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 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.
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.
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.