Monthly Archives: July 2013

Post CEDAW 55th session and disabled women’s access to the justice


Poster at the Palais des Nations

A main consensus among all the UK NGOs who went to the 55th CEDAW session in Geneva was how access to justice was being eroded by the austerity measures put into effect by the present UK coalition government.

As Sisters of Frida members, we self funded ourselves when we went to Geneva to join the other NGOs. We saw it  important that disabled women were represented with other women organisations (and as a precursor experience to the CRPD coming up later).  There was a rush to get creditation to go (many thanks to NAWO for helping us with that) and research about accessible accomodation, travel, maps, travel documents etc). CEDAW was part of the whole ‘justice’ dimension – our rights were not granted us as a result of the benign good nature of our government but because of the international campaigns for human rights set about into conventions by the United Nations and the European Union (with rulings such as by the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg). These are some of the human rights instruments that we can use – even if we have to exhaust the domestic legal systems first. This is where we can hold our own government to account.

I felt hugely inadequate to the task in comparison – there was so much to take in. Even when we had contributed to the shadow report (credit to Sister of Frida member, Dr Armineh Soorenian) there were so many welfare reform changes to remember and so many cuts to disabled people services (without the disaggregated data) that we needed to prioritise and formulate as questions and recommendations to the CEDAW committee  .  We could have made a better case for disabled women if we had more experience in the procedures but then the essential fact was that we were there as disabled women and our presence were felt and many of the sister NGOs included disabled women in their presentations. A word of caution for disabled women taking part in these CEDAW sessions is the pace and pressure – as someone with a chronic fatigue syndrome (post polio) I had to withdraw from certain things.  It might have affected my temper too – I apologise unreservedly for the moments when it got a bit frayed.

–Eleanor Lisney

Stephanie Ortholeva‘s article – Women with Disabilities and the Justice System: Rights without Remedies    at the World Justice Project website is great in giving the whole access to justice issue a framework. She’s kindly allowed us to repost it here.


One example of how society has come to view gender and disability is demonstrated by the iconographic historical symbol of justice, the blindfolded Lady Justice. In a creative book, “Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms”, Yale law professors Resnik and Curtis trace the philosophical uses of the symbol, “Blindness as a deficit presumes that sight is requisite to understanding, whereas blindness as an asset presumes that sight can corrupt judgment.”  This iconic image highlights the ongoing debates about the role of women with disabilities in the justice system.  Historically and to today, many legal systems restrict the legal capacity of women who are blind, as well as women with other disabilities, solely because of their disability.  This contrasts with that blind (or blinded) icon of justice, Lady Justice, seen as a symbol of rationality and even handedness.

International Normative Framework. 

The intersection between the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), both address legal capacity, access to justice, equal recognition before the law, gender and disability stereotyping, state due diligence obligations, among other issues. CRPD Article 6 adopts a gendered lens-recognizing the multiple and intersecting dimensions of women’s lives  and Article 12 requires equal recognition before the law, or legal capacity. Article 13 includes the right to access to justice, requiring States to provide procedural and age-appropriate accommodations, to facilitate effective participation.”  CEDAW Article 15 requires states to ensure that men and women have equal access to the legal system, ensuring legal autonomy.  Because women with disabilities have rights under both CEDAW and CRPD, State Parties have a due diligence obligation to afford them full and fair legal capacity, and access to the justice system.

Addressing Violence Through the Legal System. 

As noted in “Forgotten Sisters – A Report on Violence against Women with Disabilities:  & Overview of Its Nature, Scope, Causes & Consequences” authored by me and Professor Hope Lewis, violence against women with disabilities occurs in the home, community, perpetrated and/or condoned by the state and private institutions, and in the transnational sphere. Forms include physical, psychological, sexual, financial, entrapment, degradation, neglect, trafficking, detention, denial of health care, forced sterilization and psychiatric treatment, among others.  Women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence than non-disabled women, over a longer period, resulting in more severe injuries.  Their abuser may also be their caregiver; someone relied on for care or mobility.  In various ways the justice system itself (and therefore the state) perpetrates and/or condones the violence through various barriers.

Women with Disabilities as Witnesses. 

The justice system often fails to see women with disabilities as competent witnesses, a result of damaging stereotypes, or difficulties in communication without accommodations, as highlighted by the work of the Disability Discrimination Legal Service. The general failure of society to see women with disabilities as sexual beings and the tendency to “infantilize” them, while on the other hand, seeing women with mental disabilities as hypersexual and lacking self-control, results in their complaints or testimony being disregarded.

