Several actors have identified that, alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a simultaneous “hidden pandemic” of domestic violence as a result of COVID-19 mitigation measures that is impacting the health and safety of particularly women and girls around the world. In response to a call for information from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women about this hidden pandemic, WEI reported information from its own research and that of organizations of women with disabilities around the world to illustrate how factors related to both gender and disability are creating a greater risk of domestic violence for women, girls, non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities during this global crisis.
WEI, as a member of the Nairobi Principles Working Group, submitted information to several U.N. human rights experts on the situation of rights related to gender, disability, and sexuality during the COVID-19 crisis. This information will be used to inform the global human rights response to this pandemic.
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
WEI and DRI’s comments enumerate suggested line edits to the Committee’s Draft General Recommendation language to better include women and girls with disabilities and their issues. The Draft General Recommendation did not include one reference to women and girls with disabilities and only one reference to disability disaggregated data. To remedy this gap, WEI and DRI offered suggested language changes to address the experience and needs of women and girls with disabilities and recommendations to States on how they can meet their obligations to women and girls with disabilities. Along with specific line edits, WEI and DRI also offered suggested additional paragraphs documenting the experience and barriers faced by women and girls with disabilities who have been or are at risk of being trafficked.
In March 2020, WEI identified a gap in initial global responses to COVID-19, in that many actors were discussing how to include women and persons with disabilities in the response, but few were considering the unique experiences of women with disabilities and others living at the intersection of gender and disability.
This report, which pulls together responses to a global survey from 100 women, non-binary, and trans persons with disabilities across the globe, seeks to provide the guidance States, U.N agencies, and others need to respond to this crisis in a way that fully respects, protects, and fulfills rights at the intersection of gender and disability.
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WEI collaborated with MADRE, Media Matters for Women, MenEngage Alliance, Nobel Women’s Initiative, OutRight Action International, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to produce this practical guide for preventing, addressing, and documenting domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This guide is intended for policymakers, service providers, civil society organizations, and journalists and, among other recommendations, calls for these actors to ensure intersectionality in addressing domestic violence during the pandemic, including at the intersection of gender and disability.
This is the first part of a forthcoming Toolkit aimed at ensuring a human rights-based approach to addressing domestic violence during COVID-19.
In efforts to respond to COVID-19, women, girls, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities have been left behind.
This Statement seeks to articulate particular issues that are impacting rights at the intersection of gender and disability during this crisis and provide guidance to governments, United Nations entities, healthcare providers, and civil society organizations who are involved in the response.
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.
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.
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.
October 25, 2019 – On October 19, Women Enabled was honored to join over 30 non-profits, student groups, and community organizations to co-host the DC Period Rally on the United States’ first ever National Period Day! Organized by PERIOD Inc. and Seventh Generation, the DC rally was one of 60 rallies throughout 50 states that brought together all different voices to address the challenges of period poverty, menstrual inequality, and harmful stereotypes around periods.
Period poverty is a term used to describe a systematic lack of access to safe and sustained menstrual products due to financial barriers as well as societal attitudes. It includes a deficiency or absence of menstrual hygiene education, sanitary or bathroom facilities, and physical sanitary products.
The list of speakers at the DC Rally was diverse and boasted representatives from large, national organizations such as the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood. But, the most impactful speakers were young people under the age of 25 – even under 20 – who are student leaders on campus or who started their own non-profit organizations to fight for gender equality. Throughout all of the speakers, however, one message rang clear: menstrual hygiene is a human right.
With that understanding, the rally was an inclusive space of respect and recognition that not everyone who bleeds is a woman (like trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people with uteruses), and not all women have periods (due to age, health conditions, or being a trans woman). Instead, the focus was on a larger disparity of access, of dignity and basic health care, and the ways that intersectionality of race, class, location, citizenship, being incarcerated, and more compounds and complicates those relationships.
Women and girls with disabilities face specific difficulties, pressures, and misunderstandings from society about their bodies and their health. This is especially true when it comes to menstrual hygiene. On top of unfair stereotypes about the very existence of menstruators with disabilities as well as their sexuality, menstrual products are often designed with non-disabled menstruators in mind and therefore inaccessible and even unusable. And, to add on to that, those products can be expensive- especially if you have to get new ones every month!
It was especially important for Women Enabled to show up and show out at the Period Rally because women and girls with disabilities are often overlooked and forgotten in these conversations about what is a basic issue of health, dignity, and gender equality. It is crucial that when these conversations happen, women and girls with disabilities are represented and their voices are amplified.
The goals of the Period Rallies and of PERIOD Inc. more broadly are to:
End the “tampon tax” in the 35 remaining states that consider menstrual products a “luxury good” and therefore subject to value-added tax, while other products considered basic necessities enjoy a tax-exempt status
Provide freely accessible menstrual products in every public school, prison, and shelter
Elevate the conversation about period poverty to national and international levels
Women Enabled is proud to stand by these ideals and envisions a world where every person who bleeds can live with dignity, can freely obtain truly accessible products and educational resources, and is empowered to make choices about their own body.