis and on multiple fronts, particularly when it comes to the consequences of unsafe drinking water and sanitation.”

It stands to reason that women and girls with disabilities fare even worse. Unless their voices are heard, toilets that do come to the community will lack the necessary accommodations to improve their quality of life, and we will fall short of the equitable access aspirations set by the Sustainable Development Goals and the Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.

Encouragingly, the rights of people with disabilities are gaining momentum. The theme of last year’s World Water Week was “leaving no one behind.” Many sessions reinforced the importance of designing sanitation programs with populations facing increased barriers in mind, as this is much more economical and streamlined than retrofitting facilities after they’ve been built. WaterAid has several great examples of how they have woven inclusive approaches into their programs. They start with a local landscaping of the opportunities and challenges of people with disabilities, tailoring solutions to a community’s needs.

Advocacy at all levels has made these conversations possible. Visibility has real-world implications; those who are invisible are less likely to be included in data that guide policy decisions and program implementation, and this is what makes the work of WEI so essential. Only where women and girls with disabilities are seen can we bridge the gap of access to the most basic of human needs, and the most basic of human rights. ♦


About the author Hope Randall is a Digital Communications Officer at PATH, a global team of innovators working to eliminate health inequities so people, communities, and economies can thrive. Learn about PATH’s Defeat Diarrheal Disease Initiative at www.DefeatDD.org.

40 Years of CEDAW: Keeping Women with Disabilities on the Agenda

by Amanda McRae

A group shot of disability advocates from Sisters of Frida and Women Enabled who attended the 2018 UK CEDAW Review. Amanda is pictured on the far right wearing a red dress. To her right is Rachel from Sisters of Frida. Ana Peláez is in the center standing behind Eleanor Lisney from Sisters of Frida, who is sitting in a wheelchair with her legs crossed. On the left are two other women’s rights advocates from the UK.
WEI partner Sisters of Frida, WEI’s Director of UN Advocacy, and Women’s Resource Centre meet in February with CEDAW Committee member Ana Pelaez to discuss the rights of women with disabilities in the UK and worldwide (Photo credit: Sisters of Frida)

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This human rights treaty, to which almost every country has signed on, has helped transform the world by providing a legal framework to ensure the respect, protection, and fulfillment of the rights of all women and girls, including women and girls with disabilities.

But for much of that 40 years, women and girls with disabilities have been left off of the women’s rights agenda in almost every country. The CEDAW Committee—the expert group that monitors CEDAW around the world—has long recognized the unique discrimination women with disabilities experience and has called on States to include women with disabilities in their gender equality efforts and to collect data on this group (to “measure what we treasure”).

We at WEI have seen, however, that women with disabilities are almost always invisible in the laws, policies, programs, and data collection efforts that those States put in place to ensure the rights of both women and persons with disabilities.

Earlier this year, I attended the CEDAW Committee’s periodic view of the United Kingdom and saw firsthand how States invisibilize disabled women. We worked with Sisters of Frida, a U.K.-based collective of disabled women, to report on continuing abuses against disabled women in the U.K., including gender-based violence, lack of access to employment and social benefits, and violations of sexual and reproductive rights. Sisters of Frida and I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to witness the CEDAW review, and when the CEDAW Committee repeatedly asked the U.K. government about the situation of disabled women, it was clear the U.K. representatives had no clue. They instead cited statistics on women and disabled persons more broadly and had little to no information on the specific situation of disabled women.

This was demoralizing, as the U.K. government clearly did not “treasure” disabled women. But it was also affirming, because our concerns were being recognized and promoted by the world’s leading experts on women’s rights, who are holding countries like the U.K. to account. I’m not sure women with disabilities would have been so robustly included in the women’s rights agenda 40 years ago.

There is hope that the next 40 years of CEDAW will bring about profound and positive changes in the lives of women with disabilities, as the world is increasingly recognizing the need to ensure the rights of women in all of our diversity.

Indeed, in 2018, the first disabled woman—Ana Pelaez Narvaez of Spain—was elected to serve as an expert on the CEDAW Committee and is already having an impact on the Committee’s work holding States accountable for ensuring the rights of all women and girls, including women and girls with disabilities. Her presence on the Committee is showing States that they cannot ignore women with disabilities, and it is also starting to show women with disabilities that their voices and contributions are valued in women’s rights spaces. ♦


About the author Amanda McRae is the Director of U.N. Advocacy at Women Enabled International, where she represents WEI at the U.N. in New York and Geneva and develops strategies to advance the rights of women with disabilities through U.N. human rights mechanisms and other institutions. She previously served as a researcher at Human Rights Watch focusing on Europe and Central Asia and disability rights worldwide, and a global advocacy adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

A Word of Welcome

by Stephanie Ortoleva

A cartoon illustration of a series of orange, blue, and yellow books sitting on a dark teal shelf. The background is light teal.
A cartoon illustration of a series of orange, blue, and yellow books sitting on a dark teal shelf. The background is light teal.

Welcome to the Women Enabled International Blog – Rewriting the Narrative with WEI! This is a new space we are launching to showcase the voices, opinions, and stories of women with disabilities and allies championing the rights of women and girls with disabilities worldwide. We hope that you will find the posts here both informative and thought-provoking.

Much of Women Enabled International’s work involves legal language and complicated international human rights procedures. It is my hope that Rewriting the Narrative can be inviting for both experts and those less familiar with the issues to learn about our work and the work of our colleagues from around the world in the fight to bridge the gap between the disability rights and the gender rights fields.

The beginnings of Women Enabled International can be traced back to 2010. For many years, I worked in international women’s rights spaces and sometimes in disability rights spaces. In both, I found that disabled women were generally absent and ignored.  Something had to be done, and voila thus began Women Enabled International! We are the first international organization dedicated to advancing human rights at the intersection of gender and disability.

Since then, WEI has grown into a close-knit team with staff, board members, fellows, and interns from all over the globe. At least half of us have a disability ourselves or a family member with a disability; the other half are dedicated allies. What brings us all together – no matter from what continent or time zone we may be working – is our shared passion for disability justice, gender justice, and the radical potential of complete intersectional inclusion.

On Rewriting the Narrative, you will find posts by WEI staff, colleagues and advocates under the “Blog Posts” tab and updates on WEI’s work under the “WEI News” tab. We invite you to consider contributing to this blog and sharing your work and voice. If you would like to submit a blog post proposal, please complete the following form: Submit to Rewriting the Narrative.

Let us join together to rewrite the tired, incorrect, and pervasive narratives about women and girls with disabilities worldwide.

Yours in global sisterhood,

Stephanie


About the author Stephanie Ortoleva, the Founder and President of Women Enabled International, is a highly recognized international human rights lawyer, policy and development consultant, author and researcher on issues of women’s rights, disability rights and the rights of women and girls with disabilities. As a woman with a disability herself, she brings the development, academic and legal perspectives to her work as well as her personal experience as a woman with a disability.