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’Nothing for us without us’ – EWL Board Member addressses EP Public hearing on Women with disabilities

(Brussels, 29 May 2013) On Thursday 29 May 2013, the European Parliament Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) held a public hearing on difficulties faced by women with disabilities. High-level experts were invited to present the reality of women with disabilities and future possibilities for enhanced integration. A member of the EWL Board representing the European Disability Forum, Ana Peláez Narváez, director of International Relations at the Spanish National Organisation of the Blind (ONCE),was invited as an expert to speak of possibilities for the EU to include the perspective of women with disabilities in gender policies and in all policies regarding people with disabilities. Following this meeting a report on women with disabilities will be presented in FEMM committee on the 10th of July by Angelica Werthmann, ALDE MEP from Austria, substitute on the FEMM committee.

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EWL Board member Ana Peláez Narváez touched upon the complexity of the situation of women with disabilities, pointing out to problems related to violence and sexual exploitation, to health and sexual rights, with motherhood, education, employment, and political participation. Above all, she wanted to stress the invisibility of women with disabilities. The EU strategy for equality between women and men doesn’t take into account people with disabilities; the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is the first human rights convention adopted and ratified by the EU itself, in addition to its Member States, lacks gender perspective. What is more: “there is not even one organization that deals exclusively with women with disabilities in the EU, not even one woman Member of the European Parliament (MEP) with disability!” alarms Ana Peláez Narváez. “European society just doesn’t see us”, she concluded.

What measures should the EU take to tackle the problem of the social exclusion of women with disabilities?

In order to answer that question, Ana Peláez Narváez referred to a key toolkit for activists and policy-makers, namely the “2nd Manifesto on the Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities in the European Union”. She called for EU support to carry out deep research on the social and economic isolation of women with disabilities, their limited access to health services, forced sterilization and abortion, as well as the exclusion from education and professional trainings. The study would be a first step to a necessary revision of the whole EU legislation.

In terms of violence against women, Ana Peláez Narváez pointed out the necessity to have an EU comprehensive strategy addressing all forms of violence against women and girls taking into account the particularly vulnerable situation of women and girls with disabilities (to read more about violence against women in Europe, please read EWL Position Paper).

When it comes to sexual rights, an informed consent is a fundamental right that has to be ensured when any medical service is being provided. Special attention should be paid to extremely limited access to health services for women with disabilities. Forced sterilization, abortion and caesarean section are world-wide practices that have to stop. Ana Peláez Narváez underlined the educational problem which is directly linked to the issue of informed consent. “2/3 of disabled women are over 60 and 70% of them are illiterate”. In order to defend themselves, women with disabilities have to be aware of their rights. Digital literacy is the absolute minimum that should be provided for all disabled people. Ana Peláez Narváez pointed out that the problem of illiteracy should be included in all EU programs dealing with unemployment and the perspective of people with disabilities has to integrated into the structural funds framework.

Finally, Ana Peláez Narváez touched upon the issue of the extremely low political participation of women with disabilities which not only have an impact on their weak representation and therefore lack of power in decision-making, but most of all reflects the stereotypical image of people with disabilities perpetuated in society. The latter should be addressed by educational and raising awareness programs. In conclusion, Ana Peláez Narváez called for inclusion of the perspective of women with disabilities in all regional and international policies of the EU.

“Nothing for us without us!”: a call for integration that EWL fully supports since we all “work together for women’s rights and gender equality in Europe”.

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