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Human Rights Council Adopts Resolution on Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities

In the 37th meeting of the 47th session of the Human Rights Council on 13 July 2021, draft resolution L18 rev.1, titled ‘accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities’ was discussed by a diverse panel of countries.

In the draft resolution, predating the discussion, the Human Rights Council called on states to ensure that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls with disabilities are fully realised. The council requested states to support and protect victims of sexual and gender-based violence, to review outdated laws, to allocate adequate resources towards programs with and for women and girls with disabilities, to develop and implement educational programs to raise awareness about gender-based violence and to overall foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. The resolution references in particular that:

“All forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced sterilization, forced abortion and forced contraception, and conflict-related sexual violence and violence motivated by xenophobia, nullify the exercise and full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by all women and girls.”

L18 rev.1 also focused on the specific impacts the COVID-19 pandemic had on women and girls with disabilities, calling on states to integrate “accessible and inclusive prevention, response and protection systems into any pandemic response and recovery plans” as well as “providing safe and equitable access to vaccination for women and girls with disabilities and ensuring their participation in the development and implementation of pandemic response and recovery plans”.

During the discussion, the draft text was introduced by the representative of Canada who highlighted some of the pervasive struggles women and girls with disabilities face globally:

“Violence against women and girls regrettably remains one of the world’s most pervasive violations and abuses of human rights. For women and girls with disabilities, not only is the risk of violence higher, the barriers to accessing justice and services are steeper. Women and girls with disabilities also face unique forms of violence, such as painful and traumatic procedures performed without their consent.”

Canada called on all states to support the resolution as well as addressing any “historical and structural factors that perpetuate violence including gender inequality, socio economic inequality, ableism and ageism”. Canada’s representative suggested an action oriented response to:

“Ensure the full effective and meaningful participation and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in decision making processes and leadership roles. Ensure that sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are fully realized, including for victims and survivors of sexual and gender based violence.”

During the discourse, the UK commended Canada on their approach on targeting violence against women and girls with disabilities and referenced some of the impacts the pandemic had on victims of domestic abuse:

“It has been deeply concerning to witness the surge in violence during the pandemic across the globe. It is truly appalling that millions of women and girls suffer violence, every day. Data from the UK, what works to prevent violence programs show that women with disabilities are at two to four times higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence.”

Going on to state:

“Although some language, including on sexual and reproductive health and rights, is not as ambitious as we would have hoped, we are proud to support this important resolution.”

Denmark supported the resolution and elaborated on the struggles faced by women and girls with disabilities:

“Women and girls with disabilities are more likely than women and girls without disabilities to report experiencing rape, sexual and gender based violence, physical violence, stalking, psychological aggression and control over their reproductive or sexual health, including by intimate partners, women with disabilities may also experience unique forms of violence and abuse that are more difficult to recognize, making it even harder to get the kind of help, they may need.”

Despite overwhelming support for the resolution, some of the terminology mentioned in the draft was questioned. The Russian Federation’s representative stated that while Russia welcomes the draft’s efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls with disabilities, “The question hasn’t been fully dealt with and the focus has been shifted from guaranteeing the rights of women with disabilities to promoting unagreed, at the interstate level, neoliberal concepts and non-consensus terminology”. Russia went on to state:

“In particular, we are puzzled at the insistent, lack of desire of responses when using the words, reproductive rights to make any reference to the document in which these rights are clearly defined and referring to the program of action or the International Conference on Population and Development, and the Beijing Platform for Action declaration, as well as the outcome documents of their relatively respective review conferences, and they contain a clear reference to the fact that reproductive rights are not human rights. They also there establish the sovereign right of states to determine their policy, regulating these particular issues.”

Besides terminology, the resolution was also criticised for a lack of intersectionality. China’s representative pointed out that

“As it stands now, this structure of the regime has not fully reflected the concern of the international community on the violence against women and girls, including that during the wartime, and armed conflict. It has also failed to reflect issues, like, accountability, and the serious threat posed to women and girls, caused by gun violence in some countries, and the failure of some countries to be accountable for past and present violence against Indigenous women and girls, or to make any reparations to them. The fight against the violence against women and girls from Africa, and of African descent, and of those from Asia, and Asian descent is not reflected adequately in the text, either.”

In the resolution, the Human Rights Council “decides to continue its consideration of the issue of the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls as a matter of high priority, in conformity with its programme of work, at its fifty-third session.” During the meeting, resolution L18 rev.1 was adopted without a vote as orally revised.

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