Sisters of Frida stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement globally and in the UK. We cannot do that without including Disabled Black Lives.
Racism and ableism are intertwined.
From deaths in custody to the hostile environment, from the school exclusions to austerity policies, Black lives and, in particular, Black Disabled lives are devalued by systemic and structural racism and ableism. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare health inequalities in the UK: Black people are four times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white people and deaths of people learning difficulties have gone up by 134% during the pandemic.
We fight for a world where Black Disabled women are valued, cherished and can thrive in our communities.
The Impact of COVID 19 on Disabled Women from Sisters of Frida
Voices of Disabled women in the pandemic
About this paper
This paper started as a brief but we sent the first version in response to the Women and Equalities Unequal impact: Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the impact on people with protected characteristics. We know that the experiences of Disabled women are not visible in the wider response to COVID-19.
The need to add the narratives focused on Disabled women is the reason for this paper. We feel that the narrative about Disabled women, when available, is very one dimensional. There is no consideration that Disabled women occupy multiple roles, we are diverse and any considerations have to be viewed through an intersectional lens. We are strongly aware that new measures under the Coronavirus COVID-19 2020 Act threaten rights-based protections and reduce our independent living and in some cases our lives.
We were asked to join a coalition of womenâs organisations[ calling on the government to take on certain actions, and to contribute evidence from the perspectives from disabled women under the impact of COVID-19. We put out a call for evidence, asking disabled women to share their experiences of COVID-19 and its specific impact for intersecting identities. We want to ensure the voices of Disabled women are visible as they are often omitted as examples of multiple protected characteristics.
working with Inclusion London and ROFA (Reclaiming
Our Future Alliance) on the rights of disabled people under the Care Act 2014
where these are being eroded, the urgency of access to food and services for
disabled people, and access to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for their
Personal Assistants (PAs) and themselves.
womenâs needs under COVID-19 measures are no less significant than those of the
rest of the disabled community, but disabled women face specific issues.
We are looking in particular at those issues that are impacting rights at the intersection of gender and disability during this crisis.
Â On the last week of February, two Sisters of Frida, Rachel O’ Brien and Eleanor Lisney joined other women NGOs for the review of UK government on CEDAW –Â The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women,Â often referred to as the âwomenâs bill of rightsâ, and it spells out womenâs right to equality and non-discrimination. They were funded by the EHRC to attend the examination.
They met with Ana PelĂĄez NarvĂĄez, the only disabled woman on the committee and they spoke on the needs of disabled women and the importance of CEDAW.
Before the event, Eleanor was in the core group steering group in the shadow report prepared by the Women Resource Centre for England (see the shadow reports). We also did our own Shadow Report supported by Women Enabled International and met with Amanda McRae while they were in Geneva.
Ana PelĂĄez NarvĂĄez meeting with Rachel and Eleanor from SOF, Janet Veitch, Viv Hayes from WRC and Amanda McRae from Women Enabled International.
Rachel and Eleanor with other delegates from Women NGOs
Rachel speaking to the CEDAW committee
Sisters of Frida at Brussels ENIL Freedom Drive
Some Sisters of Frida went to ENIL 2017 Freedom Drive,Â which brought together 300 Independent Living activists from 19 countries in Brussels.
Zara Todd, Lani Parker, Michelle Daley and Eleanor Lisney, and Rachel O’Brien (photo by Mladen Spremo)
It brought an an end to a week of promoting independent living, peer support, protest and celebration of disability rights. The Freedom Drive has brought together around 300 independent living activists from 19 countries, from as far East as Albania, to Norway in the North.
Among the main Freedom Drive demands were the end to institutionalisation of disabled people across Europe, access to personal assistance in all countries, full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the end to cuts to support services and benefits for disabled people.
