Category Archives: UN
International Women’s Day is an annual opportunity to celebrate progress made towards equality for women. But it is also a reminder of how far we still are from this goal – particularly for women with disabilities who are experiencing violence around the world.
Violence against women and girls has been described as a ‘global pandemic.’ And it is easy to see why. 1 in 3 women has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Women with disabilities are even more likely to face violence, experience it for a longer period and are less able to escape or access justice.
Globally, adults with disabilities are 1.5 times more likely to be victims of violence and for adults with mental health conditions this rises to a staggering 4 times more.
Men with disabilities are also at a much higher risk of experiencing violence and, although there is very little research, this violence is likely to be driven by many of the factors that cause violence against women. While the numbers are likely to be smaller than women, this is still a significant problem which is rarely discussed.
Why does violence happen?
Largely, women with disabilities are victims of violence for many of the same reasons as women without disabilities. Violence against women is often a result of gender relations and gender norms and the unequal power relations between men and women. This is amplified for women with disabilities who experience more discrimination and marginalisation and are much less likely to be viewed as equals – either in their households or communities. This increased level of discrimination means that their risk of experiencing violence is also amplified.
Having a disability also brings additional risk factors – such as living in an institution or being dependent (either for care, mobility or finance) on a family or a partner.
Low levels of reporting
The problem doesn’t just end with the high number of women with disabilities facing violence. Globally reporting of violence is low, especially when this violence is committed by a partner or family member. Women with disabilities are also less likely to report violence and even if they do they are less likely to be able to access justice.
Many of the reasons that women without disabilities don’t report violence or can’t access justice are the same as for other women. For example, they may be afraid of the consequences of reporting, may feel that nothing will be done or not know who to talk to. For women with disabilities the multiple discriminations that they face make them even less likely to report. Many more women with disabilities do not work and so they are more likely to be financially dependent on family or a partner – and so the consequences of reporting could be more severe.
Women often do not tell anyone because they feel that they won’t be believed – this is particularly an issue for women with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues who are less likely to be seen as credible witnesses. As one woman in our research in Cambodia put it “I have never told other people because they will not think it is true, and since my father-in-law is the vice chief, most people in the community respect him. They are afraid that they will not be invited to participate in the community or receive gifts.”
And so what can be done?
In recent years violence against women and girls has risen up the agenda as a development issue, including high level political commitment from the UK and inclusion in the new Sustainable Development Goals. If organisations are serious about tackling violence against women and girls – they must reach women with disabilities.
The Department for International Development commissioned a really interesting piece of research looking at ‘What works’ to tackle violence against women and girls – and we were really pleased to see that it included a paper on disability. Unfortunately there was so little out there documenting what works that the paper was hardly able to come to any conclusions.
It is vital for us to build more evidence on what work to tackle violence against women and girls with disabilities. Programmes addressing violence must make sure that they understand the specific barriers that women may face in accessing their programmes and look to overcome these. We need to make sure that data on violence against women and girls is being disaggregated by disability – otherwise we won’t know who is affected and who is being reached by prevention efforts.It is also important that wider work to tackle discrimination and stigma against women with disabilities continues, to reduce the underlying causes of violence.
The discrimination that women with disabilities face may in some cases make them harder to reach – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth reaching.
Even in a ‘developed’ country like the UK, disabled people are more likely to be poor than the able-bodied. Government figures show that about 20% of British families with at least one disabled member live in relative poverty compared to only 15% of other families.
There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, disability is an expensive business. Most significantly disabled people face extra costs due to their impairment. They may need to buy specialist equipment, they may have to carry out more laundry, they may need to use taxis because of inaccessible public transport or they may require an extra room to accommodate a personal assistant.
Secondly, it can be hard for disabled people to find paid work. Although there has been some progress, disabled people are still more likely to be unemployed than their non-disabled counterparts. While more than three-quarters of the British working-age non-disabled population are in employment, less than 50% of working-age disabled people have a job. As a result, many disabled people have to rely on benefits and, not surprisingly, have difficulty making ends meet.
I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to obtain employment. After graduating, I spent six months out of work and had to apply for more than 40 jobs before I managed to persuade an employer to recruit me. This was despite having a degree from Cambridge University and a postgraduate diploma. Fifteen years later, I have a rewarding, well-paid job. Like millions of other people, I have to cope with the daily challenges of living with a disability. However, I’m one of the lucky ones. At least I don’t have to cope with poverty as well.
On Sunday 21 September, more than 300,000 marchers flooded the streets of New York City making it the largest climate change march in history and putting this important issue on the top of the global agenda. In addition, in conjunction to the opening of the 69th UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday, 23 September. It was lovely timing since it was also the Fall Equinox (Spring Equinox for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere – !Hola Uruguay!)
Due to this high-level event, climate change has been a pervasive topic at the UN and in NYC and this theme will continue to be important as the post-2015 development agenda progresses. One example is that the newly appointed President of General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, will hold a High-level Event on Combating Climate Change in June 2015.
With this increased emphasis on climate change and related disaster risk reduction (DRR) – in the post-2015 process, it is crucial that persons with disabilities are included in these conversations, debates and initiatives. Why is this important?
