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RELUCTANCE OR IGNORANCE: Ensuring SRHR of Women with Disabilities in Legislation.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities, guides States on laws and polices addressing discrimination against people with disabilities, using a rights-based approach. CRPD adopts a social disability model, moving away from approaching people with disabilities as incapable and in need of protection and/or correction, and looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict their life choices.

CRPD recognises that women with disabilities (1) are subject to multiple discrimination, and obligates States to take appropriate measures to address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This was further expanded by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Committee) in its General Comment (2) 3 (3) that discrimination is not experienced by people as members of a homogenous group but, rather, as individuals with multidimensional layers of identities, status and life circumstances. The general comment specifically recognizes the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls due to stereotypes based on disability and gender as a form of discrimination. Harmful stereotypes of women with disabilities include the belief that they are asexual, incapable, irrational, lacking control, and/or hypersexual. The General Comment therefore emphasizes that women with disabilities have the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also recognizes the role of stereotypes in the denial of human rights towards women with disabilities. More specifically, the CEDAW Committee, in General Recommendation 18, (4) requested States to specifically report on measures taken to eliminate discrimination against women with disabilities.

CRPD and CEDAW: Has it Shaped Laws and Policies for Women with Disabilities? The ratification of CRPD and CEDAW has led to a revision in laws and policies for the development of people with disabilities, but has not brought about a real change in the laws and policies around disability in many countries, particularly with regard to the specific discrimination faced by women with disabilities. However, these revisions often have a gender-neutral approach towards disability, prioritizing issues of access, education, and employment, rendering the specific concerns of women with disabilities, especially with regard to their SRHR, invisible. The "gender-mainstreaming, disability-inclusive" approach draws upon a feminist-disability discourse that seeks to challenge dominant assumptions about living with a disability, and it situates the disability experience in the context of rights and exclusions. It also questions the assumption that disability is a flaw or a deficiency. In order to do so, it defines disability broadly from a social rather than a medical perspective. (5) Hence, participation and inclusion of people with disabilities emphasizes on looking at the social and physical barriers for such participation and addressing these barriers and concerns. This approach also necessitates addressing stereotypes related to gender and sexuality which form a significant social barrier for women with disabilities.

Malaysia ratified CEDAW and CRPD in 1995 and 2010 respectively. The National Welfare Policy of Malaysia (2017-2020) has come under severe criticisms from the disability rights movement because it views people with disabilities as impaired and in need of correction.

This approach tends to treat them as dependents, always in need of "support" which society will give as and when it chooses. (6) Similarly, Indonesia (7) has adopted a number of laws and policies on disabilities, most of which are based on a charity model. (8) In 2016, Indonesia passed a new legislation (9) ostensibly adopting a rights-based approach; however, the reports and data collection around disabilities hardly addressed the question of women's SRHR. For instance, a study (10) looking at issues of disability in Indonesia by the Demographic Institute does not address issues around SRFHR at all. Similarly, Bangladesh, which ratified the CRPD in 2007, passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013, which takes a rights-based approach towards disability, based on CRPD. (11) However, the law does not address key issues around SRHR and the specific rights of women with disabilities. Likewise, the National Policy of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2002, (12) of Pakistan adopts a charity and welfare model towards people with disabilities. Two of the countries in the region, Sri Lanka and Democratic Republic of Korea, ratified the CRPD only in 2016; the process of revision of legislation is under way and it is essential that this draft law specifically addresses the rights of women with disabilities. India passed a law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016, after a long struggle by the disability rights movement and activists. The law goes far in addressing issues of the rights of people with disabilities, acknowledging that the law should recognize the legal capacity of people with disabilities, and mentions the specific needs of women with disabilities. (13)

