Nothing about Us without Us: Three Women with Disabilities Leaving their Mark at the United Nations

By Virginia Ossana

This article was first published on Medium.

Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

24 October marks the 76 anniversary of the United Nations (UN), in commemoration of the day its Charter entered into force. To celebrate this anniversary and in the spirit of amplifying the voices and the amazing work of women with disabilities, here are three women with disabilities who work within the UN system and help us move towards a more inclusive future, following the well-known “Nothing about us without us.”

  1. María Soledad Cisternas Reyes
A picture of Maria Soledad Cisternas speaking before the UN. Photo courtesy of UCLGCongress
A picture of Maria Soledad Cisternas speaking before the UN. Photo courtesy of UCLGCongress

María Soledad Cisternas Reyes has been the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility since 2017. A native of Chile, María Soledad is a lawyer, Law professor and researcher. She is the director of various legal and interdisciplinary projects, author of several publications and speaker at national and international conferences. In her role as Special Envoy, her mandate is to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, with a focus on accessibility for all.

“There is an outstanding debt with women and girls with disabilities in with regard to the exercise of their rights, and this is widely recognized, including in the monitoring work done by the Committee”.

María Soledad Cisternas Reyes — Interview with UN News

2. Catalina Devandas Aguilar

Catalina Devandas Aguilar shaking the hand of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. Foto courtesy of OHCHR.
Catalina Devandas Aguilar shaking the hand of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. Photo courtesy of OHCHR.

Catalina Devandas Aguilar is a lawyer and human rights defender. Originally from Costa Rica, she was the first Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a mandate she assumed in 2014 and continued until 2020. In her work as Rapporteur, she focused on the socioeconomic inclusion and the promotion of the full citizenship of persons with disabilities. During her mandate, she emphasized the idea that disability is part of diversity. Catalina is currently Costa Rica’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

“It’s about us valuing difference positively. About us not trying to correct it, not trying to hide it, not trying to cure it. It’s about us saying that it is absolutely normal.”

Catalina Devandas Aguilar — Interview with Noticias ONU

You can find more information about Catalina Devandas Aguilar here.

3. Ana Peláez Narváez

Foto de Ana Pelaez Narvaez. Cortesia: Emabajada de España en Peru.
Picture of Ana Pelaez Narvaez. Courtesy: Spanish Embassy in Peru.

A native of Spain, , Ana Peláez Narváez is the Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), of which she has been a member since 2019. She is the first woman with a disability to serve on this treaty body.

Since joining the Committee, Ana has sought to ensure the application of an intersectional approach to the work of the Committee to account for the multiple discriminations experienced by women, including women with disabilities. She has also served as a member and vice-chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“The first and foremost challenge is that women with disabilities are not recognized as women.”

Ana Peláez Narváez — Interview with UN Women

María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Catalina Devandas Aguilar and Ana Peláez Narváez in their different roles within the UN system show how women with disabilities can exercise leadership in pursuit of inclusion in international cooperation. On this UN Day, we celebrate them and thank them for their relentless work to advance the rights of people with disabilities worldwide.

Nothing about us without us!

About the author

Virginia Ossana is a woman with a disability from Argentina. She serves as the Communications and Programs Advisor at Women Enabled International.