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Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us

The UN Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) published its concluding observations following its first review of the UK government’s compliance with the Convention. We contributed to the report and went to Geneva, as volunteers, to ensure that violations of disabled women’s rights were given attention. The Committee highlighted many areas of concerns which explicitly or indirectly affect disabled women, but we’ve highlighted three key themes below.

 

1) Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us

 

We share the Committee’s concern that disabled women and girls’ rights “have not been systematically mainstreamed into both the gender equality and disability agenda” and support its specific recommendation to “adopt inclusive and targeted measures, including disaggregated data” to prevent the multiple and intersectional discrimination we face.

 

Mainstreaming our rights, requires our involvement. We therefore also welcome the Committee’s recommendation to allocate “financial resources to support organisations representing [disabled women]” and develop mechanisms to ensure our involvement in planning and implementing law which affects our lives. For example, we were not consulted on the drafting of the coercive abuse offence in the Serious Crime Act. If we had, we would have been able to show how the ‘best interests’ defence for carers dangerously undermines the rights and safety of disabled women and people with learning disabilities.

 

Strategies need to be measured, financed and monitored. We therefore welcome the Committee’s recommendation for mechanisms to support our involvement in the design of strategies to implement the Convention through “measurable, financed and monitored strategic plans of action”. Measurability requires the collection of disaggregated data and this has been repeatedly called for by UN rapporteurs. Gaps in data mask the multiple discrimination faced by disabled women.

 

2) Multiple and Intersectional Discrimination

 

Disabled women experience sexism and dis/ableism in our everyday lives, along with many other forms of oppression (eg. based on age, sexual orientation, economic status and migrant status). Here’s an example to illustrate. A visually impaired woman cannot access information on an NHS website due to inaccessibility. This is disability discrimination, but is gender-neutral. However, lack of access to family planning services is clearly gender and disability discrimination. If she is actually a teenage girl living in a remote indigenous community, clearly intersections of multiple aspects of her identity operate to exacerbate the disadvantages she faces.

 

This is why the Convention specifically addresses the rights of disabled women in Article 6. It requires the Government to recognize that disabled women and girls face multiple discrimination. It’s therefore crucial that the Government implement the Committee’s recommendation to explicitly incorporate protection from “multiple and intersectional discrimination” in national legislation. Whether it’s routine GP appointments, cervical testing or maternity care, disabled women constantly struggle to access medical services, so we strongly support the Committee’s recommendation to develop “targeted measurable and financed” strategies to eliminate barriers in access to health care and services and to measure their progress.”

 

3) Access to Justice

Our rights are worthless if they are unenforceable or ignored. The barriers with the justice system are procedural, financial and accessibility-related and stop us from bringing claims to enforce our civil rights, count against us in proceedings (eg divorce and family matters) and prevent us from reporting criminal abuse against us.

 

We therefore strongly support the Committee’s recommendations:

  • to develop training for the judiciary and law enforcement personnel. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has already noted concerns about “women being deemed unfit mothers for having ‘failed to protect’ their children from an abusive parent”. Ignorant, counterproductive and damaging comments and actions by judges and police must end.
  • to provide “free or affordable legal aid” for disabled people in all areas of law. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has specifically noted concern about the evidential requirements to apply for legal aid and the consequences for family law problems.

 

The many other areas of concern noted by the Committee can be read here

 

Next Steps

 

We were disappointed by the lack of media attention given to the 17-page catalogue of shame but the disabled community, including the DPOs, continue to valiantly highlight the UN’s findings.

 

Whilst we welcome the Committee’s recommendation for the UK Government to produce annual reports on its progress, we fear it will be another exercise of denial and lack data, evidence or understanding of intersectional discrimination.

 

We, Sisters of Frida, are preparing for CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and working with other women’s organisations on this. In the meantime, we are joining the ENIL Freedom March in Brussels and will raise it with our MEPs as to how they will be responding to protecting disabled women on VAWG as the Istanbul Convention is being ratified by the UK government.

