Gender & Disability
Jun 13 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – Women with disabilities face triple discrimination the world over on the basis of disability, gender and poverty. They are the most marginalised of all population groups including men with disabilities. The negative stereotyping of women with disabilities puts them at greater physical risk as they are exposed to neglect, emotional abuse, domestic violence and rape.
According to the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programmes, 83pc of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, while the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa reports that these women are less able to escape abusive caregivers.
The 2011 World Report on Disability indicates that the global female disability prevalence rate is higher at 19.2pc against 12pc for men because women are discriminated against since birth in terms of nutrition, immunisation and medical interventions. The global literacy rate for women with disabilities is 1pc with only 20pc of them getting any rehabilitation services. They are paid less than their male counterparts at work, given fewer loans for education or self-employment, and face stronger barriers in accessing vocational training, leisure facilities and justice.
With these global givens, it is not surprising that in Pakistan where being female itself is debilitating, women with disabilities live at the very peripheries of society, differentiated and unequalised by a culture that is patriarchal, religiously obscurantist and anti-women. The family, community, institutions and the state — the touchstones of human civilisation — are arrayed against them. Seventy per cent live in rural areas in the most appalling conditions where even provision of rehab services and assistive devices is discriminatory, making everyday living a challenge in itself.
Disabled women languish in the darkest corners.
Disability should not be a stigma, but accepted as a natural human condition by all the protagonists — people with disabilities, families, communities, civil society and the government. Last year, Madeline Stuart became the world’s first model with Down’s syndrome to appear on the catwalk at the New York Fashion Week. Television channels and social media networks should use social marketing to influence social behaviours and raise awareness about disability in collaboration with educational institutions, while women’s groups should initiate membership drives focusing on women with disabilities in order to empower them.
A great deal of work has been done at the international level under the aegis of the UN to create a comprehensive legislative and policy framework for a rights-based and barrier-free inclusive society.
Apart from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ESCAP has taken a number of initiatives, among which are the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action and Biwako Plus Five, the Bali Declaration adopted by Asean, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, the Beijing Declaration on Disability-Inclusive Development, and the Incheon Strategy, to accelerate action during the current Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013–2022.
The Incheon Strategy also mandates member states to report triennially on the progress made on its time-bound and measurable goals.
Despite these international commitments and provisions in Articles 25, 37 and 38 of the Constitution, women with disabilities continue to languish in the darkest spaces in Pakistan, uncounted and uncared for. It is imperative for the government to take visible and affirmative action to ensure that its image at least in the international community is not further tarnished due to inaction on this front. A high-profile policy dialogue with organisations representing people with disabilities should be arranged to discuss legislative and implementation mechanisms in line with UN conventions and the Incheon strategy, along with the formation of a specific parlia¬mentary body to carry out this task.
There is no data on persons with disabilities in Pakistan as no serious at¬¬tempt has been made since 1998 to conduct a census to assess their numbers. The government needs to initiate compilation of gender-disaggregated disability data, include the disability dimension in all policymaking and budgeting exercises, and encourage the private sector to promote disability-inclusive business practices.
It is not rocket science to advise public-sector banks to float disability-friendly loans, fix job quotas for women with disabilities, subsidise the use of new technologies, introduce tax rebates for their families as is being done in India, and make BISP conditional upon the safety, education and vocational training of the disabled. Instead of signal-free roads, the government should set up fully equipped community resource centres to provide them opportunities for mobility, training and leisure time.
However, at present, all federal government structures relating to these critical constitutional and human rights issues stand disempowered after the 18th Amendment. If the government wishes not to remain within the confines of Islamabad, it will need to reclaim its lost spaces by acknowledging its responsibilities towards this most marginalised of communities groups in the country.
The writer is a former federal secretary. firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan, June 12th, 2016