CSW57 and Women with Disabilities
By Stephanie Ortoleva, Esq.
President & Founder, Women Enabled, Inc. and USICD Board Member
Every year, for two to three weeks surrounding March 8th, International Women’s Day, hundreds of women and allies from around the world gather in New York for the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Government diplomats, international agency representatives, leaders of non-governmental organizations, especially women’s rights NGOs, share strategies, academic and field research, best practices, personal narratives, artistic expression, all with the objective of advancing the rights of women and girls worldwide. Official panels and NGO side events are crammed into an information-filled schedule, dazzling attendees as they decide which event to attend. Resolutions and the Final Conclusions document texts are debated, sometimes passionately. The gathering is energizing, informative, tearful, frustrating, but always a force that motivates action.
Unfortunately, not all women are as welcome as others. For many years that has been the situation of women with disabilities who want to engage at CSW, women who want their experiences respected, who want their contributions valued and, most of all who want their rights reflected in the resolutions and Final Conclusions from CSW. After all, women with disabilities are women too!
But slowly over the past few years more of us women with disabilities have engaged at CSW and this year we have seen greater progress. I have organized side events at the last several CSW sessions and am pleased to see that a little more progress is made each session to enhance our participation in the discussions and in the policy outcomes of CSW and within UN Women itself.
I took a leadership role in organizing three important side events, along with other colleagues. These events each focused on women and girls with disabilities at CSW57, which had as its priority theme violence against women.
First, a High-Level Side Event – Panel Discussion on Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities, featured Ms. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women. She explored the intersection of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in order to strengthen efforts to prevent and eliminate violence against women with disabilities in all its forms. She also outlined some of the steps UN Women has taken in this area and also proposed a joint session between the committees for the CEDAW and the CRPD to formally recognize the intersection between disability and gender. In addition to highlighting the ongoing and pervasive nature of violence against women with disabilities, in my presentation I also challenged UN Women to make even greater efforts and outlined some additional steps that need to be taken by UN Women and the Commission on the Status of Women to more effectively advance the rights of women with disabilities and to include us in important decision-making roles. Furthermore, consistent with the due diligence obligations in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Governments also need to take steps to ensure that women with disabilities are included in efforts on prevention, protection, prosecution, punishment and provision of retribution to end the violence.
Second, a Side Event I organized on Gender Stereotyping – Gender Violence, featured Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. She outlined some of the points made in her 2012 Report on violence against Women with Disabilities and pledged her ongoing support for our inclusion in her work. I outlined some of the forms, causes and consequences of violence against women. Another panelist addressed violence against older women and a third panelist enumerated the negative impacts of media images on women.
Third, a side event addressed various aspects of Harmful Traditional Practices – Violence Against Women & Girls, Laws vs. Practice: Rhetoric vs. Reality, addressing issues such as child marriage, so-called “honor killings” and other issues. I discussed some unique harmful traditional practices that have unique implications for women with disabilities, such as views that disability is a “curse” for some prior wrongdoing (Read remarks).
Finally, the Final Conclusions of this CSW session included several references to women with disabilities, although gaps remain. Thus, if more of us attend CSW, engage with other participants and pressure our governments, we can make progress toward meaningful inclusion.
Check out the Women Enabled, Inc. website for videos and audios of some of the panels, text of statements and power point presentations as well as our other CSW updates. Now, back to CSW activities!