 

Vivienne Hayes MBE, CEO of the Women Resource Centre says:

“The last time Sisters of Frida went with the UK CEDAW Working Group to Geneva, we noted in our oral statement that women of all ages and backgrounds in the UK are facing threats to their rights but this does not have to be the case if government policies are created in partnership with women’s NGOs and include a gendered perspective. This will ensure that there is not a long-term legacy of discrimination against women, and will also impact on the future economy.

 

In 2017, Sisters of Frida note that disabled women are acknowledged as still facing the same level of discrimination in the UNCRPD Concluding Observations. We call upon the UK government to honour its commitment to women’s rights and work with us to establish a clear and inclusive mechanism in order to bring women’s voices into the heart of government.”

 

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Co-Director of the Women’s Budget Group said:

 

‘We know that disabled women have been hit particularly badly by austerity policies over the last seven years. Disabled women have lost income through cuts to both specific disability benefits but also to housing benefit, tax credits and benefits for children. Cuts to public services including social care, health, education and transport budgets have all disproportionately affected disabled women.

The Public Sector Equality Duty, contained in the 2010 Equality Act, places a positive obligation on all public authorities to have due regard to the impact of their policies and practices on equality. Despite this the government have failed to publish meaningful assessments of the cumulative impact of austerity on equality.

We call on the government to meet both their obligations under both domestic and international law to ensure that their policies meet the needs of disabled women’

 

Sarah Green, Co-Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition said:

 

“It is known that disabled women are disproportionately subjected to sexual and domestic violence by perpetrators of these crimes, and that disabled women face additional barriers to escaping and staying safe, and even in being believed.

 

“International human rights treaties require our Government to ensure that disabled women’s needs are specifically considered and addressed when implementing policy on policing and preventing violence. Following the UN CRDP inquiry into the UK’s performance in this area, we need to hear assurances from the UK Government that disabled women’s needs are known and are made part of policy and practice in relation to ending and preventing abuse.”

 

Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters said:

 

‘Leave no woman behind’ is an important development and human rights goal that is central to achieving gender equality and one to which the UK government claims to be committed. But in the UK this goal remains largely rhetorical as the most vulnerable women – those with disabilities and multiple needs – are rendered marginalised and invisible by increasingly harsh economic and social welfare measures. Disabled women’s needs and rights are being gravely and systematically violated by the UK government. Why else do we see such an appalling lack of access to emergency shelters, secure housing and welfare rights, education, work, health and counselling facilities for disabled women who are also fleeing domestic violence? If the UK wants to be recognised as a leader in disability and human rights, it must develop laws, policies and strategies that enhance the rights of all women. This means understanding and addressing the overlapping and intersecting forms of discrimination such as race, gender and disability that create additional vulnerabilities and barriers for women. Sadly this government is unlikely to turn its rhetoric on achieving a ‘fairer’ society into reality but we are ready to stand with our disabled sisters to shame the government into action.

 

Lee Eggleston on behalf of Rape Crisis England and Wales said:

 

‘Disabled women who have experienced sexual violence make up a quarter of Rape Crisis service users – which is an indication of how disproportionately disabled women are impacted by sexual violence, often by their own carers. The voice and engagement of specialist organisations run by and for disabled women, like Sisters of Frida and Stay Safe East, is essential to the CEDAW process in raising awareness of sexual violence to the Committee.’

 

Zarin Hainsworth OBE, Chair,  National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

 

Disabled women  face multiple disadvantage in being able to participate as fully as they wish in all aspects of their lives – social, as well as political and economic .  The CEDAW Committee made recommendations in their concluding observations to their last report that would improve the capacity of women in the UK to access health care and justice but little has been achieved and austerity policies combined with a lack of specific attention to the issues faced by disabled women, make these more not less distant goals.  Indeed, disabled women – especially those with learning disabilities who are also likely to experience mental ill-health – continue to face the loss of their babies at birth.

We strongly support NAWO members, Sisters of Frida, in their campaign for focused attention by the UK Government on the needs and concerns of disabled women and girls.’