Lani Parker and Michelle Daley said:
We also met some MEPs,Â Anthea McIntyre MEP,Â Keith Taylor MEP,Â Molly Scott-Cato MEP,Â Wajid Khan MEP, andÂ Daniel Dalton MEP, among others to ask them questions on independent living, accessibility, inclusive education, disability rights after Brexit, freedom of labour as part of the EU among other issues.
with Wajid Khan MEP (Labour), Rebecca Farren, Lani Parker, Tara Flood and Michelle Daley (photo by Katai)
Tweet from Molly Scott Cato MEP with Michelle Daley, (Green Party) Keith Taylor MEP, Molly Scott Cato MEP, Tara Flood and Lani Parker
The night before the march we met up with other British attendees for dinner, including Sarah Rennie (Sisters of Frida, Steering Group member) , who had to leave before the march.
dinner with other British attendees of Freedom Drive (photo by Debbie)
dinner with other British attendees of Freedom Drive (2nd table) (photo by Debbie)
We were outside the European Parliament the next day to join the other ENIL Freedom marchers on the streets of Brussels.
Michelle Daley leading some of the way. (photo by Katai)
Thank you all for all who came with us. Thank you for ENIL to organising this and we wish Zara Todd, as incoming director, the best for the future.
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 governmentâs compliance with the Convention. We contributed to the report and went to Geneva, as volunteers, to ensure that violations of disabled womenâs rights were given attention. The Committee highlighted many areas of concerns which explicitly or indirectly affect disabled women, but weâve highlighted three key themes below.
1) Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us
We share the Committeeâs concern that disabled women and girlsâ rights âhave not been systematically mainstreamed into both the gender equality and disability agendaâ and support its specific recommendation to âadopt inclusive and targeted measures, including disaggregated dataâ to prevent the multiple and intersectional discrimination we face.
Mainstreaming our rights, requires our involvement. We therefore also welcome the Committeeâs recommendation to allocate âfinancial resources to support organisations representing [disabled women]â 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 âbest interestsâ 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 Committeeâs recommendation for mechanisms to support our involvement in the design of strategies to implement the Convention through âmeasurable, financed and monitored strategic plans of actionâ. 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). Hereâs 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. Itâs therefore crucial that the Government implement the Committeeâs recommendation to explicitly incorporate protection from âmultiple and intersectional discriminationâ in national legislation. Whether itâs routine GP appointments, cervical testing or maternity care, disabled women constantly struggle to access medical services, so we strongly support the Committeeâs recommendation to develop âtargeted measurable and financedâ strategies to eliminate barriers in access to health care and services and to measure their progress.â
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 Committeeâs recommendations:
to develop training for the judiciary and law enforcement personnel. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has already noted concerns about âwomen being deemed unfit mothers for having âfailed to protectâ their children from an abusive parentâ. Ignorant, counterproductive and damaging comments and actions by judges and police must end.
to provide âfree or affordable legal aidâ 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
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 UNâs findings.
Whilst we welcome the Committeeâs 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 womenâs organisations on this. In the meantime, we are joining theENIL 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.
“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 womenâs 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 womenâs rights and work with us to establish a clear and inclusive mechanism in order to bring womenâs voices into the heart of government.â
âWe 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 womenâ
“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.”
âLeave no woman behindâ 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 womenâs 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 âfairerâ society into reality but we are ready to stand with our disabled sisters to shame the government into action.
âDisabled 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.â
‘Disabled womenÂ face multiple disadvantage in being able to participate as fully as they wish in all aspects of their lives â social, as well as political and economic .Â 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.Â Indeed, disabled women â 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
A âhuman catastropheâ â New UN condemnation for UK human rights record
The UK Governmentâs claim to be a âworld leader in disability issuesâ has today been crushed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee has released damning Concluding Observations on the UK, following its first Review of the governmentâs compliance with the Convention.
The Observations conclude last weekâs public examination of the UK Governmentâs record on delivering disabled peopleâs rights. The examination was declared by the UK rapporteur Mr Stig Langvad, to be âthe most challenging exercise in the history of the Committeeâ. Mr Langvad raised deep concerns on the UK Governmentâs failure to implement the rights of disabled people. He also noted the governmentâs âlack of recognition of the findings and recommendations of the (2016) Inquiryâ which found âgrave and systematic violations of disabled peopleâs human rightsâ.
