Available translations: English العربيّة

Addressing disability and gender: Eliminating discrimination and empowering women and girls

Graphic: Woman with a disability at work in a factory, Vietnam

  1. Women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk of violence, discrimination and violations of their human rights.
  2. Human rights treaty monitoring bodies have provided guidance to States on the steps they can take to better promote and protect the rights of women and girls with disabilities.
  3. NHRIs should ensure that they include a specific focus on gender when they plan and implement programs on disability and human rights.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is unique in international law because it explicitly recognises that people with disabilities have multiple identities in addition to their disability.

These identities – or characteristics – include, among other things, a person's gender, age, race, sexuality and religious beliefs. This is the concept of 'intersectionality'.

The Convention recognises that these multiple identities can result in multiple disadvantage. The preamble highlights that "women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home, of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation".

It also emphasises "the need to incorporate a gender perspective in all efforts to promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities".

More specifically, article 6 of the Convention requires States parties to take measures to protect, promote and ensure the rights of women with disabilities.


Graphic: Young girl in wheelchair with her classmates at school


Providing guidance to States

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) issued a General Comment in 2016 that provides States with guidance on the practical steps they can take to protect the rights of women and girls with disabilities and empower them to participate in all spheres of life, on an equal basis with others.

General Comment No. 3 highlights three key areas of concern regarding women and girls with disabilities:

  • Physical, sexual, or psychological violence, which may be institutional or interpersonal
  • Restriction of sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to accessible information and communication, the right to motherhood and child-rearing responsibilities
  • Multiple discrimination.

It sets out actions that States parties should take in a range of areas – including health, education, access to justice, equality before the law, transport and employment – to enable women and girls with disabilities to fully enjoy their human rights.

General Comment No. 3 also calls on States parties to repeal or reform all legislation that discriminates, either directly or indirectly, against women and girls with disabilities, and encourages public campaigns to tackle discriminatory community attitudes.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) was the first to draw attention to the intersection of gender and disability in 1991 when it adopted its landmark General Recommendation No. 18 concerning women with disabilities.

The CEDAW Committee recommended that States parties provide information on women with disabilities in their periodic reports, along with measures taken to ensure equal access to education, employment, health services and social security, and to ensure that women can participate in all areas of social and cultural life.

The CRPD Committee and the CEDAW Committee have also made specific recommendations – known as 'concluding observations' – to States after reviewing periodic reports on the implementation of their respective treaties, including to:

  • End forced abortions and sterilisation of women with intellectual disabilities
  • Implement strategies to address violence against women with disabilities
  • Recognise and address poor educational opportunities for girls with disabilities.

Program for students with learning disabilities, coordinated by Human Rights Commission of Malaysia

Women and girls with disabilities can be at risk of additional and specific violations of their rights because of their gender. That's why all national human rights institutions should include a focus on gender in their work on human rights and disability.


How can NHRIs include a focus on gender?

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) can include a focus on gender in their work on human rights and disability by:

  • Ensuring that women and girls with disabilities feel able and confident to bring a complaint to the NHRI
  • Seeking out the expertise and insights of women and girls with disabilities when researching human rights issues
  • Including women with disabilities or their representative organisations on advisory panels or committees established by the NHRI
  • Reviewing complaints data to identify patterns of discrimination or human rights violations that impact more severely on women and girls with disabilities
  • Incorporating a gender dimension in the design and implementation of all NHRI projects relating to the rights of people with disabilities
  • Follow up with governments on recommendations made by the UN treaty monitoring bodies and through the UPR concerning the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

[1] These should include, among others, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee against Torture.

[2] In operation since 2008, the UPR is a process that examines the human rights records of all UN Member States every four and a half years.



Image credits

  1. Woman with a disability at work in a factory, Vietnam - ILO in Asia and the Pacifiic/Nguyen A, Flickr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/iloasiapacific/13900393997/
  2. Young girl in wheelchair with her classmates at school - United Nations/Arup Ghosh, Flickr; http://bit.ly/2H7LfVl
  3. Program for students with learning disabilities, coordinated by Human Rights Commission of Malaysia - Human Rights Commission of Malaysia