It is important because weather-related disasters are increasing in number and severity and the number of people affected by them has risen. Disasters and their aftermath have a huge impact on persons with disabilities who are among the most vulnerable in an emergency, sustaining disproportionately higher rates of morbidity and mortality, and at the same time being among those least able to access emergency support. For example, research indicates that the mortality rate among persons with disabilities was twice that of the rest of the population during the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami (UN, 2013). Moreover, for every person that dies during a disaster, it is estimated that three people sustain an injury, many causing long-term disabilities, such as the case in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake in which approximately 200,000 people are expected to live with long-term disabilities as a result of injuries (UN Enable, 2013).
Persons with disabilities are often forgotten, and most likely to be abandoned during disasters (DiDRRN, 2013)as well as more likely to be invisible and overlooked in emergency relief operations (Choy, 2009). When the emergency hits they may have difficulty reaching safe areas, become separated from family and friends which is a key to survival and coping, have trouble accessing vital emergency information, or lose assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, prostheses, white canes or hearing aids. In addition, moving and transferring persons with disabilities requires handling techniques to avoid injury or further injury. Yet, the first-ever UN global survey of persons living with disabilities and how they cope with disasters indicates that the percentage of those with disabilities who could evacuate with no difficulty almost doubles if they were given sufficient time. This underlines the importance of early warning systems and ensuring that warnings reach all members of the community regardless of any mobility or communication barriers (UNISDR, 2013).
For the few who are evacuated, shelters are not accessible and consequently survivors with disabilities are also excluded from the emergency responses: including food, basic needs and health support. In addition, in the aftermath of a disaster, the damage to infrastructure caused by extreme weather events can reduce or completely remove access and safe mobility. Inclusive practice in all relief operations is needed to ensure that response and service delivery is not fragmented but mindful of all sources of vulnerability (Kett & Scherrer, 2009).
- Strong advocacy by and with persons with disabilities is needed to ensure disability inclusion is a key criterion in all emergency relief operations
- The evidence base concerning the vulnerability of persons with disabilities in weather-related emergencies, and key factors, which create resilience, need to be greatly strengthened, with key messages disseminated.
- Evaluations of both emergency and development programmes, in areas affected by a changing climate, need to clearly include disability in their terms of reference.
- Early warning systems need to ensure that warnings reach all members of the community, including persons with disabilities regardless of mobility or communication barriers.
- In the reconstruction phase following severe weather and other emergencies, it is essential that universal accessibility standards are applied in all public buildings and spaces, water and sanitation points and for the homes where people with mobility disabilities live.
Choy, R. (2009). Disasters are always inclusive: Vulnerability in humanitarian crises, Development Bulletin, Special Issue No. 73, April 2009, Development Studies Network, ANU, Canberra.
DiDRRN. (2013) Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Simulation Exercise. From: www. didrrn.net/home/
Kett, M and Scherrer, V. (2009). The Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities. Report of e-discussion hosted by The Global Partnership for Disability & Development (GPDD) and The World Bank (Human Development Network – Social Protection/Disability & Development Team).
UN. (2013). Panel Discussion on Disaster resilience and disability: ensuring equality and inclusion. United Nations Headquarters on October 10, 2013.
UN Enable. (2013). Disability, natural disasters and emergency situations: A need to include persons with disabilities. From: www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1546
UNISDR. (2013, October 10). UN Global Survey Explains Why So Many People Living with Disabilities Die in Disasters. [Press release 2013/29].
Below is a list of upcoming events at the UN Headquarters in NYC. I will be attending many of these events and will blog about them throughout the autumn. Click on the titles for additional information.
This one-day High-level Forum will take place on 9 September at the UN Headquarters. It will comprise of an opening segment and two multi-stakeholder interactive panels and a brief closing segment. The two panels will focus on: (1) the role and contributions of women and the young to the Culture of Peace; and (2) global citizenship as a pathway to the Culture of Peace.
In preparation for the negotiation phase of the post-2015 development agenda during the 69th session, the President of the General Assembly is convening a High-Level Stocktaking Event to reflect upon the various post-2015 development-related processes, which have occurred during the current session of the General Assembly. The purpose is to provide Member States and other stakeholders with an opportunity to identify possible inputs to the Secretary-General’s synthesis report, to the work of the 69th session of the General Assembly, and to the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda itself.
The first session of the Preparatory Committee of the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will take place in NY. The deadline for registration/accreditation is 31 August 2014. Click here for registration details.
16 September-1 October: 69th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 69)
The 69th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 69) will convene at the UN Headquarters on Tuesday, 16 September and the General Debate will open on Wednesday, 24 September. The debate’s opening was postponed from Tuesday, 23 September to accommodate the Climate Summit (resolution A/RES/57/301 and decision 68/512).
Sam Kutesa, UN General Assembly (UNGA) president-elect (Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uganda), has announced that the theme for the 69th UNGA session will be “Delivering on and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda.” UN Member States will be invited to comment on the theme during the 69th General Debate (beginning on 24 September 2014). Kutesa will be replacing the current UNGA President John Ashe.
Civil Society Participation in UNGA 69:
Because of the presence of high-level ministers and dignitaries at the UNGA69, civil society participation is very difficult. Civil society can attend the high-level meeting of the GA, which this year is: 22-23 September: The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
Unfortunately, to attend the UN Climate Summit meetings is by invitation only, but many climate-related events will take place throughout the week of 22-28 September. Supposedly there will be a mass protest for climate change somewhere in NYC, which I hope to attend.
Please keep tuned for additional information regarding these upcoming events, how they impact persons with disabilities around the globe, and CBM’s involvement.