 

 

We would be happy to hear from others, individuals and/or organisations, who would like to join us in our campaign for disabled women’s rights in issues mentioned here. Please comment below or write to [email protected], tweet @sisofrida

 

Note: Stay Safe East is a unique user-led organisation run by disabled people, providing specialist and holistic advocacy and support services to disabled people from diverse communities in East London (currently Waltham Forest and Newham) who are victims/survivors of domestic or sexual violence, hate crime, harassment and other forms of abuse.

 

Disabled Women: Facts and Stats

We often get asked why we campaign for the rights of disabled women. Here are a few reasons.

 

Employment and Pay

  • 35% of disabled women (and 30% of disabled men) are paid below the National Living Wage in the UK.[1]
  • Disabled men face a pay gap of 11%, while disabled women faced a gap twice as large at 22%.[2]
  • Despite qualifications, disabled women have lower participation rates in higher skilled jobs and work fewer hours than both non-disabled women and disabled men.[3]
  • 27% of disabled women are economically inactive compared with 16% disabled men.[4]
  • Lone parenthood reduces female employment generally by 15%. However, disabled female lone parents are more than half as likely to work than non-disabled female lone parents.[5]

 

Violence and Abuse

  • Disabled people experience more domestic abuse than non-disabled people. Disabled women are significantly more likely to experience domestic abuse than disabled men.[6] In fact, one in ten experienced domestic abuse in 2012-13.[7]
  • Abuse is also more severe, more frequent and more enduring.[8][9][10]
  • Deaf women are twice as likely as hearing women to suffer domestic abuse.[11]
  • The Serious Crime Act 2015 made ‘coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’ a criminal offence (s.76). The Act provides that it is a defence for a perpetrator to show that they believed themselves to be acting in the victim’s ‘best interests’. This was intended to cover carers. We believe this defence risks preventing disabled women and people with learning disabilities from seeing their abusers brought to justice.

 

Health and Medical Care

  • UK maternity care does not meet the needs of disabled women. A 2016 study revealed that only “19% of disabled women said reasonable adjustments had been made for them.”[12]
  • The CEDAW Committee is concerned that “Disabled, older, asylum seeking and Traveller women face obstacles in accessing medical health care and that Disabled women have limited access to pre-natal care and reproductive health services”.[13]
  • Disabled women, particularly with learning difficulties, are at risk of forced sterilisation in the UK or are encouraged to consent to sterilisation as a form of ‘menstruation management’ rather than be presented with a range of options available to other women.

 

Mental Health

  • Disabled women with a mental health problem die on average 13 years earlier than the general UK population.[14]
  • Nearly half of female prisoners in the UK have been identified as having anxiety and depression. This is double the rate of male prisoners. What’s more, nearly half female prisoners (more than double the rate for men) report attempting suicide.[15]

 

Public Life

  • The CEDAW Committee is concerned that ethnic minority and disabled women are particularly poorly represented in Parliament, the legal system and on public sector.[16]

 

You download this as a factsheet here: Disabled women – Facts and Stats 2017

[1] Equality and Human Rights Commission. 2017. Being Disabled in Britain. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf

[2] Papworth Trust. 2016. Disability in UK 2016 Facts and Figures. http://www.papworthtrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/Disability%20Facts%20and%20Figures%202016.pdf

[3] All Party Parliamentary Group for Women and Work. 2016. Women Returns Annual Report 2016. https://connectpa.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Women-and-work-Annual-report-low-res.pdf

[4] TUC. 2015. Disability and employment. https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/DisabilityandEmploymentReport.pdf

[5] The Poverty Site, 2011 http://www.poverty.org.uk/45/index.shtml

[6] Adding insult to injury: intimate partner violence among women and men reporting activity limitations. Cohen, M. et al. 8, 2006, Annals of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, pp. 644-651

[7] Public Health England. 2015. Disability and domestic abuse: Risk, impacts and response. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480942/Disability_and_domestic_abuse_topic_overview_FINAL.pdf

[8] Adding insult to injury: intimate partner violence among women and men reporting activity limitations. Cohen, M. et al. 8, 2006, Annals of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, pp. 644-651

[9] Prevalence of abuse of women with physical disabilities. Young, M. et al. 1997, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vol. 78, pp. 34-38.

