International Women's Day: Empowering women with disabilities

Sarah Jonassen Bittman

Senior Technical Officer

Women with disabilities face a double burden, experiencing exclusion and exploitation on account of their gender as well as their disability.[1]  They are more likely to experience poor health, poverty, and violence than men with disabilities, and less likely to have access to education, employment and economic opportunities, and health services. According to the UNDP, the global literacy rate for women with disabilities is as low as 1%[2]. Women and girls with disabilities are twice as likely to experience gender-based violence compared to non-disabled women.[3]

There is a lack of attention to women with disabilities in the development agenda, and gender and disability are rarely both mainstreamed into development programming. According to the World Bank, even when gender considerations are incorporated into development projects, the specific perspectives and needs of women and girls with disabilities are seldom sought or incorporated.[4] The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) recognizes that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and specifically mandates that signatories take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyments of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Empowering women leaders with disabilities is a priority for the Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project, realized through its partnership with Mobility International, USA (MIUSA). MIUSA taps women leaders with disabilities in low and middle-income countries who are already demonstrating leadership in their communities to participate in the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD), a three week program where they learn leadership and program development skills, as well as learning from each other. This year, LMG is working with MIUSA to bring alumni of previous WILD programs together to design leadership trainings for women with disabilities in their own communities. Partnering with women’s organizations and development organizations, these women leaders will, over the course of a year, implement leadership trainings for women with disabilities in their home communities based on the WILD model.

[1] World Report on Disability, World Health Organization and World Bank (2011)

[2] Background Paper for Informal Session on Women with Disabilities, Note by the Secretariat, Fifth Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention, on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (New York, 12-14 September 2012), cites: Helander E, Prejudice and dignity: an introduction to community based rehabilitation, 2nd Edition. New York: UNDP, 1998, available at: disabled.html.

[3] United Nations General Assembly. Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.  2012.

[4] Disability - Women with Disability (Article 3&6). 2009. Web.