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


theweeksubA United Nations committee has called on the UK government to take action to mitigate the impact of its austerity measures on disabled and older women, after detailed evidence was provided by a user-led women’s co-operative.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said it was concerned about the “negative impact” on disabled and older women of serious cuts in funding to women’s organisations.
The committee was examining the UK government’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
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.
And the committee said it was “particularly concerned” that disabled women were finding it difficult to access pre-natal care and reproductive health services, and called on the UK government to “pay special attention to the health needs” of disabled women.
The committee’s decision to highlight some of the discrimination faced by disabled women is a huge victory for activists in the UK.
The disabled women’s co-operative Sisters of Frida (SoF) had handed detailed evidence to the UK coalition of women’s and human rights organisations which was preparing a crucial “shadow” report for the CEDAW committee.
Nearly all of the issues relating to disabled women that were included by the CEDAW committee in its report had been raised in SoF’s own evidence.
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.”
7 August 2013