[10] Partner violence against women with disabilities: prevalence, risk and explanations. Brownridge, D. 2006, Violence against women, Vol. 12, pp. 805-822.

[11] Women’s Aid. 2015. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/16-days-deaf-survivors-and-domestic-abuse/

[12] Hall J, Collins B, Ireland J, and Hundley V. (2016) Interim report: The Human Rights & Dignity Experience of Disabled Women during Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Parenting. Centre for Midwifery Maternal and Perinatal Health, Bournemouth University: Bournemouth. http://www.birthrights.org.uk/2016/09/maternity-care-failing-some-disabled-women/

[13] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : Great Britain, November 2014, available at: https://nawo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CEDAW-concluding-observations-EHRC-and-NAWO.pdf

[14] Equality and Human Rights Commission. 2017. Being Disabled in Britain. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf

[15] Light, M., Grant, E. and Hopkins, K. (2013), ‘Gender differences in substance misuse and mental health amongst prisoners: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) longitudinal cohort study of prisoners’. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/surveying-prisoner-crime-reduction-spcr

[16] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : Great Britain, November 2014, available at: https://nawo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CEDAW-concluding-observations-EHRC-and-NAWO.pdf

Recommendations on disabled women for the UK Govt from CEDAW committee

reposted –

Read the recommendations at:

http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2FCEDAW%2FCOC%2FGBR%2F14761&Lang=en

(to follow in its entirety read the CEDAW page.)

Below are all the recommendations that mention disabled women….

20. The Committee is concerned that the austerity measures introduced by the State party have resulted in serious cuts in funding for organisations providing social services to women, including those providing for women only. The Committee is concerned that these cuts have had a negative impact on women with disabilities and older women. ….

21. The Committee urges the State party to mitigate the impact of austerity measures on women and services provided to women, particularly women with disabilities and older women. ….

42. While noting the increase in the representation of women in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that women continue to be significantly underrepresented in certain fields, including in parliament, in the judiciary and on public sector boards. The Committee is particularly concerned at the low representation of black and minority ethnic women and women with disabilities in political life.

43. The Committee calls upon the State party:
(a) Continue to take concrete targeted measures to improve the representation of women in Parliament and the judiciary, particularly black and ethnic minority women and women with disabilities; and….

46. The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations of 2008 (A/63/38, paras. 286 and 287) and appreciates the State party’s efforts to provide flexible working arrangements for women and men, and to introduce shared parental leave envisaging new legislation in 2015. The Committee is concerned at reports of persistent discrimination of pregnant women in employment and their access to justice. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned at existing occupational segregation and persisting gender pay gap, and the high unemployment rates of women with disabilities. ……

47. The Committee recommends that the State party should:
(c) Create more opportunities for women with disabilities to access employment; ….
52. The Committee is concerned at reports that women with disabilities, older women, asylum seeking women and Traveller women face obstacles in accessing medical healthcare. The Committee is particularly concerned that women with disabilities face limited accessibility to pre-natal care and reproductive health services.

53. The Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Strengthen the implementation of programmes and policies aimed at providing effective access for women to health-care, particularly to women with disabilities, older women, asylum-seeking and Traveller women;
(b) Pay special attention to the health needs of women with disabilities, ensuring their access to prenatal care and all reproductive health services; and …

54. The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (A/63/38, paras. 266 and 267) and notes the measures taken to address the recommendations in the Corston report on women in the administration of criminal justice. ….
The Committee is also concerned at women’s limited access to mental health care in prisons, and at the over-representation of black and ethnic minority women in prison.

55. Recalling its previous recommendation, the Committee urges the State party to:
…(c) Improve the provision of mental health care in all prisons;

62. The Committee notes the reforms to the welfare benefit system in order to consolidate benefits and tax credits into a single payment under the Universal Credit system. However, it is concerned that, under the Universal Credit system, benefits and tax credits will be paid into a bank account of one member of the family, which poses risks of financial abuse for women due to power imbalances in the family, particularly if payment is made to an abusive male spouse…

63. The Committee urges the State party to adopt preventive measures against potential exploitation of the Universal Credit system by an abusive male spouse…..(something that we also raised for disabled women)