Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
New York, 9-11 June 2015
Item 5 (d) of the provisional agenda*
Matters related to the implementation of the Convention: informal panel discussion
Addressing the vulnerability and exclusion of persons with disabilities: the situation of women and girls, children’s right to education, disasters and humanitarian crises
Note by the Secretariat
The present note was prepared by the Secretariat on the basis of the contributions of experts received through the Bureau of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to facilitate the informal panel discussion on the theme “Addressing the vulnerability and exclusion of persons with disabilities: the situation of women and girls, children’s right to education, disasters and humanitarian crises”, to be held at the eighth session of the Conference of States Parties.
Introduction 1. Persons with disabilities experience exclusion owing to multiple forms of discrimination and inaccessible environments in many spheres of life. In addition, persons with disabilities experience vulnerabilities in a heightened manner compared with the general population. Multiple forms of discrimination are often associated with exclusion and vulnerabilities. In this context, it is essential to review available data and information concerning the situation of those belonging to subgroups within the general population with disabilities and to inform policies and programmes, including their implementation, in order to explore best ways to address such conditions through specific laws, policies and programmes, for example, in situations of disaster and humanitarian crisis.
Women and girls with disabilities 2. Women and girls with disabilities are one of the most disadvantaged groups globally, as they face additional barriers to achieving gender equality and advancement.
3. More than 1 billion persons worldwide experience some form of disability. Within this group, women experience a higher prevalence of disability and disproportionately high rates of poverty. At the same time, women living in poverty are at an increased risk of becoming disabled owing to such factors as inadequate access to health care, including maternal health care, poor living conditions, malnutrition and health-endangering employment.
4. In all regions of the world, persons with disabilities face marginalization and significant barriers to the full realization of their rights and to their inclusion in society and development. Women with disabilities experience multiple forms of discrimination, based both on their gender and on their disabilities, and therefore often must confront additional disadvantages compared with men with disabilities. Some may face further discrimination based on other aspects of their identity, such as minority or indigenous status. Women with disabilities often lack access to services essential to the full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. For example, in terms of health care, women with disabilities must contend with inaccessible clinics and procedures, lack of accessible information, and lack of awareness and appropriate training on the part of health-care providers.
5. Women with disabilities have limited access to education and consequently demonstrate lower educational attainment compared with the general population. While existing data are limited, a commonly cited estimate is that the global literacy rate is as low as 3 per cent for all adults with disabilities and 1 per cent for women with disabilities.
6. Furthermore, women with disabilities often have limited access to vocational and skills development training and experience lower rates of employment. If employed, women with disabilities face lower wages and rates of job retention and progression.
7. From a gender perspective, although all persons with disabilities face barriers to employment, men with disabilities have been found to be almost twice as likely to be employed as women with disabilities.
8. Women with disabilities experience higher rates of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation compared with women without disabilities. Violence may be experienced in the home and in other settings, including institutions, and may be perpetrated by caregivers, family members or strangers.
9. Due attention must also be paid to the intersection between disability issues and women’s issues more generally. To advance the rights of women with disabilities in society and development, it is essential that their perspectives be included in all work for women’s empowerment, and that all work on disability incorporate a gender perspective.
10. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities advances the twin-track approach to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women with disabilities, both calling for equality between men and women (See article 3 (g)) and stipulating that States parties shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by women and girls with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms (see article 6).
11. The General Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions calling for the mainstreaming of disability into development as a means of realizing the internationally agreed development goals for all and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.
12. In the outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities: the way forward, a disability-inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond (resolution 68/3), Member States reaffirmed their commitment to ensure that all development policies take into account the needs of and benefit all persons with disabilities, including women and children, who can be subject to violence and multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination, and to strengthen national efforts, including with the appropriate support of international cooperation, upon request, aimed at addressing the rights and needs of women and children with disabilities and the realization of the internationally agreed development goals and commitments related to gender equality and to the rights of the child.
13. The promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women with disabilities is necessary not only for the realization of their human rights, but also for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the post-2015 development agenda. Special measures are urgently needed at all levels in order to integrate women with disabilities into development.
Children’s right to education 14. There are an estimated 150 million children with disabilities under the age
of 18 worldwide. Children with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded members of society, often experiencing widespread violations of their rights as well as discrimination at all levels, including within their families and among their peers and communities.
