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Removing invisibility: "mainstreaming" the rights of disabled women and girls » Women's Courage

Removing invisibility: "mainstreaming" the rights of disabled women and girls

March 7th, 2013 by mraddawi Leave a reply »

“Women and girls need to get their rights, not charities, their rights, their HUMAN rights to be included.”

For my final blog post, I would like to share the following clip:


Please watch even the first few minutes of this video before reading the rest of this post. The video, “Creating a world as it should be: the power of disabled women activists,” documents the powerful messages of 54 disabled women activists from 43 different countries. Each woman is interviewed to get her opinion on how the international and domestic communities should respond to disabled women and girls. The recurring theme that these women beautifully and loudly portray is that disabled women and girls are pitied, or “considered hopeless” by many governments and by many people, even subconsciously.  These women stress the importance of independence. They want to be given the opportunity to advance in society.

They remind us that to do this, to be given the right opportunities, the rights of disabled women and girls needs to become “mainstreamed.” In other worlds, it is time that this issue becomes a priority on the international human rights agenda. Mainstreaming disability perspectives in gender-related work, gender equality and women’s empowerment work is crucial to making progress for disabled women and girls.

Ekaete Umoh, the director of the Family Centered Initiative for Challenged Persons in Nigeria, commented that, “wear everywhere, yet people do not seem to see us.” Thus far, the rights of disabled women and girls has been a “fringe” issue—an issue fought by distinct groups of people, often only those affected by disability either themselves or through family or friends. Disabled female activists like Umoh, who was interviewed in the video above, have been fighting for their rights on their own.

I want to stress the importance of intervention on the international level as initial motivation for community-based intervention.  143 countries signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on December 13, 2006.  The articles of the convention, of which Article 6 was written to specifically address the Rights of Disabled women and children, are to be used as a human rights instrument with a social dimension.  The language stresses  “mainstreaming” the rights of disabled persons as part of the human rights agenda.  Article 1 states,” the purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

However, only 71 countries ratified the Convention. It is ratification of the Convention that actually ensures a nation, its governments, and successive governments fully accept the immediate legal requirements of the convention and agree to its implementation and monitoring.  In many countries wherein the Convention has been ratified, Community –based rehabilitation (CBR) programs  (which are oftentimes designed and co-funded by the WHO and other NGOs working within the country) have been implemented successfully.  CBR programs support people with disabilities in attaining their highest possible level of health through health promotion prevention, medical care rehabilitation and assistive devices. VBR facilities advocate for services that accommodate the right of people with disabilities. And most importantly, CBR programs focus on helping disabled persons develop a high level of confidence and independence. Several beneficiaries of CBR programs have spoken to the success and important of the programs to their personal development.

One such success story comes from Muhammad Akra, a man from Sindh Province, Pakistan.  He became deaf as a teenager due to an illness. Akra described visiting the doctor as a dependent before entering a CBR program and becoming confident and independent: “Being deaf I was always unaware of what they were talking about. If I asked the doctor a  question he usually replied that he had told my family everything. And if I asked my family a  question they always said “don’t worry, nothing special” or “we will tell you later.” Nobody really told me anything – I just had to take the tablets. No-one used sign language and nobody had the time or willingness to communicate with me using pen and paper. Over time  I began to lose my confidence and became very dependent on others. After joining a CBR Programme I slowly gained confidence and developed the courage to face the challenges myself. I started refusing to take a family member with me to the doctor. This forced the doctor to communicate with me directly in writing. Some doctors still ask me to bring  someone with me on my next visit but I always tell them that I am an adult. I feel good as I  have developed self-confidence and have also helped to raise the profile of disability by educating medical professionals.”

There needs to be an increase in the number of countries that not only sign, but RATIFY the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ratifying such an international convention is the first step in enhancing the importance of the rights of disabled women and girls on the national level. I hope to see an increase in ratification and, along with it, the implementation of more international CBR programs on the domestic level.


“Community Based Rehabilitation Guidelines.” World Health Organization. 2010.


“Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” The United Nations Enable: Development and Human Rights for All. http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?navid=14&pid=150.

Jolly, Debbie. “The UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities.” The European Network on Independent Living, 2010.  <http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2010/9789241548052_health_eng.pdf>.


1 comment

  1. Casey says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Disability rights is not something we talked about in class so I was really interested to read your post. In much of the research I did for my blog I also encountered a similar mindset from women who just want to be recognized as human, notes a woman and not as a disabled person. It is important that we incorporate all human rights when discussing women’s rights.

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