As noted by Benedet and Grant in “Hearing the Sexual Assault Complaints of Women with Mental Disabilities”, the mere fact that a woman has a disability, especially psycho-social or intellectual disabilities, or that she require assistive communication or accommodations, may result in the justice system viewing her as lacking credibility.  Judges may require more corroborating evidence when the witness is a woman with disabilities than in other cases, and prior mental health treatment may be used to discredit testimony. The complainant frequently does not serve as sole witness against the accused. Women with cognitive disabilities may have more difficulty with long term memory or remembering the sequence of events, which may make them appear less credible. Paternalistic attitudes may cause the legal system to view them as too fragile to withstand rigors of examination.

Exclusions of testimony are particularly problematic in gender-based violence and sexual assault cases, where the testimony of the parties and the credibility of the witnesses are exceptionally important, placing women with disabilities at even greater risk, since perpetrators may be more likely to attack them because they know that their complaints may be taken less seriously.  If prior complaints were dismissed, they are less likely to report abuse in the future, perpetuating the violence.

Forced Sterilization. 

Under the CRPD, forced, coerced or non-consensual sterilization is a violation of human rights, and women with disabilities have the right to retain fertility on an equal basis with others.  International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics Guidelines state that only women themselves can give ethically valid consent to their sterilization, and sterilization cannot be made a condition of access to medical care or other benefit.  Despite legal prohibitions, involuntary sterilization has long been used to restrict the fertility of some persons with disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities.

The failure of some countries to prohibit involuntary sterilization has been challenged before international tribunals.  In Gauer v France, at the European Court of Human Rights, a case was filed on behalf of five women who were sterilized without their consent as a form of contraception.  Sterilization also has been used as a technique for menstrual management, but it is rarely the only option and should not be done without informed consent.  Women with disabilities should have access to voluntary sterilization on an equal basis with others but not forced to undergo such procedures.

Discriminatory Termination of Parental Rights. 

Stereotypical views of women with psychosocial, intellectual or physical disabilities as “unfit” mothers may result in termination of parental rights by social service agencies or through divorce and child visitation and custody proceedings, especially when the other parent does not have a disability, according to the research of Lightfoot et al. in “The Inclusion of Disability as a Condition for Termination of Parental Rights.”  Fear of women with disabilities as parents persists, although evidence demonstrates that parents with disabilities are no more likely to maltreat children, or to raise so-called “defective” children than non-disabled parents.

Statutes in many countries on termination of parental rights, child custody and divorce include disability-related grounds for termination of parental rights or loss of custody, and may emphasize and focus on disability status rather than actual parenting skill or behavior, implicitly equating parental disability with parental unfitness.  Because of such legal definitions and societal prejudices, mothers with disabilities may be subjected to greater scrutiny by social service agencies than non-disabled women.  Fear of being incorrectly perceived as an unfit mother by a court on the basis of disability, and the breakdown of their relationship with children, has frequently discouraged mothers with disabilities from separating from an abusive partner.

The Disability and Parental Rights Legislative Change Project, University of Minnesota, “Guide for Creating Legislative Change” notes that in order to prevent disability discrimination, statutes should be free of discriminatory language; affirm that the statute cannot be used for disability discrimination; acknowledge that successful parenting can occur with accommodations; and require multidisciplinary approaches to address this situation.

These selected examples of limitations on access to justice for women with disabilities, and the ways in which the justice system itself violates their human rights, accentuates the urgent need to include issues of concern to women with disabilities in legal reform efforts addressing access to justice.

* This article is adapted from Stephanie Ortoleva & Hope Lewis: “Forgotten Sisters – A Report on Violence against Women with Disabilities:  & Overview of Its Nature, Scope, Causes & Consequences” (August 2012) and  Stephanie Ortoleva, “Inaccessible Justice:  Persons with Disabilities and the Legal System,” International Law Society of America, Journal of International and Comparative Law, 17 ILSA J. Int’l & Comp. L. 281 (Spring 2011), both of which can be accessed at:  

Have You Brought Your Disability? Here’s Your Double Standard


Reblogged from and with thanks to Free Thought Blogs written by Anita J.