15. Children with disabilities are less likely to enjoy their right to education, to have access to appropriate medical and social services and to have the opportunity to participate in society. Additional layers of discrimination are often faced by children with disabilities, based on other aspects of their identity, such as their gender or minority status. Too often isolated within their societies and communities, children with disabilities also face a significantly increased risk of physical abuse. As stated by the Secretary-General in his report on the status of the Convention, the scale and severity of violations against their rights, in all regions of the world, constitute a hidden emergency (see A/66/230, para. 57).
16. Also, according to the Secretary-General’s report, the challenges faced by children with disabilities in realizing their right to education remain profound, with a recent report having recognized such children as one of the most marginalized and excluded groups in respect of education (ibid., para. 27).
17. Realization of the rights of children with disabilities may be viewed as both an investment in the future and a requirement for development. Although the international community has increasingly recognized the socioeconomic impacts of disability, as well as the nexus between disability and development, there remains a need to transform development processes to make them more inclusive, equitable and sustainable if the progress achieved is to benefit all members of society, including children with disabilities. The cost of exclusion is highest for those who experience it directly: children with disabilities and their families. However, it is also borne by the larger society. Without dismantling the barriers that prevent the full participation of children with disabilities in society and development, States parties can neither achieve all internationally agreed development goals nor fulfil their responsibilities under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
18. The international community has increasingly prioritized the need to improve the situation of children with disabilities. For example, at its sixty-sixth session, the General Assembly addressed in detail the situation of children with disabilities in its resolution on the rights of the child (resolution 66/141). In addressing the issue of children with disabilities, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has the opportunity to focus on how such commitments can be further translated into real change on the ground.
Situations of disaster and humanitarian crisis 19. During the past decade, the world has witnessed an increase in the number of major disasters, including the Haitian earthquake in 2010, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, the great east Japan earthquake in 2011 and storm Sandy in the United States of America in 2012.
20. Compared with the general population, persons with disabilities are more vulnerable and disproportionately affected in disasters and humanitarian emergencies or crises, owing to lack of awareness and inaccessible evacuation, response and recovery efforts, and often face a higher risk in these emergency or crisis situations. In many disaster situations, the mortality rate of the population with disabilities is two to four times higher than that of the population without disabilities.1 Furthermore, recent disasters such as the Haitian earthquake in January 2010 have revealed that many survivors are expected to live with long-term disabilities as a result of injuries.
21. Experience has shown that persons with disabilities are more likely to be left behind or abandoned during evacuation efforts in disasters and conflicts owing to a lack of preparation and planning, as well as inaccessible facilities and services, including transportation systems. Most shelters and refugee camps are not accessible, and people with disabilities are often turned away as a result of the perception that they require complex medical services. Disruption to physical, social, economic and environmental networks and support systems affect persons with disabilities much more than the general population. There is also a potential for discrimination on the basis of disability when resources are scarce. Furthermore, the needs of persons with disabilities continue to be overlooked during the course of more long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts, with the result that additional opportunities are missed to ensure that cities are accessible and inclusively resilient to future disasters.
22. However, despite the increasing worldwide focus on disaster risk reduction as opposed to mere disaster response, and although they are at high risk of being affected by both natural and man-made hazards, the specific concerns and capacities of persons with disabilities are often “invisible” and thus not appropriately integrated into disaster risk reduction policies and programmes. This is substantiated by a global survey of people with disabilities conducted by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, which revealed that persons with disabilities are rarely consulted about their evacuation needs.2
23. The inclusion of persons with disabilities in disaster risk reduction efforts can save the lives of not only persons with disabilities, but also of many others residing in the same communities. Available data indicate that persons with disabilities can be an important resource for disaster risk reduction, resilience and reconstruction efforts. For example, during the great east Japan earthquake and tsunami, adults and children with disabilities who had been trained in disaster risk reduction programmes, including evacuation processes, led the evacuation process and saved the lives of other members of their community.
24. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in its article 4.1, establishes that States are obligated to undertake to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability. In its
article 11, the Convention requires that States parties take, in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.
25. In paragraph 4 (k) of resolution 68/3, the Heads of State and Government resolved to undertake the commitment to urge Member States, the United Nations system and humanitarian actors, in accordance with their relevant mandates, to continue to strengthen the inclusion of and focus on the needs of persons with disabilities in humanitarian programming and response, and include accessibility and rehabilitation as essential components in all aspects and stages of humanitarian response, inter alia, by strengthening preparedness and disaster risk reduction.
