Pacific women with disabilities represent the region at UN meetings

Please find below a brief report from Ms Victoria Lee, IDA staff in Geneva Office regarding the participation of PDF Co-Chair Nelly Caleb and DPO Development officer Angeline Chand during the recent CEDAW and Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva. We are truly grateful to IDA and its Geneva based staff for their sterling efforts and tireless work to ensure the voice of Pacific women with disabilities are heard in the corridors of the UN HQ in Geneva. We also thank the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples and IDA for their funding assistance.

“From 18-26 February, Nelly Caleb, co-Chair of PDF, followed an intensive and diverse programme in Geneva advocating for rights of women and girls with disabilities before the United Nations.  Thanks to the support of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, Nelly was able to travel to Geneva in order to take part in important advocacy opportunities in the context of the 63rd session of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) which was reviewing Vanuatu’s implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

For the first days, Nelly attended a training programme conducted by the International Women’s Rights Action Watch- Asia Pacific, an international NGO which guides women’s rights activists across the world on engaging with the CEDAW review process.  Together with women’s rights advocates from Czech Republic, Haiti and Tanzania, Nelly enhanced her familiarity with this human rights instrument specific on gender equality, and had the opportunity to present in both formal and informal meetings with the experts of the CEDAW Committee.

As the only civil society representative from Vanuatu, Nelly had a significant space to share information about the rights of women and girls with disabilities in Vanuatu, as well as provide details of the systemic and institutional barriers which hinder human rights protection generally for women.  In particular, she raised the lack of mainstreaming of the rights of women and girls with disabilities across the gender equality agenda, as well as within the national plan on persons with disabilities; the lack of meaningful consultation with women and girls with disabilities and their representative organisations, the weak participation in the formulation of laws and policies, including in disaster risk reduction and strategies to address climate change, the impact of which Vanuatu is currently and continuously experiencing; the absence of accessible shelters and hotlines for women and girls with disabilities, victims of violence, as well as the fact that most injustices facing women, especially women and girls with disabilities continue to be handled in customary settlements within communities, led by village chiefs, without consultation of women and girls who are commonly victims of violence and abuse, rather than having access to redress and remedies offered by civil or criminal courts.

Thanks to Nelly’s effective and tiresome advocacy with the Committee as a whole and bilaterally with individual members, the dialogue between the Vanuatu government delegation and the Committee tackled many issues related to the rights of women and girls with disabilities including the lack of disaggregated data, absence of political participation, humanitarian relief efforts inclusive of women with disabilities, absence of inclusive health care policies, rural women and girls with disabilities, measures to tackle extreme poverty and provide supports for women and girls with disabilities, and training to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls with disabilities.

In addition, Nelly represented the International Disability Alliance (IDA) in several high level meetings with Ambassadors to UN missions including a panel on the World Humanitarian Summit and a meeting with the Group of Friends to the UN CRPD.

Nelly also met with the UN Voluntary Fund on Indigenous Peoples, and had an opportunity to observe the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which was in session at the same time as the CEDAW Committee, and to exchange with First Nations Peoples disability rights advocates from Canada.

On 29 February, the CEDAW Committee held a half day of general discussion on the gender related dimensions to disaster risk reduction and climate change.  Angeline Chand from the Pacific Disability Forum attended this meeting representing the International Disability Alliance. The discussion brought together experts on DRR including from United Nations Office on Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) as well as Ambassadors from UN missions and civil society organisations.

Angeline raised the need to have particular attention to the multiple and intersectional discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities with respect to the impacts of climate change and to ensure their inclusion in DRR response and preparedness.  By sharing stories of lack of preparedness and abandonment of women and girls with disabilities from the latest natural disasters in the Pacific, notably recent tropical cyclone Winston in Fiji, Angeline alerted the Committee to be vigilant in ensuring mainstreaming and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in their upcoming General Recommendation.

This present CEDAW Committee session was indeed an historical session with an unprecedented number of women with disabilities participants including from Japan, Sweden, Mongolia, Vanuatu, Fiji and Haiti.  And the result was immediate: never before has the CEDAW Committee raised so frequently the rights of women and girls with disabilities in their dialogues.

We thank Nelly and Angeline from the Pacific Disability Forum for their presence and participation before the CEDAW Committee which has visibly gone a long way to raise their awareness and expertise on the rights of women and girls with disabilities.  We would also like to thank the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples and the International Women’s Rights Action Watch- Asia Pacific, for including Nelly in their training and mentoring programme to strengthen her advocacy skills and expertise on gender equality.

We hope these experiences will be shared across the Pacific and beyond to encourage other women with disabilities  from the region and beyond to also take part in such global processes which are tools to strengthen their national advocacy efforts for concrete improvement and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities.”

Thanks to Setareki Macanawai, Chief Executive Officer, PDF for this post

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