New Publications — Guaranteeing Rights at the Intersection of Gender and Disability in the COVID-19 Response

In August 2020, WEI partnered with UNFPA, UN Women, and seven women-with-disability-led organizations to document and respond to the lived experiences of women, girls, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. More than 300 persons with disabilities and their advocates across the world shared their experiences with us, with a particular focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights, the right to freedom from violence, and related rights. As a result of this research, we have produced five resources to guide pandemic response and recovery and seek to set a new standard for future crisis preparation that ensures human rights and inclusion at the intersection of gender and disability. Read more and download the publications.

Joint submission to OHCHR on promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls with disabilities in conflict and post-conflict situations

WEI joined forces with Human Rights Watch, Humanity and Inclusion, International Disability Alliance, and Women’s Refugee Commission to submit this short report on women and girls with disabilities in conflict and post-conflict situations to the U.N. Office of the High Commission for Human Rights. This short report will help promote an intersectional approach to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s forthcoming discussions on the 20th anniversary of a groundbreaking Security Council resolution, focusing on the role of women in ensuring peace and security.

Submission to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Preparation of a General Comment on Article 27 of the CRPD (the right to work and employment) 

Women and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities experience myriad barriers to fulfilling their right to work and employment, due to factors based on both their gender and disability. This submission highlights how discrimination at the intersection of gender and disability leads to significant pay gaps, unemployment, harassment in the workplace, and other issues that disproportionately impact women and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities as related to work and employment, including as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The submission also highlights how other human rights obligations are connected to the right work for women and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities, including the rights to education, to sexual and reproductive health and bodily autonomy, and to be free from violence.

Disabled Women in Africa and Women Enabled International: Joint Submission to the Human Rights Committee for its Development of  Malawi’s List of Issues Prior to Reporting 

This submission, done in partnership with Disabled Women in Africa (DIWA), highlights human rights abuses against women and girls in Malawi, including in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. The submission describes how intersectional discrimination, gender-based violence, violations of sexual and reproductive rights, and denial of access to justice impact the lives and well-being of women and girls with disabilities in Malawi. The submission includes recommendations for the Human Rights Committee in developing its list of issues for the state review of Malawi.

Feminists with Disabilities Joint Submission to the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls: Women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in situations of crisis 

This submission, produced in partnership between Women Enabled International (WEI), My Life My Choice (U.K.), CIMUNIDIS (Chile), Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre (India), Women with Disabilities India Network, HYPE Sri Lan, ka, and Disabled Women in Africa (Malawi), highlights how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women, girls, and gender non-conforming persons with disabilities. Drawing on research conducted from March to December 2020 in countries around the world, the submission highlights how pre-existing barriers to SRHR were exacerbated during the crisis, while lockdown measures, reallocation of resources away from sexual and reproductive healthcare, and social distancing requirements further limited SRH for this group, as well as the social determinants of health, and some good practices in this regard.

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.


Statement on Abortion Access in Poland

Women Enabled International is deeply concerned about the decision by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruling unconstitutional Poland’s law permitting abortion on grounds of “a severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’s life.” This decision effectively bans access to safe and legal abortion for women—including women with disabilities—in Poland, violating the fundamental human rights of Poland’s women.

The ability to make decisions about one’s own body and life is a fundamental human right, and one which both women and persons with disabilities are frequently denied. We have heard from women with disabilities around the world, including in Poland, that meaningful reproductive autonomy is a priority for them, both as women and persons with disabilities, and that access to abortion is an important part of that reproductive autonomy. They have also reported that restrictions on their sexual and reproductive autonomy—including the decision by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal—further entrench the discriminatory notion that they cannot make decisions for themselves in all areas of their lives. According to Article 6, a feminist disability rights collective based in Poland, “This ruling violates human rights and any respect for the decisions and needs of women, including women with disabilities. Instead, it imposes a limited vision of life and femininity that is contingent on subordination and coercion of women and girls with disabilities.”

Furthermore, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruling will have a disproportionate impact on the health and well-being of women with disabilities. Legal restrictions on access to abortion do not reduce the need for abortion as an essential reproductive health service; instead they carry potentially devastating consequences for women’s lives, leading to a greater number of unsafe and clandestine abortions (with attendant consequences to life and health) or compelling women to travel to other jurisdictions to obtain a needed abortion. Due to societal discrimination, women with disabilities are more likely to have lower levels of education and less access to employment resulting in lower incomes, so frequently they cannot afford to travel abroad for abortion. Furthermore, women with mobility-related disabilities face additional barriers to travel, as the means of travel are often inaccessible. These inequalities are further exacerbated in the context of the current global pandemic.

Eliminating access to safe and legal abortion on the ground of fetal impairment is a step in the wrong direction, restricting reproductive autonomy in clear violation of Poland’s obligations under international human rights law. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) explicitly protects the right of persons with disabilities to sexual and reproductive health. The CRPD Committee has found that access to abortion is an important part of this right, including in its 2018 concluding observations to Poland, which provided that Poland should “ensure that the autonomy and decisions of women with disabilities are respected [and] that access to safe abortion is provided.”

Women with disabilities in Poland do not want to see greater restrictions on their reproductive autonomy, especially under the guise of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. As Article 6 expressed: “It is vital that women with disabilities, instead of being deprived of subjectivity in deciding on their own sexuality, have access to accessible gynecological care, reliable sex education, effective methods of pregnancy planning. As Article 6 collective, we demand that women with disabilities have access to abortion options when they consider this to be the best solution. They should also have access to full information about their health and that of the fetus, and comprehensive non-ableist prenatal diagnostics, to make free decisions about their lives.”

There are a number of steps that Poland could take to better protect the rights of persons with disabilities without also violating the rights of women (including women with disabilities). These include ensuring that persons with disabilities can access quality education and meaningful employment; abolishing laws that restrict the legal capacity of persons with disabilities and instead support persons with disabilities to lead autonomous and independent lives; and fostering a climate where people with disabilities can participate as equal members of society and where people with disabilities and their families have access to the range of supports and services that they may need.

The loss of a true feminist icon

Women Enabled International deeply mourns the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a true feminist icon, brilliant thinker and advocate for the rights of women worldwide.

Not only a champion of gender equality, Justice Ginsburg’s work also impacted the lives of many persons with disabilities, having authored the majority opinion in Olmstead v L.C., a decision which held that people with disabilities have a right to live integrated in our communities, not segregated within institutions.

WEI will continue to build on her life’s work and fight for justice for all, joining her in making ‘good trouble.’ May her memory be a revolution.

On a more personal note, I recall meeting her at the American Constitution society annual conference, where she gave the keynote speech and highlighted the international roots of jurisprudence. Her speech was not only well-founded in the law, but it was also poetic in style, and encouraged me to continue my global advocacy. I also recall meeting her and her beloved Husband Marty at another legal conference, and I basked in their brilliance and their love for one another.

The world will be a darker place without her. We must honor her dying wish: we cannot allow her replacement until AFTER the November 3rd, 2020 U.S. Presidential election and the inauguration of the next President.  All of our rights are at stake!

—Stephanie Ortoleva

WEI Submission on Domestic Violence and COVID-19 at the Intersection of Gender and Disability to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women

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.

Read or download the submission:

Response to U.N. Special Procedures Questionnaire on COVID-19 and Human Rights

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.

Continue reading Response to U.N. Special Procedures Questionnaire on COVID-19 and Human Rights