26. As the international community is now shaping a post-2015 development agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 was adopted at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, held in Sendai, Japan. This new framework guides and supports global, regional, national and local efforts to build national communities that are resilient to disasters with a view to transitioning and reconstruction. The Framework highlights that disaster risk reduction requires an all-of-society engagement and partnership, and also empowerment and inclusive, accessible and non-discriminatory participation, paying special attention to people disproportionately affected by disasters, especially the poorest, and a disability perspective in all policies and practices. In addition, the Framework states that disaster risk reduction requires a multi-hazard approach and inclusive risk-informed decision-making based on the open exchange and dissemination of disaggregated data, including by sex, age and disability, as well as on easily accessible, up-to-date, comprehensible, science-based, non sensitive risk information, complemented by traditional knowledge. Furthermore, the Framework recognizes that persons with disabilities and their organizations are critical in the assessment of disaster risk and in designing and implementing plans tailored to specific requirements, taking into consideration, inter alia, the principles of universal design.3 The way forward 27. As the international community moves forward to consider a sustainable post-2015 development agenda, the options below may be considered for promoting disability-inclusive development and addressing the vulnerabilities and exclusion of persons with disabilities, including in particular children and women with disabilities, with special attention to situations of disaster and humanitarian crisis:
(a) Further raise awareness of the rights and needs of persons with disabilities in the development agenda and related efforts;
(b) Incorporate disability issues and perspectives into the post-2015 development frameworks, including their relevant targets and indicators, and pay special attention to the most vulnerable groups of people with disabilities, including women, children and those in disasters and humanitarian crisis situations;
(c) Progressively remove barriers to and promote the realization of accessibility as part of the general system of society. Disability-inclusive development can be effectively promoted by incorporating the concept of universal and inclusive design.4 The positive externality of environmental accessibility to rural and urban infrastructures, facilities and public services as well as information and communications technologies shall not be overlooked, as accessibility contributes to sustainable development and benefits not only persons with disabilities, but all members of society;
(d) Further strengthen international cooperation and partnerships for a disability-inclusive post-2015 development agenda. An increase in the mobilization of public and private resources and the exchange of good practices, including regional and subregional cooperation, is encouraged as means to achieve this objective;
(e) Improve disability data collection, analysis, monitoring and evaluation for policy development and programming. Disaggregated data will help to identify the gaps between persons with disabilities and the rest of the population, and can contribute to the development and implementation of appropriate measures to ensure the inclusion of those left behind (for example, in education and disaster risk reduction programming and outcomes);
(f) Ensure that persons with disabilities and their representative organizations are given the opportunity to participate meaningfully in all development processes. Support, including capacity development, should be provided for persons with disabilities and their organizations in order to facilitate such participation.
Key questions (a) What key factors have contributed or could contribute to the overcoming of discrimination and exclusion faced by women with disabilities? Are there specific cases or examples of strategies or approaches used that can be shared in this regard, in particular, factors that can contribute to the success of mainstreaming the perspectives of women and girls with disabilities into development?
(b) What good examples exist with regard to reducing the education gap between children with disabilities and their peers without disabilities? How have States parties addressed, through a comprehensive and multisectoral approach, specific barriers to education faced by children with disabilities, including those related to accessibility issues (physical, social, economic and cultural environment, transportation and teaching and learning materials) and the design of educational curricula?
(c) What key policies and practices at the national and international levels should be in place in order to effectively implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and to contribute to the building of disability-inclusive disaster risk resilience communities?
(d) What policies and practices have proved to be successful in addressing the vulnerability of persons with disabilities and including their needs and concerns in responses to humanitarian emergencies and crisis situations?
1 Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Rehabilitation International and Nippon Foundation, “Sendai Statement to Promote Disability-inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilient, Inclusive and equitable Societies in Asia and the Pacific” (24 April 2014).
2 United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, “United Nations global survey explains why so many people living with disabilities die in disasters” (13 October 2013).
3 A/CONF.224/CRP.1, paras. 19 and 36.
4 “Universal design”, as defined in article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is “the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. ‘Universal design’ shall not exclude assistive devices for particular groups of persons with disabilities where this is needed”.