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Time’s up for ending violence against girls and women with disabilities

International Women’s Day 8 March 2018

7 March 2018

In this year’s International Women’s day, I acknowledge the efforts of women around the world who are mobilizing against gender-based violence through campaigns like #metoo, #timesup or #niunamenos, demanding safety and equal rights. In this context, we must bring forward the rights of girls and women with disabilities, so their systematic exposure to violence, torture and abuse at the hands of State institutions and legal guardianship regimes is addressed once and for all. 

Thousands of girls and women with disabilities around the world are confined to situations of isolation and seclusion, exposed to daily abuse and violence by laws, which allow families, judges or institutions in charge of their care to decide on their behalf. They have no control over their lives, nor their bodies, while judges, relatives and other legal guardians decide procedures like hysterectomies, sterilization, or the so-called growth attenuation therapies on their behalf, with irreversible consequences in their lives. 

Ending these practices require leaving behind assumptions and stereotypes about disability and sexuality, and focusing instead on practices that contribute to their true well-being. This is ultimately, what human rights are about. Experience shows that informed consent on decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health is the most effective way to prevent these practices and many other forms of gender-based violence. Experience also shows that access to adequate sexuality education is essential for personal empowerment, promoting healthier lives free of abuse.

Laws that allow girls and women with disabilities to be sterilized, or subjected to other procedures without their consent must be immediately abolished. No circumstance can justify that judges, relatives or institutions consent to procedures of this nature on a girl or woman. Families, schools and health centers should promote and facilitate instead the access of girls and women with disabilities to information, education and services that are essential for a healthy and dignified sexual life.

Governments, civil society and the international community have a fundamental responsibility in enacting the changes needed to end these forms of abuse, and all other forms of gender violence. The solutions are within reach, but only by working together will we be able to break the cycle of ignorance, abuse and violence that continue to affect the lives of so many people with disabilities around the world. The protection of their rights is an indispensable condition to achieve gender equality, and to fulfill the promise of leaving no one behind.

More guidance is available in the thematic report on sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and young women with disabilities, presented at the 72nd session of the General Assembly, in 2017.