Deaf and Disabled Peopleâs Organisations (DDPOs) were hailed as the genuine âworld leadersâ for their efforts in bringing to light the injustices and human rights violations inflicted on disabled people in the UK.
The UK Delegation of Deaf and Disabled Peopleâs Organisations has issued the following joint statement:
âToday the UN(CRPD) Committee has, once again, condemned the UK Governmentâs record on Deaf and Disabled Peopleâs human rights. They have validated the desperation, frustration and outrage experienced by Deaf and Disabled people since austerity and welfare cuts began. It is no longer acceptable for the UK Government to ignore the strong and united message of the disability community.
UK Government representatives committed during the review to rethinking the way they support Deaf and Disabled People to monitor our rights. We welcome this commitment. Â However, we are clear that our involvement must be genuine and inclusive and that we cannot accept anything less than progress on delivering the human rights enshrined in the Convention, and denied us for too long.
DDPOs have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with following a long campaign of challenging the Governmentâs blatant disregard for the lives of Deaf and disabled people in the UK. The unity and solidarity demonstrated by the Committee and the UK Independent Mechanism in supporting our calls for justice continue to strengthen us.
Michelle Daley, a Director of Sisters of Frida, said â
âThe rights of disabled women and girls have not been systematically mainstreamed in the UK. The UN is obviously recognising this.
The proper collection of disaggregated data has been repeatedly called for by UN rapporteurs. Gaps in data mask the multiple discrimination faced by disabled women.
We welcome the Committeeâs recommendation that the State allocates resources to support representative organisations for disabled women and girls and secure our strategic involvement and contributions in legislation. Perhaps this would, in future, avoid abhorrent situations like the âbest interestsâ defence for carers committing coercive and controlling abuse which the Government introduced without consulting us.â
Â Â Â DDPOs across the UK have worked in coproduction to collect evidence and compile the reports through the Review process. The delegation of DDPOs present in Geneva w/c 21st August 2017 included Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales, Disability Action Northern Ireland, the Reclaiming our Futures Alliance, British Deaf Association, People First Scotland, Alliance for Inclusive Education, Inclusion London, Disabled People Against Cuts, Equal Lives, Black Triangle, Sisters of Frida, Black Mental Health UK.
Â Â Â Contributions were also received from Innovations in Dementia, HFT and Intersex NGO Coalition.
Â Â Â The committee postponed its assessment of the UK (originally due in 2015) to investigate a complaint of the violation of disabled peopleâs rights as a result of welfare reform. This was brought under the optional protocol of the Convention. The findings expressed concern of grave and systematic violations of disabled peopleâs human rights. That investigation looked only at a part of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People â with a particular focus on the impact of austerity measures and welfare reform. The Review looked at a much wider set of issues, including our laws on mental health and mental capacity, policies on employment and education and more.
Â Â Â Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. It is a defence for accused abusers to show that they believe their behaviour was in the victimâs best interests and reasonable.
Sisters of Frida calls out UK Government on human rights violations of disabled women
Sisters of Frida joins Deaf and Disabled Peopleâs Organisations (DDPOs) from across the UK in Geneva this week to present evidence of violations on disabled peopleâs rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD)
In a closed session on Monday 21st August, DDPOs will highlight the UK Governmentâs failure to respond to many of the questions put to it by the Committee throughout this process. They will tell the Committee of the systemic failure to support disabled people to live independently and to have access to social, educational, and employment opportunities.
This is the first time the UN Disability Committee is reviewing the UKâs progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since the UK government ratified the Convention in 2009. DDPOs will tell the Committee that the government has ignored many of the questions put to it earlier this year as part of the review process. The Committee will consider the governmentâs response to its questions and the DDPOsâ observations before questioning representatives from the UK and devolved governments in Geneva later this week (23 and 24 August).