I want you to picture this hypothetical scenario. Upon arriving at the destination, a woman is about to get out of the car. One of the lesser known persons waiting outside lends his hand offering to help which she politely refuses. A moment later as she’s almost done, he suddenly grabs her inappropriately under the shoulder and pulls her out, ignoring that she had declined and making her uncomfortable. What would you call this act? Disrespect? Harassment? Some may say groping, depending upon the nature of contact and gender dimensions involved. Most people, however, would surely agree it is unacceptable behaviour to touch another person like that without their consent. They would probably express their disagreement by openly questioning his action.

Now imagine the situation happening for real. Only this time, she was getting out of the car and transferring onto her wheelchair. The same incident took place but nobody in the scene showed any objection. Why would they when they don’t see it as problematic? When all of it was seen as natural or even ‘good’ conduct? No one confronted the man’s behaviour. Neither did I. All I could do later on was wishing the anger and frustration had hit me before the pain and humiliation. Yes, I’m that disabled woman.

And why pain? Because this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced lack of consideration for personal boundaries from others, nor mine an isolated or rare incident for a disabled person. Meeting someone with a visible disability it seems is a free golden ticket for many to break away from those darned social norms they otherwise have to follow as civil beings. Unwarranted pats, strangers inquiring about my impairment before even asking my name, women I meet for the first time wanting to examine my hands or legs.. all that had become so routine that until the age of 19 I didn’t recognize the oppression of it and used to feel guilty when at times I refused participation. Like somehow I owed it to them. Had the above mentioned incident happened to a non-disabled woman, the conversation would have immediately (and rightfully) been on indecency, violation of consent, unsafe environments, and every other argument that points in the direction of disrespecting autonomy and infringement of bodily integrity. But add disability to the equation and the very same reasoning gets replaced with muddled excuses or efforts to frame it as an overreaction to a not-so-serious issue. I can almost hear it.

“But he was just trying to help you.”
“I think it was made clear I didn’t need it. Besides if you really want to help someone, isn’t following their reaction the right way to do it?”

“I’m sure his intentions weren’t bad.”
“Maybe not. But intentions aren’t always necessary for something to be inappropriate. I could attempt to insult a man by calling him a pussy and it would still be sexist even if engaging in sexism wasn’t the plan on my mind.”

“Ok so you’re disabled and now you’re saying you shouldn’t be assisted? Isn’t that being arrogant?”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t ever want any help. I’m just saying I didn’t require it in this particular case. What he did was the opposite, it was hurt. Please understand the difference.”

“Fine, I get that it must have been bad for you. Now just let it go. Why are we even talking about this?”
I don’t know, maybe because for a brief moment I had the delusion I was equally human…

Let’s have a look at this in the larger social context. Study after study show that women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence than non-disabled women, are likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of the violence. Similar but more often than non-disabled women, their abuser is someone close to them. It could be their guardian, spouce, relative or caregiver. [Quoting one of the links] “Frequently they do not report the violence. Institutions of the justice system are often physically inaccessible and do not provide reasonable accommodation, they often lack access to legal protection and representation, law enforcement officials and the legal community are ill-equipped to address the violence, their testimony is often not viewed as credible by the justice system and they are not privy to the same information available to non-disabled women.”

Yet response to this obvious reality remains quite minimal. The mainstream media and larger public while becoming increasingly conscious and giving more visibility to awareness generation regarding gender issues, are yet to turn proper attention towards those affecting disabled women. What are the reasons they face such discrimination? According to the same study, “women and girls with disabilities are at high risk of gender-based and other forms of violence based on social stereotypes and biases that attempt to dehumanize or infantilize them, exclude or isolate them, target them for sexual and other forms of violence, and put them at greater risk of institutionalized violence.”

And how do we know that? From countless experiences like the one above.

Statement for CEDAW Comittee Status of Women with Disabilities in the Republic of Serbia


Lepojka Čarević


Many thanks to Lepojka Čarević who kindly allowed us to publish this oral statement at the CEDAW 55th Session

Madam Chair and Members of the Committee,

I am woman with disability and I represent four organizations of women with disabilities, who participated in writing of Shadow report. At the top of these organizations is the union “Network … OUT OF CIRCLE – Serbia” whose mission is to improve the position of women with disabilities and the elimination of all forms of violence and discrimination.

Our Shadow report covers the situation of women with disabilities in Serbia in all spheres of social life, but I want to particularly draw attention to two areas:

The first area of ​​discrimination against women with disabilities is the state’s response to sexual violence. The crime “rape” in our Criminal code does not apply when victims are women with disabilities. Crime that is used here is “sexual intercourse with defenseless person” where the prescribed sentence is less than for raping. For women with disabilities cannot be applied the Family low measure of “eviction abuser from the apartment”, because they depend on the abuser in performing everyday functions (getting up, dressing, toilet …). In Serbia, still there are no support services for them to meet these needs. They cannot get away anywhere, and the existing safe houses are not accessible and do not accommodate them. Institutions where they ask for protection are not accessible and social benefits do not give them priority in realization.

The second area is to protect the reproductive health of women with disabilities. The use of these rights is extremely difficult to implement, because of the prejudice that they are asexual, that they do not need to have sex; they do not need to give birth. There are only 9 gynecological hydraulic chairs, and one mammography available for women with disabilities in the health centers.

Lepojka Čarević

Oral Statement (CAPE VERDE) to CEDAW Committee 55th session (from disabled women association)


Where Cape Verde is concerned, the only NGO here was from a disabled women association! We thank them for their statement which shows how similar is the discrimination is against disabled women globally


Committee of Women with Disabilities of Capeverdean Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities

 Good afternoon Madam Chair and Members of the CEDAW Committee,

I am Jandira Monteiro, reading the following statement on behalf of MARIA NALDI DA VEIGA who is present here but is Portuguese-speaking.

Maria represents the Committee of Women with Disabilities of the Capeverdean Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities and three Groups of Non-Governmental Women’s Organizations.


We would like to highlight the following issues concerning women and girls with disabilities:

  • the lack of inclusive and quality education;
  • there is no equal employment opportunities for women with disabilities compared to men with disabilities and women without disabilities;
  • the forced sterilization which is a form of violence against women and girls with disability;
  • lack of special assistance mechanisms to have full access to justice and protection mechanisms especially in reporting cases of violence against women
  • the experience of multiple discrimination based both on gender, disability and other systemic of historic discrimination. Due to this intersectionality, they often face inequality in access, opportunities and benefits


Although the right to education for all children is safeguarded in the Article 36 of the basic law on education of Cape Verde, girls with disabilities are excluded and have their right to education violated. The participation of the female students is 44% and for boys is 56% according to the gender assessment from 2009. If, in general terms, it appears that girls and women are at disadvantage relatively to boys/men with the regard to the rate of school attendance in Cape Verde, this disadvantage is even more pronounced when we talk about girls/women with disabilities. Girls with disabilities are excluded from the education system, either by the family that often overprotects or underestimates or by the system that is not comprehensive or affordable.


The provision of reasonable accommodation and accessibility in general, by widening access programs to the professional and work world, both in access to vocational training and employment opportunities also emphasized as necessary. Women with disabilities reported discrimination in access to job, employment and income generation. As a result, more women, particularly women with disabilities often feel trapped in abusive relationships because there are no effective measures to survive independently if they decide to leave such a relationship.


In Cape Verde, there is the practice of sterilization of women with disabilities, especially women with psychosocial disabilities without the informed consent of the concerned person.

The Government of Cape Verde should create conditions to ensure communication in Braille and sign language including other necessary assistive mechanisms for women and girls with disabilities in order for them to be systematically consulted and actively involved in the formulation of laws, policies and strategies relating to them in all areas.


The Constitution of the Republic of Cape Verde does not provide a comprehensive definition of discrimination against women with disabilities. It is critical that the Government of Cape Verde to recognize in our Constitution and ordinary laws that denial of reasonable accommodation is considered a form of discrimination. The denials of reasonable accommodation are lack of braille programme, no official recognition of sign language, lack of accessibility to public and private buildings including other necessary assistive mechanisms.


The State should take steps towards changing societal attitudes by increasing awareness about the rights of women and girls with disabilities with the appropriate public and private actors, through better information, education and training.


There is a lack of available data and studies on the violence against women and girls with disabilities. Hence, it is crucial to prioritise a comprehensive database on women with disabilities in Cape Verde.


Thank you!

Day 3 UK Government CEDAW examination


In the room where the CEDAW committee questions the UK government delegation.

On Day 3 (July 17th), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women  considered the seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

This is the day we were building towards with the oral presentations, lunch presentations – we gave the CEDAW committee our concerns to help them formulate questions to the those representing the UK government – the panel was led by Helene Reardon-Bond, Director of Policy, Government Equalities Office. The delegation of the United Kingdom in the room included representatives of the Government Equalities Office, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations at Geneva, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Joining the discussion from London via video-conference were representatives from the Treasury Solicitors, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health, the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Governments, the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.

It was a very long day from 10 am – 5pm with a break for lunch. The exchange of questions and responses do not have any input from NGOs but we did make some responses for example when Helene Reardon-Bond said there’s no evidence whatsoever to show that women are disproportionately affected by austerity measures – it was greeted with derisive laughter.

Some of the questions raised about or on issues impacting specifically on disabled women were:

– question on disabled women in politics (response given was on the available funding provided for by Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund and stats on people who had been awarded broken by gender difference – I didnt jot down the numbers in time)

– question on lack of employment opportunities for disabled women (response given was on the Disability Employment Strategy ? and how more funding would be given to Access to Work to help disabled get into and stay in employment)

– question about Universal Credit and how it could affect the dependence of women in domestic abuse (response was that payment exceptions may be possible, including the splitting of payments in specific situations of potential abuse. )

The last response might also apply, where disabled people are concerned, to carers of family situations?

Of course questions pertaining to access to justice, Legal Aid, residence requirements, domenstic violence have also relevance to disabled women in that disability intersects across gender issues.

Here is the UN Press Office  press release on the UK Government’s examination by CEDAW.

When the meeting was over we had to write a series of recommendations for the CEDAW committee to consider. We went off to do them according to our own expertise areas – we were to focus on the topics discussed unless there was some burning issues which were left out – these can be incorporated into the mentioned areas.

the UK delegation lead by Helene Reardon-Bond, (next to the chairperson)

Read also When cuts cost lives: women’s economic independence and domestic violence (Scarlet Harris, Touchstone Blog)

Opening statement to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

Watch the videos (no captions and sound not brilliant)

thank you Charlotte Gage for links

At the European Parliament Disability Intergroup, Strasbourg


written July 14th 2013

European Parliament, Strasbourg

European Parliament, Strasbourg

Last week the Disability Intergroup* of the European Parliament met for the launch of a new report on Women and Disability prepared by rapporteur Angelika Werthmann (MEP). In her introductory speech Ms Werthmann explained the initiative had sprung from a (non-disabled) women’s group concerned to further include disabled women in their focus, but that for her  (and many in the womens group), disability was an entirely new subject so preparing the report had been a learning curve. Personally I felt a bit wary of what she might say initially, but  then before she expanded her presentation she made a specific invitation to Intergroup members and attendees to consider sending her further amendments which would be factored in the final publication.

Her report highlights the specific barriers to full participation and inclusion in society faced by disabled women, and was warmly welcomed by all attending. A representative of the European Disability Forum congratulated Ms Werthmann’s research and the initiative taken , then suggested that the report  include more explanation of the different ways in which disability has been modelled historically.  Others agreed the paper was excellently researched and similarly noted that occasionally the social model perspective was not always applied, and some more attention here could improve what was a significant contribution. The Greek MEP finally reminded us all that austerity was hitting women and particularly disabled women harder, and more so in the southern EZ than the north.

Sisters of Frida member, Eleanor Firman, attended the meeting and is making contact with the Vice Chair of the Disability Intergroup (UK MEP Richard Howitt) regarding potential SoF amendments.

*The European Intergroups are cross-party committees of MEPs focussed on a common interest or concern – a bit like the All Party Parliamentary Groups we have in the UK).

– Eleanor Firman

Day 2 Cedaw Lunch time briefing


Today we had the lunchtime briefing to the CEDAW committee. We took our handouts and postcards and we had the Sister of Frida’s banner to decorate the room with. It was a small windowless hot room and we all trooped in – some people had to sit next door.

When the committee all came in Charlotte welcomed them and we introduced ourselves briefly with who we are, our organisation and area expertise. I was taken aback when the first question was on disabled women. I spoke about how the impact of cuts affected every area of disabled woman’s lives – even if it does not specifically mention disability and that some have taken their lives as a result of the cumulative impact. We then went on to other issues in particular legal aid, access to justice,  and the need for proof of residence of over 12 months. Hanana Sidiqui of Southall Black Sisters spoke eloquently about the cuts to their services.

We were then told the UK raporteur wanted to meet us at 4pm so we had a bit of a break while Eleanor and I started our information briefing as was required.

At 6pm we went to the brilliant Big Voices exhibit and met a few more committee members and folks. A very full day.

Lunchtime briefing with CEDAW committee