IDA presentation, Session I, half DGD on women and girls with disabilities, 17 April 2013

IDA, Intersections of discrimination

With global and regional members across the world, the International Disability Alliance (IDA) is acutely aware of the multiple layers of identity of women and girls with disabilities which are composed of factors such as age, gender, type of disability, ethnicity, indigenous or social origin, religion, sexual orientation, language, among others.., and almost undoubtedly poverty given that, in developing countries, women constitute up to three quarters of all persons with disabilities.

Women and girls with disabilities are most often subject to multiple discrimination – that is, differential treatment on account of their gender and their disability, which is frequently compounded by discrimination on the basis of other parts of their identity. Whilst discrimination on more than one ground may operate separately in different circumstances,intersectional discrimination refers to situations where it is the multiple layers of one’s identity which inextricably interact resulting in unique disadvantage.

For example, where a blind woman is denied access to information on the website of the Ministry of Health due to outright inaccessibility, this results in discrimination on the basis of disability only and not her gender as the site would be equally inaccessible to blind men; whereas a blind woman being denied access to family planning services is subjected to differential treatment based on both her gender and disability – and if she is actually an adolescent girl living in a remote indigenous community, clearly intersections of multiple aspects of her identity operate to exacerbate the disadvantage she faces in enjoying and exercising her rights.

All around the world, women and girls with disabilities are more likely to be subjected to violence. Girls with disabilities face intersectional discrimination on account of their age, gender and disability when subjected to sexual assault. The perpetrator may target the disabled girl for any of the following and most likely due to a combination of them; because she is perceived to be innocent, weak, passive, unable or unlikely to speak out, or unlikely to be believed by others to be the object of a sexual assault. Such acts result in multiple violations of rights including non-discrimination, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, protection from violence, abuse and exploitation, protection of personal integrity, right to health, and access to justice.

The intersections of multiple discrimination have been recognised as a significant barrier to the enjoyment and exercise of rights by UN treaty bodies. In addition to the concern shown by your own Committee,[1] intersectional and multiple discrimination including on the basis of gender and disability has been the subject of Concluding Observations and General Recommendations and Comments by the CEDAW and CRC Committees.[2]

And I am very pleased to share this panel with Mme Schulz who has been a great support to IDA and national DPOs in ensuring that the rights of disabled women and girls are systematically kept on the agenda during CEDAW Committee’s reviews, most recently at their last session with respect to Austria, Cyprus, Hungary and FYROM.

Whilst it is an encouraging sign that treaty bodies are calling on States to take notice of and address intersectional and multiple discrimination, there is a need for further specific guidance; as there continues to be a disconnect between the law and the lived experiences of women and girls with disabilities, leading to their marginalisation in society.

Most equality and anti-discrimination laws do not recognise multiple and intersectional discrimination and rather categorise identity and require each protected characteristic to be dealt with in isolation. Such an approach is divorced from human experience, necessarily falls short of reflecting peoples’ sense of self, and thus fails to protect their human dignity. In some jurisdictions, victims of discrimination can only bring a complaint on one ground and even where a remedy can be sought and obtained, this necessarily fails to recognise the heightened disadvantage experienced by the victim, and the corresponding harm caused, and cannot adequately provide redress nor restore one’s individual dignity. However, when intersectional discrimination is recognised in the law and infuses the determination of liability, it is more likely that it will also provide effective remedies in order to provide, or at least attempt to provide, restoration from the full scope of injury and disadvantage caused by this form of discrimination.

The recognition of intersectional and multiple discrimination has significant implications for policymakers. And clearly, the role of data collection and consultation is critical to ensure that all components of one’s identity are recognised and captured, particularly concerning those subgroups which remain largely invisible. Only then can laws and policies be better informed and better formulated to meet one’s specific needs and to uphold one’srights in the context of one’s diverse lived experiences.

To conclude, IDA very much welcomes this thematic discussion and encourages the Committee to adopt a General Comment which could propose much needed guidance for States and other stakeholders on how to ensure that policies and programmes respect, promote and fulfil the rights of disabled women and girls.

We would also urge the Committee to consult and exchange with not only DPOs and civil society on this theme, but also other UN treaty bodies such as the CESCR Committee - currently working on a GC on the right to sexual and reproductive health; as well as the CEDAW & CRC Committees, all of which address the rights of women and/or girls with disabilities as it relates to non-discrimination, violence and sexual and reproductive rights, among others. There is an evident need for greater consultation and exchange with them given the intersecting mandates and to ensure the mainstreaming and reinforcement of CRPD standards as well as to uphold the coherence of messages being issued to States for increased compliance. Perhaps a joint General Comment could even be envisaged with the CEDAW Committee and others, much in the model of the first ever joint GC currently being prepared between the CEDAW & CRC Committees on harmful practices.

Finally, I’d just like to remind you of the lunchtime side event co hosted by IDA and DRAF on indigenous women and girls with disabilities which will further explore the theme of this session.

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[1] CRPD Committee Concluding Observations on Argentina, CRPD/C/ARG/CO/1, 2012, para 50; Hungary, CRPD/C/HUN/CO/1, 2012, para 20; Peru, CRPD/C/PER/CO/1, 2012, paras 12, 13, 14;

[2] Among others, CEDAW Committee Concluding Observations on Austria, CEDAW/C/AUT/CO/7-8, 2013, paras 48-49; Cyprus, CEDAW/C/CYP/CO/6-7, 2013, paras 31-32; Hungary, CEDAW/C/HUN/CO/7-8, 2013, paras 9, 36, 37; FYROM, CEDAW/C/MKD/CO/4-5, 2013, paras 37-38; Grenada, CEDAW/C/GRD/CO/1-5, 2012, para 36; Liechtenstein, CEDAW/C/LIE/CO/4, 2011,para 4; Djibouti, CEDAW/C/DJI/CO/1-3, 2011, paras 34, 35; Ethiopia, CEDAW/C/ETH/CO/6-7, 2011, para 39; Zambia, CEDAW/C/ZMB/CO/5-6, 2011, para 40; Belarus, CEDAW/C/BLR/CO/7, 2011, para 42; Italy, CEDAW/C/ITA/CO/6, 2011, para 41; Germany, CEDAW/C/DEU/CO/6/Add.1, 2009, para 38; Lithuania, CEDAW/C/LTU/CO/4/Add.1, 2008, para 84; CRC Committee Concluding Observations on Seychelles, CRC/C/SYC/CO/2-4, 2012, para 35; Cook Islands, 2012, CRC/C/COK/CO/1, para 25; Myanmar, CRC/C/MMR/CO/3-4, 2012, para 35; Namibia, CRC/C/NAM/CO/2-3, 2012, para 51; Singapore, CRC/C/SGP/CO/2-3, 2011, para 30; Denmark, CRC/C/DNK/CO/4, 2011, para 32; Belgium, CRC/C/BEL/CO/3-4, 2010, para32; Philippines, CRC/C/PHL/CO/3-4, 2009, para 30. The CERD Committee has made frequent references to multiple and intersectional discrimination with respect to ethnicity and religion, race and religion, and gender and race.