Nothing about us, without us


Zibran Choudhury


It’s day two of the European Foundation Centre 2019 Annual General Assembly, and we move on from Liberté, to Égalité and explore how funders can work together with women and girls with disabilities.

Maria Orejas-Chantelot, Director of Policy & Programmes, at the European Foundation Centre opened by explaining that gender is back on the agenda, to some extent, at least. Momentum from the #MeToo movment has energised but Maria stated the need to move opportunistically to keep driving the agenda forward, and go one step further to suggest more concrete and transformative ways to include disability.

Ana Peláez Narvaez, vice-president of the European Disability Forum, and Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women started by describing the scale of the issue. ‘There are 600 million women in around the world with a disability, 51 million of them are in Europe and it’s a forgotten population.’

Ana explained that women’s rights are visible in the context of international development but powerfully described how as a woman with a disability, aspects of her identity have been stripped.

‘For disabled women, we are disabled. We don’t have a sex, a gender identity and our sexual and reproductive rights are not considered’

Ana has failed to see progress, ‘Just eight countries in Europe have an organisation working with women with disabilities – in a continent representing 51 million women. We cannot guarantee their rights if they don’t have a voice. This is the challenge and this is the moment your foundation can act, and ask yourself how can we include women with disabilities.’

Yetnebersh Nigussie, Director of Advocacy and Rights at Light for the World International, echoed Ana’s experiences saying, ‘Until 2018 the CIPD committee had 18 members with only one woman with a disability.’

Yetnebersh described the power of the multiplier effect with inclusion, sharing an example of a school in Burkina Faso that successfully increased literacy rates of disabled young women and girls, but also brought girls without disability to the school too. ‘Inclusion makes us win. It needs to addressed otherwise we’ll create another vacuum in life.’

The lack of representation and voice was stark, and Nevgul Bilsel Safkan, General Manager of Sabanci Foundation spoke of the economic challenges young disabled women also face. ‘Only seven per cent of women with disabilities go into the workforce – the stats aren’t strong and it’s similar in many countries. As funders, we need to prioritise human rights-based NGOs.’

As pointed out on the day, I was one of a handful of men in the room, and it made Yetnebersh, Ana and Nevgul’s rallying call of ‘Nothing about us, without us’ ring louder. Women and girls are still being denied marriage, reproductive and economic rights and they are no longer the low hanging fruit.

As Yetnebersh concluded ‘Low hanging fruit can be reached by the lazy birds, it’s time to dig deeper.’  The call for funders in the room was clear.

Zibran Choudhury is Communication and Circulation Officer at Alliance magazine

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