Strengthening the capacity of networks of women with disabilities on humanitarian action

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Women leaders with disabilities from the Network of African Women with Disabilities (NAWWD) representing 10 African countries, and refugee women with disabilities met in Nairobi, Kenya from February 11-12 to participate in the workshop "Enhancing the Network's Humanitarian Advocacy at Regional and Global Events".

“Women and girls are already discriminated against by virtue of their gender and this discrimination is intensified for those who are disabled. There is, therefore, a need to empower them by ensuring that their voices are heard in all sectors, as well as in local, national, and international forums,” Grace Massah, a participant from Malawi said.

During the two-day workshop, approximately 30 participants identified gaps and opportunities, mapped capacity-building needs on humanitarian issues, learned about humanitarian issues, systems and processes, shared experiences, and developed regional advocacy plans on key humanitarian issues. The importance of increasing the number of members and mentorship of young women leaders with disabilities were also addressed. The workshop was held as part of UN Women’s one year project on strengthening the capacity of networks of women with disabilities in humanitarian action, which is being implemented in partnership with the Women’s Refugee Commission and co-funded by the governments of Korea and Australia.

UN agencies including UN Women and UNHCR and other humanitarian actors such as the International Rescue Committee presented about their role in humanitarian crises and opportunities to collaborate with the regional network. In her presentation, Jebbeh Forster, UN Women’s Peace and Security Advisor for the East and Southern Africa Region, highlighted UN Women’s work with civil society organizations to achieve global and regional gender equality and women’s empowerment commitments in the context of humanitarian actions. This is done through gender needs assessments; capacity building on mainstreaming gender and women’s empowerment in the humanitarian response for government institutions, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and strengthening the capacity of women to participate in peacebuilding and enhance their leadership skills. In this regard, civil society organizations, including those of, or working with women with disabilities, need to use this space for participation in gender assessments to include their needs across sectors, and advocate for their concerns to be articulated at the highest level.

Developing regional advocacy plans on key humanitarian issues

To support this, participants of the workshop developed regional advocacy plans on key humanitarian issues with a view to the formation of community-based structures of women and girls with disabilities in humanitarian settings to ensure self-representation. These advocacy plans also aim to promote the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in humanitarian action, including the World Humanitarian Summit, as well as the inclusion of humanitarian issues of women and girls with disabilities in disability rights forum, including in the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.Tungi Mwajala, a participant from Tanzania said: “Women and girls living with disabilities need to unite so that they can have one voice regarding their rights and needs.”

Moving forward in the humanitarian-development continuum

2016 marks the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention mainstreams gender perspectives and has a standalone article, Article 6, on women with disabilities. Article 11 focused on Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of CEDAW’s general recommendation 18 on disabled women. It will also be the year in which the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will adopt a general comment on women with disabilities.

“Women and girls with disabilities need to have equal participation in leadership, employment, education and all other sectors,” said Berhane Daba, a founding member of the National Association of Women with Disabilities, Ethiopia. To effectively address gender equality concerns across the humanitarian-development continuum, as we move to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and prepare for the World Humanitarian Summit, it is more important than ever before to ensure the participation of women and girls with disabilities. Of significance for women and girls with disabilities is that both gender equality perspectives and disability are mainstreamed in the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda. Goal 5 to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and its six related targets, as well as the systematic mainstreaming of gender equality throughout the framework, provide the opportunity to address the needs and priorities of women and girls with disabilities. Furthermore, most of the targets with specific reference to disabilities or persons with disabilities also include references to gender or women.