This neglect of SRHR of women with disabilities in laws and policies is a common phenomenon across many countries in the Asia-Pacific region. A study (14) looking at Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam has highlighted that laws and policies are not sufficient legal protection for women with disabilities. The study also highlighted that healthcare implementers are often unaware of ways to deal with disability; laws often do not cover the specific needs of women with disabilities, and women with disabilities are also often unaware of existing legal protections. Women with disabilities who choose to have a child are often criticized for their decision and face barriers in accessing adequate healthcare and other services for themselves and their children. This neglect towards the specific needs of women with disabilities is prevalent within the Committee as well, where sexuality and SRHR of women with disabilities is addressed through a protectionist approach rather than as a right. (15)

Conclusion. In November 2012, The Asia-Pacific governments at the High-level Intergovernmental Meeting adopted the Ministerial Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities 2013-2022 and the Incheon Strategy (16) to "Make the Right Real" for people with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. It provides the first set of regionally agreed disability-inclusive development goals. The Incheon Strategy is designed to help the Asia and Pacific region to track progress towards improving the quality of life, and the fulfilment of rights, of people with disabilities. Progress in the implementation of the Ministerial Declaration and the Incheon Strategy will be monitored every three years by the secretariat of the Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific. The strategy has 10 goals, with targets under each goal, including reducing poverty, education access, and employment. Goal 6 ensures gender equality and women's empowerment and a specific target under the goal is equal access to sexual and reproductive health services. Furthermore, the adoption of sustainable development goals in 2015, with the core principle of leaving no one behind, provides an opportunity to push governments to address these issues. Particularly, Goals 3 and 5, ensuring healthy lives and well-being and gender equality, should be read together with every country's human rights commitments including CEDAW and the CRPD. All of these provide activists and organisations working on disabilities the opportunity to push for better laws, policies and implementation in every country-and opportunities to ensure that the specific issues and concerns of women with disabilities are heard.

By Pooja Badarinath

ARROW Programme Manager, Advocacy


Notes & References

(1.) Article 6 of CRPD deals with discrimination of women and girls with disabilities.

(2.) General Comments are recommendations by the Committee on issues in the Convention that they think the States should focus on in their report or description of the articles in more detail.



(5.) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, A/HRC/35/21 available at pdf?OpenElement.

(6.) M. Rezaul Islam, "Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Social Exclusion in Malaysia," International journal of Social Science and Humanity, 5:2 (2017), available at

(7.) Indonesia is yet to ratify CRPD.

(8.) International Labour Organisation, "Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Indonesia," available at wcmsp5/groups/public/--asia/--ro-bangkok/--ilo-jakarta/ documents/publication/wcms_233427.pdf.

(9.) A transcript of the law is unavailable and hence the author cannot comment on it.

(10.) Disabilities%20report%20Final%20sept2014%20%281%29.pdf, accessed on September 15, 2017.

(11.) Persons%20with%20Disabilities%20Rights%20and%20 Protection%20Act%202013_0.pdf, accessed on September 15, 2017.

(12.) Resources/pdf-Files-in-Events/Pak-Disabled-Policy.pdf.

(13.) Shampa Sengupta, "The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016 Is Historic, and Here's Why," The Better India, n.d., at

(14.) ASEAN Disability Forum (ADF), Sexuality and Reproductive Health of Persons with Disabilities, Jakarta: ADF (2016).

(15.) Felipe Jaramillo Ruiz, "The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its take on Sexuality," Reproductive Health Matters, 25:50 (2017), 92-103, 09688080.2017.1332449.

(16.) Strategy%20%28English%29.pdf.


Bangladesh             2007                 1984

Cambodia               2012                 1992

China                  2008                 1980

India                  2007                 1993

Indonesia          Signed 2010,             1984
                   not ratified

Lao People's           2009                 1981

Malaysia               2010                 1995

Maldives               2010                 1993

Mongolia               2010                 1981

Myanmar                2011                 2011

Nepal                  2010                 1991

Pakistan               2011                 1996

Philippines            2008                 1981

Singapore              2013                 1995

Sri Lanka              2016                 1981

Thailand               2008                 1985

Timor Leste             No                  2003

Viet Nam               2015                 1982
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Title Annotation:factfile
Author:Badarinath, Pooja
Publication:Arrows For Change
Geographic Code:9INDO
Date:Dec 1, 2017
Previous Article:DEFINITIONS.

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