Activists have told a UN committee how the UK gove

first_imgActivists have told a UN committee how the UK government is failing to address the significant barriers and human rights violations faced by disabled women in accessing social security, justice, jobs and health services.Eleanor Lisney and Rachel O’Brien, from thedisabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, were among UKwomen’s rights campaigners in Geneva this week to brief a UN committee ofwomen’s rights experts.Thecommittee was examining the UK on its progress in implementing the Conventionon the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).It is justthe latest in a series of examinations of the UK’s record on disabled people’srights by UN human rights bodies.LastNovember, theUN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor PhilipAlston, said the UK government hadinflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, withministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies.Theprevious year, the UN committee on the rights of persons withdisabilities told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to theways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.Andin 2016, the same committee said the UK government wasguilty of “grave and systematic violations” of three key sections of the UNConvention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, most of them caused byministers at the Department for Work and Pensions.In abriefing passed to the CEDAW committee – jointly prepared with Women EnabledInternational (WEI) – Sisters of Frida said research showed that abouta quarter of disabled women had missed a meal in the last year because theycould not afford it, while social security reforms had “disproportionatelyimpacted” disabled women.In 2017,more than a third of disabled women earned less than the national living wage,the briefing added.Sisters ofFrida also said that disabled women in the UK experience violence at higherrates than other women, because of both discrimination and economicdisempowerment. Nearly onein every two disabled women will experience domestic violence in theirlifetime, compared with about one in four of all women, while domestic violenceshelters and services for victims of violence remain inaccessible for disabledwomen.Disabledwomen also face significant barriers in accessing justice, with cases of sexualviolence significantly less likely to be referred by police for prosecution ifthe victim is a disabled woman, while laws and policies addressing violenceagainst women “routinely fail to include disabled women”.Sisters ofFrida – which received funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission(EHRC) to attend the examination of the UK government in Geneva – also warnedthe committee that disabled women faced increased barriers to accessinghealthcare, particularly maternal health services.Thecommittee was told that disabled women report “significant barriers” inaccessing “continuity of care during the prenatal period, a lack of controlduring labour and delivery, and inadequate postnatal care”.Followingthe briefings by campaigners, including Lisney and O’Brien, the committeequestioned UK government representatives about its implementation of CEDAW.Among theissues raised by the committee were the low employment rate for disabled women,the impact of universal credit on women, the failure to include disabled womenin sex education and the barriers faced by disabled women who experiencedomestic violence.O’Brien,disabled students’ officer for the National Union of Students but in Genevarepresenting Sisters of Frida, said afterwards: “Some of the issues we raisedwere about welfare reform and how that relates to domestic abuse, and the lackof access to justice for disabled women in the light of legal aid cuts,especially regarding benefit tribunals.”She said thegovernment’s response to the committee’s questions had been “poor, especiallyregarding the impact of universal credit on women and disabled people”.She said shehoped this would be reflected in the committee’s report.EHRC had alsosubmitted a report to the CEDAW committee, with recommendations forthe UK and Welsh governments.Its report raisedconcerns about the impact of the UK government’s legal aid cuts and reforms ondisabled women; called for action to close the disability pay gap; and calledon the UK government to assess the impact of its benefits sanctions regime ongroups including disabled people.It raisedconcerns about mental health services in prisons; the possibility of thegovernment’s community sentence pilot leading to compulsory treatment for womenwith mental health conditions; and access to healthcare for disabledasylum-seekers.  It alsocalled for action to eradicate the use of physical and chemical restraint inmental health settings, pointing out that “girls are more likely to bephysically restrained than boys, and women are more likely to be repeatedlyrestrained than men, including in a face-down position”.It said 32women have died after a restraint episode over the last five years after beingdetained under the Mental Health Act.EHRC alsocalled on the UK government to implement section 106 of the Equality Act, whichwould force political parties to publish data showing how many of theirparliamentary candidates are disabled people.It alsowants there to be work with political parties and other organisations “toimprove the reliability of support available to disabled women candidates, andlegislation to exempt costs arising from disabled candidates’ impairments fromstatutory limits on campaign expenditure”.In heropening statement to the CEDAW committee, the head of the UKdelegation, Elysia McCaffrey, the deputy head of the Government EqualitiesOffice, stressed the UK’s commitment to “advancing gender equality” and saidthe UK government planned to use the power of #MeToo and other campaigns to“strengthen” its compliance with the convention.She said thegovernment’s strategy on gender equality and economic empowerment, which willbe published this spring, would “seek to do more for low paid and financiallyfragile women, and women facing multiple barriers or with complex needs”.But she mentioned disabled women only once in her speech of more than 3,700 words, and that related to workplace equality funding introduced by the Scottish government.Picture by James Austin: Lisney (centre) and O’Brien (right) in Geneva with Vivienne Hayes from the Women’s Resource CentreA note from the editor:Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations. Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009. Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…last_img

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