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.
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.
Sisters of Frida CIC is an experimental collective of disabled women. The barriers and multiple discrimination have not changed; we struggle to have our voices heard as disabled women in our own rights. We want a new way of sharing experiences, mutual support and relationships with different networks. We are a sisterhood: a circle of disabled women to discuss, share experiences and explore intersectional possibilities.
We are often invited to speak on panels at conferences locally, nationally and internationally. We work hard to amplify disabled womenâs voices through political channels and advancing our legal rights. We also arrange events and safe spaces for disabled women to meet, share experiences and develop networks. Â
The Steering Group
We have different experiences, skills and perspectives to share and contribute. You can see the current steering group here. The group drives Sisters of Fridaâs strategy and priorities. You donât have to be on the steering group to contribute to Sisters of Frida. We have a monthly meeting via Skype, a quarterly meeting in person and correspond in between these meetings.
What weâre look for
Itâs important to us to be led by a team of disabled women who can contribute through experience or skills or enthusiasm. Weâre open-minded. Perhaps you have one or some of the following skills
Website or social media management
Presentation and public speaking
Or you may be knowledgeable in any of the following:
Finance and accounts
Disability theory and research
Disability grass roots activism
Womenâs rights and feminism
UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability
UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women
What we ask of you
To join our steering group you must:
Identify as a disabled woman ((trans, intersex and cis) non-binary and gender non-conforming people but not people who identify solely or primarily as men. )
Committed to the social model of disability andÂ our intersectional approach
Be reliable and committed
What we will offer you
Sisters of Frida is recognised on an international scale and you will be in an influential position. You will have the opportunity (if you wish) to speak or present on disabled womenâs matters on a local, national and international level. You will be in the perfect position to hear about research, funding and networking opportunities. Participating in the steering group’s activities, adhering to governance guidelines and being in the political spotlight represents an excellent personal and professional development opportunity. Young People – Mentoring!
Developing and supporting young disabled women is one of our key values. Donât be put off if you havenât got experience of activism, politics or work. We all start somewhere! We would still like to hear from you if you are enthusiastic and reliable. If we can, we will match you with a buddy to help you get involved in our steering group and learn the ropes.
Express your interest
Let us know that youâre interested by emailing us on email@example.com. In your email tell us why you want to support us and tell us something about you. If you want to send a CV, that’s great.
If shortlisted, we will arrange a skype call (or accessible alternative) with you.
There is no closing date but places on the steering group are limited. Steering group membership is a voluntary position.
Sarah on why join Sisters of Frida Steering Group
SOF CRPD Shadow Report : UK Initial Report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities