Tag Archives: CEDAW

Speaking for Disabled women at the ESVC Global summit at the Excel Centre Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM

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flyer

 

Wednesday, June 11th, 3 – 4PM

Excel Centre, ESVC Summit, Room 1

Chair: Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Minister for Women

Key-note speaker: Jane Kiragu, African Women’s Leadership Network

Marai Larasi, Director, IMKAAN, black feminist anti-VAWG organisation

Elizabeth Gordon, Survivor, artist and campaigner, Non-State Torture

Eleanor Lisney, Sisters of Frida, a Disabled Women’s Co-operative

 

 

It is Gender Inequality that lies at the root of all gender-based violence – from sexual harassment on a bus to sexual violence in conflict. It is gender inequality that must be addressed to end sexual violence in conflict or rape anywhere, domestic violence, trafficking and prostitution. Essential, albeit not sufficient is a stand-alone transformative gender equality goal with a powerful VAWG element in the post-2015 Framework.

Contact:Annette Lawson,Chair@nawo.org.uk

National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

www.nawo.org.uk

Registered Charity Number: 803701

Input from Frida’s sisters convinces UN to call for UK action on disabled women

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Press report from John Pring, Disability News Service, about Sisters of Frida’s involvement with CEDAW

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Among its conclusions, included in a new report on the government’s performance, the CEDAW committee expressed alarm at the high rates of unemployment faced by disabled women, and at the low number of disabled and black and minority ethnic women in parliament and the judiciary.

Eleanor Lisney, SoF’s founder, said it was the first time that disabled women had “actively contributed and participated in the UK shadow report”.

Lisney and fellow SoF member Eleanor Firman travelled to Geneva for CEDAW’s examination of the UK government, with their visit funded partly by the National Union of Journalists and a London trades council.

Lisney told the CEDAW committee during a briefing that the cumulative impact of the UK government’s cuts had affected every area of disabled women’s lives.

She said she had been able to explain to the committee “the urgency and the desperation” felt by disabled women as a result of the austerity regime, and how many of them felt “shell-shocked” by the breadth and depth of the cuts, with some even killing themselves.

Lisney said she had trained and worked on disabled women’s issues around the shadow report for more than three years, work that had led to her founding SoF.

She said she was “quite proud” of SoF’s CEDAW work, and is now hoping to secure funding to collect data on the experiences of some of the hidden groups within the population of disabled women, such as those suffering domestic violence, and black and minority ethnic communities.

She said: “Those speaking for disabled people are concentrating on [cuts and reforms to] disability living allowance, because these are the people who have a voice, but I am thinking of those who don’t.

“These people are not represented in the disability movement, but it is just so important for them to be involved and speak out.

See the rest of the article at The Fed website

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

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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.

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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:  http://ssrn.com/author=1875099.  

Day 3 UK Government CEDAW examination

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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

Day 2 Cedaw Lunch time briefing

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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

Disabled women in Geneva for the 55th session of CEDAW questioning UK government on women’s rights

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” It is essential that disabled women are represented in processes like CEDAW 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”

says Zara Todd, Sisters of Frida steering group member.

For the first time, disabled women (Sisters of Frida) will take part with other women’s groups from the UK in Geneva to address the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) so as to highlight the problems impacting on women’s equality in the UK and what our Government must be examined on, and held to account over, by the UN. This is a unique opportunity for women to raise the key issues they are facing with the UN and the eyes of the world will be on the UK and their progress on women.

On July 17th the UK’s record on women’s rights will come under the spotlight internationally as the UK Government report to CEDAW on their progress. (They were last examined by the UN Committee in 2008. )

Women’s rights in the UK have come to a standstill and in fact some are being reversed. Government policies and austerity measures are disproportionately impacting on disabled women and the rights that were fought so hard by disabled people for are now being reduced. CEDAW is as an important instrument to disabled women as CRPD is important to disabled people and they are inter related.

The Women’s Resource Centre has coordinated a network of organisations across the UK who have produced a detailed shadow report which reflects on the Government’s report to CEDAW which was submitted in 2011. In October 2012 the CEDAW Working Group sent a list of key issues and suggested questions for the Committee to ask the Government to highlight the extent of discrimination against women in the UK which the Government gave a piecemeal response to in February 2013.

The shadow report – Women’s Equality in the UK: A health check – brings together issues impacting on the realisation of women’s rights under CEDAW in the UK in order to support the Government to make positive changes in the future.  These are the recommendations put forth in the shadow report on disabled women’s rights

  • Take into account the intersection of gender and disability and mainstream disabled women in all Government policies
  • Implement an effective data collection system which is disaggregated by sex, age, disability and region, which can inform the developmentof policies and programmes to promote equal opportunities forwomen and girls with disabilities
  • Specific strategies are needed to target disabled LBT women as they experience multiple discrimination through homophobia within disabled communities and services, and negative attitudes to disabled people in LGB&T communities and services

On health and social care

  • Take steps to address the poor health conditions of women withpsychosocial disabilities. Disabled women typically receive healthservices that are targeted at women in general or at disabled people in general, services need to be targeted specifically for them
  • Improving access to mental health services for disabled women must be accomplished by services that respect the right of disabled womento make their own choices, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Allocate more financial resources to Social Service Departments,requiring them to use the interpretations of the social model of disability when assessing disabled people’s support needs for a ‘care package’
  • Ensure women and girls with disabilities are educated about sexual and reproductive health, including Sexually Transmitted Infections and maternal services and adopt reforms to improve healthcare services and facilities, including in respect of sexual and reproductive health

Political and public life

  • Educate media about the discrimination disabled people experience, and encourage them to report the ‘real’ stories including monitoringthe portrayal of women with disabilities in the media alongside industry self-regulation
  • The UK Government should offer extra support for disabled womenwho want to become MPs, councilors or other elected officials totackle their under-representation in public policy

Economic and social benefits

  • Simplify the application process to the benefits system. Most importantly, the system should recognise that disabled people are experts on their needs and the difficulties they face. The benefits should allow for them to remove the barriers they experience on a daily basis

Disability hate crime and violence against disabled women

  •  Ensure steps are taken to address the heightened risk for girls and women with disabilities of becoming victims of violence, abuse,exploitation and harmful practices, such as forced marriage, in thehome, community and institutions
  • Effective legislation and policies must be put in place, including Women – focused legislation and policies that include disability, to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against women with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted
  • Ensure that both services and information for victims are madeaccessible to women and girls with disabilities which guarantee their access to redress and protection, including training of police and others and increasing the number of accessible domestic abuse refuge services

Rural women

  •  Increase accessibility in public transport, and train bus/train staff to assist disabled women travelers

We believe that the way the UK Government is implementing welfare reform is having a significant and vastly disproportionate effect on disabled women. These policies on welfare reform are failing to ensure the rights of disabled women and impact assessments are not carried out properly resulting in erosion of the rights which they currently have. The regression of human rights being conducted against UK citizens in the name of welfare has a disproportionate and exponential impact on disabled people. The changes to legal aid means that disabled women have no recourse to support against the discriminations further compounded by gender, race, sexual orientation, the class system, and underlying social deprivation,”

says Eleanor Lisney, Co-ordinator of Sisters of Frida, together with the Glasgow Disability Alliance (who also submitted a report to CEDAW )

The Appendix 36: General Recommendation 18 – Disabled women is at http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Appendix-36_General-Recommendation-18_Disabled-women_FINAL2.pdf (PDF)

Word doc Appendix-36_General-Recommendation-18_Disabled-women_FINAL2

The full shadow report Women’s Equality in the UK: A health check is at http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/our-work/cedaw/cedaw-shadow-report/

For more information or interviews contact Zara Todd : zaraltodd@hotmail.com 0044 (0) 07952185958 and follow @FridasSisters (twitter), information about other groups from

Women Resource Centre Policy Officer Charlotte Gage,  charlotte@wrc.org.uk or charlotte.gage.uk@gmail.com 0044 (0) 7841508231 @womnsresource

Notes to editors

Sisters of Frida (sisofrida.org) is an experimental co operative of disabled and allied women seeking a new way of sharing experiences, mutual support and relationships with different networks.

The delegation to Geneva is made up of a variety of women’s organisations from around the UK who will be highlighting specific issues relevant to their work and the women they work with as well as bringing issues from organisations in the UK who are unable to attend.

Members of the delegation include:

  • Committee on the Administration of Justice (Northern Ireland)
  • Engender (Scotland)
  • National Alliance of Women’s Organisations
  • North East Women’s Network
  • Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform
  • Older Women’s Network Europe
  • Sisters of Frida
  • Southall Black Sisters
  • Wales Assembly of Women
  • Women’s Resource Centre

There are also representatives from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Scottish Human Rights Commission and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission attending to provide evidence in their roles as National Human Rights Institutions.

Day 1 Meeting the CEDAW working group UK delegation in Geneva

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with the IWRAW training group for CEDAW

with the IWRAW training group for CEDAW

“No ability to exhaust domestic law renders CEDAW meaningless”  Cris McCurley from NE Women Network

At dinner by Lake Geneva

At dinner by Lake Geneva