Frida’s sisters ensure UN will examine disabled women’s issues


theweeksubThe particular barriers faced by disabled women have been included for the first time in a crucial report to the United Nations, thanks to the campaigning work of a disabled women’s co-operative.
The UK CEDAW Shadow Report – produced by a coalition of women’s and human rights organisations – will be submitted to a UN committee that is preparing to examine the UK government’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Previous UK shadow reports have failed to highlight the particular barriers faced by disabled women.
But thanks to the efforts of the disabled women’s co-operative Sisters of Frida, which submitted detailed evidence, these issues have been highlighted in the new report, Women’s Equality in the UK: A Health Check.
A UN committee will be examining the UK government’s commitment to CEDAW in Geneva in July, and will be considering the new shadow report, among other submissions.
The report says disabled women have been “disproportionally disadvantaged by the Government’s austerity measures”, while “cuts to health and social care, public services and welfare benefits have led to disabled people taking their own lives rather than live with the impact of these cuts increasing the barriers they face on a daily basis”.
It says that “restricting eligibility to ‘care’ and closing the Independent Living Fund, removing financial support for those who leave work because of a health condition or impairment, and removing financial support for disabled people seeking legal aid” infringes disabled people’s rights under both CEDAW and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It says that disabled women’s concerns are often overlooked in government policy because of a lack of research, with their needs “often excluded in the mainstream disability movement as well as the women’s movement”. The report says it was “particularly difficult to find any data on disabled women”.
And it says there is no evidence that the government’s access to elected office fund, set up in 2010, has had any impact on disabled women, and calls on the government to “offer extra support for disabled women who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials to tackle their under-representation in public policy”.
It also calls for action to address the high rates of unemployment of disabled women.
And it points to “negative attitudes towards pregnant disabled women, providing little or no help for them either before or after becoming pregnant, and even suggesting abortion or sterilisation, particularly if the disabled woman is said to have any degree of learning difficulties”.
The report warns that disabled women who have survived violence appear to have remained “invisible” in strategies to address violence against women and girls, while benefit reforms may intensify disabled women’s financial dependence on their partners, which could “increase these women’s vulnerability to abuse and may make it harder for women to leave violent relationships”.
Speaking outside the parliamentary launch of the shadow report, Zara Todd, a member of Sisters of Frida, said a key issue was the lack of statistics about the impact of the government’s austerity programme on disabled women.
She said: “At the moment there is a lot of data about disabled people and how disabled people are affected by the cuts, but there is an assumption that it is gender neutral.
“Actually, there is a great amount of disparity. What you need in order to make change and demonstrate your case is actual numbers.”
Eleanor Lisney, another Sisters of Frida member, said: “Without the data they are not going to do anything about it.”
Lisney also pointed to the issue of domestic violence. “It is quite clear that disabled women are more likely to have domestic violence and that it is far less likely to be picked up [than with non-disabled women].”
Todd said that one of the reasons for the low profile of disabled women’s issues came from within the disability movement.
She said: “There are very few activists in the UK who positively identify as both women’s rights activists and disability activists.
“Part of what Sisters of Frida is hoping to do is to bridge that gap, because disabled women’s issues need to be talked about and need to be acknowledged if we are going to achieve equality for disabled people.”
Sisters of Frida is trying to obtain funding to send at least one of its members to Geneva, to ensure the issues affecting disabled women are highly visible during the examination of the UK government’s record.
14 May 2013