National Council on Disability Document Archive

Statement of women/disability conference

Posted by: Jamal Mazrui
Date Mailed: Friday, August 1st 1997 01:12 PM

International Leadership Forum for Women with Disabilities

Bethesda, Maryland, USA  June 15-20, 1997


We the 614 women from 82 countries around the world at the International
Leadership Forum for Women with Disabilities in Washington on June 15-20,
1997, are deeply encouraged by the emerging strength in the empowerment of
women and girls with disabilities. We hereby want to send signals to all
our sisters and brothers in the disability and womenms rights movements.
This important process is meant to include the possibility of growth of
each and every individual woman and girl with disabilities worldwide.
Consequently, we need partnerships with women and men in all walks of
life. Our issues are among the top priority concerns of all human

We believe that several concrete actions and considerations must occur
regarding United Nations conventions and policies. Of specific importance
* the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW).
* the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
* the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with
and the promises within the Platforms for Action from the United Nations
conferences and summit meetings. Especially we note that the positive
effects of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women are still vigorously
ongoing. We want the Beijing Platform for Action to be fully realized. We
also demand that our states ratify the conventions, removing any
reservations and other barriers to implementation.

Women in solidarity must unite and call for the stopping of wars and civil
conflicts. Women and girls especially suffer the illnesses of poverty in
wars aftermath. Decision makers in countries affected by wars and conflict
must take full responsibility to rehabilitate girls and women.

We state the following:


We demand that the message of disabled women and girls be heard clearly in
all debates and policies concerning genetic engineering, bio-ethics,
prosthetic design and human engineering such as cochlear implants,
abortion on grounds of disability, assisted suicide, euthanasia and all
eugenic practices.

Such issues vitally concern disabled women and men, and have the potential
to violate our fundamental and universal rights. We demand that all
violations stop. Further, we demand that women with disabilities
participate in all levels of debate and policy development regarding
reproductive research policies and programs.

We urgently raise our concern to our governments about the UN Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) draft of a Universal
Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights to be finalized in July
this year. We question the wisdom of the draft text in respect to the
human rights of disabled persons. We recommend that the governments
discuss the draft text with the organizations of and for disabled persons
in their countries.

We urge that international and national governmental and non-governmental
organizations recognize the high rate of violence against disabled women
and girls as a critical health and human rights issue in policy and
legislation. Legal enforcement of assault and sexual abuse laws should be
strengthened, including severe punishment of offenders and support for
victims throughout the justice system.

We cannot accept that family members, paid and volunteer care givers,
institutional staff, police, and even friends, are humiliating,
assaulting, raping, exploiting, neglecting, forcibly isolating,
withholding assistance, medical care or supports, abandoning, disposing
of, putting out to beg, selling and even killing, women and girls with
disabilities at alarming rates.  Disabled children of battered mothers are
particularly vulnerable to abuse. We urge that effective support be
developed for victims and family members.

We request that the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against women
address violence against women and girls with disabilities as a pressing
issue, in full cooperation with women with disabilities and their
organizations. We request that disability organizations include the issue
of violence among their priority concerns. We request the worldms womenms
movement acknowledge the vicious insults visited upon women and girls with
disabilities the world over, and take steps to improve solidarity among
all women.

We demand immediate action to build access to information and services to
escape, heal and survive abuse, all steps to preventing future cycles of

We protest in solidarity with disabled women in all countries, where: 1)
laws currently allow legal abortion only for the protection of the
motherms health, 2) in the case of pressing economic circumstances, and 3)
in cases where the fetus is disabled. We demand that decision makers
acknowledge the right of disabled women to choose for themselves. We also
refer to the text in the Beijing Platform for Action.

Poverty and disability among women and girls are closely linked. We demand
effective access to education and employment as the primary tools for
fighting poverty. We urge that education be used as the primary key for
girls and women to be able to lead integrated and participatory lives in
their communities.

We demand that decision makers include the education and skills
development of girls and women with disabilities as an integral part of
the educational system. Language and communication skills development are
especially important in those countries where the use of several languages
is practiced.
Sign language education and development should be promoted.

Local culture should be allowed to provide opportunities for girls and
women to be recognized as full participants in meaningful social and
economic roles.

We urge that both parents and teachers of girl children with disabilities
receive further training in order that the quality of overall education be
raised. We also urge that teacher training curricula include a disability

We demand that education provide effective opportunities for girls and
women with disabilities to become empowered. The need has never been
higher for organized womenms groups to provide effective role models so
that girls and women can take up leadership roles, increasing their self

We urge the  development of mentoring programs for girls and young women
with disabilities and demand the inclusion of positive images of women and
girls with disabilities in the media.

