Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Women Deliver conference in Kigali, Rwanda. The event served as a platform for myself and other Sightsavers colleagues to engage in discussions about how to dismantle barriers and tackle the obstacles impeding progress around women’s rights.
Worldwide, around 18% of women have a disability – yet these types of discussions and forums on women’s rights have often forgotten women and girls with disabilities. That’s why we travelled to Women Deliver: to raise awareness about disability inclusion and promote women and girls with disabilities as leaders within the women’s rights movement.
Over the past year, Sightsavers, along with our partners, has advocated for women with disabilities to have their voices heard at Women Deliver. So it was uplifting to see many women with disabilities sharing their experiences and expertise at different events throughout the conference.
I was honoured to watch my colleague Gertrude ‘Getty’ Oforiwa Fefoame, global advocacy manager at Sightsavers and chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, speak at the plenary session on accountability of gender commitments. This was one of the most highly attended plenary sessions and was opened by Malala Yousafzai. Malala spoke passionately about the importance of collective action and how ‘every young girl can be a Malala if they can access their rights’.
In front of presidents, government ministers and heads of UN agencies, Getty shared her thoughts on how mechanisms that monitor progress on gender commitments can become more inclusive. She highlighted how women with disabilities should be at the table when policies and programmes on gender are being designed. She also emphasised the importance of collecting and using inclusive data (data that is representative of all people, especially those who have been marginalised and excluded) to inform these policies.
Getty also used this platform to highlight the barriers that women with disabilities experienced during the Generation Equality Forums in 2021 and called on states and UN agencies to sign up to the Feminist Accessibility Protocol. This is a set of 13 commitments to ensure that discussions and decision-making spaces on gender are fully accessible to and inclusive of feminists with disabilities.
It was good to see women with disabilities take the stage at three plenary sessions across the conference. For example, Catalina Devandas shed light on the harmful practices women with disabilities are often exposed to, including forced sterilisation, abortion and contraception, at the plenary on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Experts discussed how ensuring that women and girls have autonomy over their own bodies and futures is both the right thing to do and a smart investment, so it was great to see disability included in this conversation.
As part of Sightsavers’ leadership of the Inclusive Futures consortium, our team sponsored two OPD leaders, Lucy Mulombii and Esther Mkamori, to attend the conference and share their insights. Through this initiative, we showed our commitment to supporting women with disabilities to tell their own stories. Liz Ombati’s guide to reporting on disability was also included in the Women Deliver media pack, which went to all journalists attending. This shares an important message with the media to do more to reflect the lived experience of people with disabilities accurately.
Women Deliver was also a key moment for Generation Equality, the world’s leading initiative to accelerate investment in gender equality and ensure its implementation. Sadly, disability inclusion is very much overlooked in this process.
With this in mind, I was pleased to watch Maryangel Garcia-Ramos, Women Enabled International’s executive director, speak about the importance of disability inclusion at the Generation Equality Impact Fest. We have been working closely with Women Enabled International in the lead up to the conference, so it was great to see Maryangel underline the urgent need to collect and use inclusive data when creating, implementing and tracking Generation Equality commitments.
She also highlighted the great work of the Inclusive Generation Equality Collective (IGEC), which raises the voices of feminists with disabilities to ensure their effective participation and inclusion in Generation Equality. As only a very small number of Generation Equality commitments include disability, Maryangel used this platform to call for more commitments and reporting on disability and intersectionality.
Making sure the rights of women and girls are addressed is critical in everything we do, whether it's the right to go to school, get a job, vote, or make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. We’re committed to making our programmes gender responsive and disability inclusive.Read more information (pdf)