The day after yesterday

9 March 2012, Budapest. International Women’s Day falls on 8 March each year. The world celebrates the contributions of women and the struggle for equal rights. This recognition quickly dissipates… today is just another day for many women whose bodies are objectified, behaviours controlled and autonomy ignored.

Women living with disabilities and psychiatric labels in particular, are at risk of multiple forms of discrimination. Whether living in the community or in psychiatric and social care institutions, women are subjected to forced sterilisation, abortion, sexual abuse, violence and exploitation. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture pointed out in 2008 that these practices can amount to torture and ill-treatment, which are absolutely banned by international law.

Women are not a homogenous group, and nor are women with disabilities. Women with disabilities also face discrimination due to their race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, nationality, and wealth. They face discrimination due to where they are: in prison, in immigration centres, in rural villages. People with disabilities are often stripped of their legal capacity and personhood, but for women and girls with psycho-social or intellectual disabilities this goes one step further: they are stripped of their sexual and reproductive rights, and their right to found a family.

  • In France, five women with intellectual were sterilised without their consent from 1995-1998. MDAC co-submitted a friend of the court brief to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that forced sterilization is a human rights violation.
  • In Croatia, MDAC reported last year that women with disabilities in institutions have undergone abortions without their consent. There, a government official along with the guardian of the pregnant woman determines whether the abortion should go ahead; the woman’s voice and choice is ignored.
  • In Hungary, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has revealed widespread use of contraceptives given to women residents of in social care institutions for people with disabilities in the county of Tolna. Female residents received little information about effects and side effects of pills and injections. Contraception for men was never used.
  • In Russia, MDAC is advising in a court case of a woman with intellectual disabilities who, after giving birth, was placed under guardianship in proceedings in which she was not allowed to participate. The State then removed her baby and placed it into an orphanage.
  • In South Africa we are investigating the extent of coercive and forced sterilisation and abortion on women with disabilities and will report on this in the next year.

These rights violations happen because women with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities are at risk of being placed under guardianship and in an institution. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the higher risks of exploitation, violence and abuse which girls and women with disabilities face. Article 6 of this Convention injects a gender perspective to all other substantive rights. The disability treaty body has started to address gender-based violence, including sterilizations, saying that these should never be carried out without full and informed consent (see the statements on Tunisia and Spain).

So today is just another day in the struggle for human rights and equality for girls and women with disabilities. You don’t need an international women’s day to prompt you to take action. Please support MDAC today to fight human rights abuses every day. 

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