We demand that existing economic inequalities between women and men be
equalized, and that the economic contribution to the society by women with
disabilities be recognized. Women with disabilities should be afforded
full support to pursue their ambitions and skills development regarding
the use of their capabilities to support themselves and their families.

We urge that women with disabilities be encouraged to establish micro
enterprises, for example, in the development of marketing devices, sales
representatives, catalogues, etc., to bring the goods/products of other
disabled women to market. Banks should recognize the multiple value of
giving loans to womenms business enterprises. Governments must recognize
the efforts of women engaged in micro enterprise development with tax
credits and other appropriate benefits. We demand that world commercial
communication groups present in their programming positive examples of
women with disabilities in their businesses.

Because of the discrimination and ignorance of medical professionals and
extreme poverty, women with disabilities do not have the same access and
opportunities for health care as their able-bodied counter parts.  The
power of health care professionals, particularly in the mental health and
developmental disabilities arenas will not be given up easily.  Disabled
women are dying prematurely as a result of not getting the care we need.
Disabled women do not receive adequate personal assistance, assistive
technology and supports because of lack of funds.

Therefore we demand that:
1.  Women take power and control over their own health care, including
having the choice of what medical tests and treatments they wish to have.
Parents of disabled girls receive full information on the outcomes of
medical procedures so they can give informed consent.

2.  National Health policies and  bureaucracies  be  accountable for
improving the access, availability and afford ability of high quality,
culturally appropriate health care for disabled women and girls.

3.  Schools for health professionals offer affirmative action to students
with disabilities and include adequate training on the needs of women and
girls of disabilities, including community-based rehabilitation and
reproductive education.

4.  Adaptive equipment, appropriate to local conditions, be developed
Studies be launched to evaluate the outcomes of medical procedures from
the point of view of people with disabilities.  Multi-disciplinary health
and medical care and research be done to provide a more holistic picture
of gender specific impairments and diseases.

5.  Disabled women be trained  to be the leaders in research on disabled
womenms health care needs.

6.  In war torn areas quality field-based health services be provided for
disabled women and girls.

7. All countries insure that rehabilitation services are available to
disabled girls and women without sexual bias.

Disabled women internalize the mythology of asexuality.  Disabled women
have internalized the notion that our bodies are not worthy to be loved.
Many woman and girls are extremely lonely and touch deprived.  We crave a
disability sexual culture focused on our  entitlement to pleasure and
love, understanding the advantages of possessing bodies and functions
different when compared to womenms majority culture.

We urge that:
1. Women have a safe and private place to discuss with each other their
sexual lives, desires, hopes and questions.

2. Disabled women and girls receive accurate information about sexuality,
including training to publicize the good word that all disabled women are
sexual and sexy and can give and receive love making in a variety of ways.

3.  Disabled women be educated to work in womenms health services,
including training as sex educators and  leaders in research on disabled
womenms sexuality.

We demand an end to the systematic denial of disabled women to appropriate
information and mainstream lines of communication.

We demand that there be guidelines: 1) to ensure that disabled children
and adults of both sexes are integrated into mass media programmings,
including advertising; 2) these portrayals must be positive, sensitive and
life enhancing. This includes public education campaigns designed to
prevent disability, such as immunization.

We demand that all technical methods of communication are designed for
universal use by disabled and non-disabled persons.

We urge that the communications and information needs of disabled women
who are poor and have not received an education are given a higher

We further believe that the United Nations and our countries should
intensify efforts to implement all existing conventions concerning
disabled women and girls. Such actions should be effectively overseen by
the United Nations bodies responsible for monitoring of these instruments,
together with the non-govern-mental (NGOs) organizations concerned.
Special cooperation should be established between the units responsible
for disability, gender, human rights and NGO issues. Such actions should
be applied t the local, national, regional and international levels.

We urge the United Nations and other relevant bodies to take immediate
action regarding:
* informing about the existing conventions using easy-to-read language,
accessible formats and local languages
* initiate the building of new knowledge with respect to women and girls
with disabilities using surveys, research and case studies
* encourage the development of dialogue with decision-makers at all levels
* facilitate the co-sponsorship with NGOs of seminars dedicated to
training of women and girls with disabilities about methods to implement
policy and to take up decision making positions.

We hereby reaffirm the establishment of a global sister network among
women and girls with disabilities.
We affirm our membership in W I L D Womenms International Linkage on
Bethesda, Maryland, USA, June 20, 1997

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