Eleanor Lisney, Director of Sisters of Frida says,
âWe have been calling out on the failure of the UK Government to fulfil obligations to disabled women since 2013 when we joined the UK CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) Workgroup and delegation in 2013 going to Geneva). We did the same when we went to UN in New York city for CSW (UN Commission on the Status of Women) the UKNGOCSW delegation and held a side event. It is vital that disabled women are represented in processes like CRPD reporting as too often our experience as disabled women is invisible.This is an opportunity to change this and show how the cuts and legal changes are affecting us.â
Sarah Rennie, who will be representing Sisters of Frida in Geneva says,
âThe UK Governmentâs response does not address how gender-specific policies incorporate the social model of disability to break down barriers, meet the needs of Disabled women, or require an intersectional approach. We urge the Government to immediately remove the âbest interestsâ defence in the Serious Crime Act 2015 which restricts Disabled women from seeing their perpetrators of emotional abuse brought to justice, and to improve access to medical care for Disabled women including pre-natal and reproductive health services.â
The DDPOs’ submission was co-produced by Reclaiming our Futures Alliance (including Sisters of Frida ), Inclusion Scotland, People First Scotland, DRUK, Disability Wales, Disability Action Northern Ireland, British Deaf Association, and Black Triangle.
Defend our Rights, Rights of Disabled Women, #intersectionality #CRPD17, #DDPOSGeneva
Notes to editors:
1) The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities investigation is assessing what steps the UK has taken to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. The committee is a body of experts, nominated and elected by governments. The majority of committee members are disabled people.
2) The committee postponed its scheduled assessment of the UK (originally due in 2015) to hold a special inquiry into complaints by DPPOs that the governmentâs welfare reform policies had violated disabled peopleâs rights. The current assessment looks at a much wider set of issues, including our laws on mental health and mental capacity, employment policies and education.
3) Before examining UK and devolved government representatives on Wednesday and Thursday the committee will meet with representatives of DDPOs to discuss their views on the formal written response already tabled by the UK government. The DDPOs have prepared their own submission as highlighted above.
5) ROFA is an alliance of Disabled People and their organisations in England including Inclusion London, Equal Lives, Alliance for Inclusive Education, Sisters of Frida, National People First and Disabled People Against Cuts. For more information see:www.rofa.org.uk
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.
Disabled men face a pay gap of 11%, while disabled women faced a gap twice as large at 22%.
Despite qualifications, disabled women have lower participation rates in higher skilled jobs and work fewer hours than both non-disabled women and disabled men.
27% of disabled women are economically inactive compared with 16% disabled men.
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.
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. In fact, one in ten experienced domestic abuse in 2012-13.
Abuse is also more severe, more frequent and more enduring.
Deaf women are twice as likely as hearing women to suffer domestic abuse.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 made âcoercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationshipâ 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 victimâs âbest interestsâ. 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 â19% of disabled women said reasonable adjustments had been made for them.â
The CEDAW Committee is concerned that âDisabled, 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 servicesâ.
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 âmenstruation managementâ rather than be presented with a range of options available to other women.
Disabled women with a mental health problem die on average 13 years earlier than the general UK population.
Nearly half of female prisoners in the UK have been identified as having anxiety and depression. This is double the rate of male prisoners. Whatâs more, nearly half female prisoners (more than double the rate for men) report attempting suicide.
The CEDAW Committee is concerned that ethnic minority and disabled women are particularly poorly represented in Parliament, the legal system and on public sector.
We’re happy that Zara will continue as one of the Sisters of Frida’s directors.
Zara (in white rainwear) with Sisters of Frida at the 2013 Freedom Drive in Strasbourg,Â Eleanor with banner , Lucia behind Eleanor with black stripey umbrella and Ines (from ECCL) behind Zara. Miro (from ENIL) is also there with his PA and Kate, with black umbrella
Zara with John Evans at Freedom Drive in Brussels 2015