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Document 52018AE1639

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on — The situation of women with disabilities (Exploratory opinion requested by the European Parliament)

EESC 2018/01639

OJ C 367, 10.10.2018, p. 20–27 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

10.10.2018   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 367/20


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on

The situation of women with disabilities

(Exploratory opinion requested by the European Parliament)

(2018/C 367/04)

Rapporteur:

Gunta ANČA

Consultation

European Parliament, 3.4.2018

Legal basis

Article 29 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Plenary Assembly decision

13.3.2018

Section responsible

Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship

Adopted in section

6.6.2018

Adopted at plenary

11.7.2018

Plenary session No

536

Outcome of vote

(for/against/abstentions)

187/2/0

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

Women and girls with disabilities continue to face multiple and intersectional discrimination based on both their gender and their disability. Women with disabilities do not have equal opportunities to participate on an equal basis with others in all aspects of society. They are too often excluded, among other things, from inclusive education and training, employment, access to poverty-reduction schemes, adequate housing and participation in political and public life, and a number of legislative acts prevent them from making decisions about their own lives, including their sexual and reproductive rights. They face barriers to the enjoyment of their rights as EU citizens (1).

1.2.

This opinion calls on the EU, jointly with all its Member States, to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (2), the recommendations that the EU received from the UNCRPD Committee with regard to women and girls with disabilities in 2015 and the UN Committee’s General Comment No 3 on Article 6 of the CRPD.

1.3.

We call on the EU and its Member States to include a disability perspective in its forthcoming gender equality strategy, policies and programmes, and a gender perspective in its disability strategies, including its future European Disability Strategy 2020-2030 and the European Pillar of Social Rights (3). The successor to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth should also include the perspective of women with disabilities as their economic and social participation is essential for the success of Europe’s overall economic and social strategy (4).

1.4.

At both EU and national level, the necessary measures should be taken to set up a structured dialogue with an independent budget line sufficient to guarantee meaningful consultation with and participation of persons with disabilities, including women, girls and boys with disabilities, through their representative organisations in the implementation and the monitoring of the CRPD (5).

1.5.

The use of current and future EU funding instruments, particularly the Structural Funds and the European Social Fund, should be used as key tools to support the Member States in promoting accessibility and non-discrimination regarding women and girls with disabilities (6).

1.6.

The EU and its Member States should accede swiftly to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) as a step towards combating violence against women and girls with disabilities (7). These measures should include criminalising sexual and other types of violence against women and girls with disabilities, including ending forced sterilisation (8).

1.7.

The EU and the Member States should take all measures to ensure that women and girls with disabilities have equal access to disability-specific healthcare services for persons with disabilities, as well as to accessible mainstream services. All women and girls with disabilities must be able to exercise their legal capacity by taking their own decisions, with support when desired, with regard to medical and/or therapeutic treatment, including by taking their own decisions on retaining their fertility and reproductive autonomy (9).

2.   Introduction

2.1.

Women with disabilities are still on the sidelines of society. The situation of women with disabilities is not only worse than that of women without disabilities, it is also worse than that of their male peers (10).

2.2.

Women with disabilities constitute 16 % of the total population of women in Europe. This figure is based on the current female population of just below 250 million, so in the European Union (EU) there are approximately 40 million women and girls with disabilities (11).

2.3.

The number of elderly people is increasing in Europe and worldwide, which means that the number of people with disabilities will increase accordingly. The number of women with disabilities will increase disproportionately due to the longer life expectancy of women (12).

2.4.

This opinion calls on the EU, jointly with all its Member States, to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (13), the recommendations that the EU received from the UNCRPD with regard to women and girls with disabilities in 2015 and the UN Committee’s General Comment No 3 on Article 6 of the CRPD. A plan of action, time frame and resources for the implementation of the CRPD should be put in place immediately by the EU and its Member States.

3.   General comments

International and European legal framework

3.1.

The EU is a State Party to the UNCRPD, together with the 28 EU Member States. They are now bound to the CRPD by international law, which means that they are committed to jointly promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities as enshrined in the CRPD, including those of women and girls with disabilities. The EU and its Member States should set the example as it is the only regional integration organisation worldwide that is a State Party to the CRPD and is in a unique position to ensure harmonised and equal protection of women and girls with disabilities across Europe.

3.2.

The CRPD recognises in Article 6 that ‘women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discriminations, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the present Convention’.

3.3.

In 2015, it received important recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on how to improve the situation of persons, including women and girls with disabilities in the European Union.

3.4.

In 2016, the UNCRPD Committee adopted its General Comment No 3 on Article 6 CRPD which highlights that States Parties to the CRPD, including the EU, should take the measures mentioned above to promote the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

3.5.

All EU Member States are also States Parties to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the most comprehensive international legal instrument to advance the equal recognition, enjoyment and exercise of all human rights of women in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil and domestic fields. Women and girls with disabilities should also fully enjoy and be included in national efforts to implement the CEDAW.

3.6.

Articles 10 and 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) require the EU to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation when defining and implementing its policies and activities, and by adopting appropriate actions. Article 8 of TFEU states that: ‘In all its activities, the Union shall aim to eliminate inequalities, and to promote equality, between men and women’.

3.7.

Articles 20 and 26 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibit discrimination on the ground of disability and recognise the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community. The Charter also refers to equality between men and women and to non-discrimination across a range of grounds — including sex.

4.   General recommendations

4.1.

Contrary to the references in the CRPD, CEDAW, TFEU and the Charter, the European Union has neither mainstreamed a disability perspective in all its gender policies, programmes and strategies, nor adopted a gender perspective in its disability strategies. The EU and its Member States currently lack a strong legal framework to protect, promote and ensure all human rights of all women and girls with disabilities. We call on the EU and its Member States to include a disability perspective in its forthcoming gender equality strategy, policies and programmes, and a gender perspective in its disability strategies, including its future European Disability Strategy 2020-2030 and the European Pillar of Social Rights. The successor to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth should also include the perspective of women with disabilities as their economic and social participation is essential for the success of Europe’s overall economic and social strategy (14).

4.2.

The EU and its Member States do not sufficiently consult and fund representative organisations of women and girls with disabilities. At both EU and national level, the necessary measures should be taken to set up a structured dialogue with an independent budget line sufficient to guarantee meaningful consultation with and participation of persons with disabilities, including women, girls and boys with disabilities, through their representative organisations in the implementation and monitoring of the CRPD (15).

4.3.

Women and girls with disabilities still find themselves on the fringes of all human rights organisations. Periodic reports produced by the relevant European Union and Member State human rights treaty bodies must automatically include information on women with disabilities. This practice should be extended to all institutions engaged in human rights advocacy both at European level and nationally, including the representative organisations of persons with disabilities and their families, women in general and women with disabilities (16).

4.4.

The EU and its Member States lack consistent and comparable data and human rights indicators on women and girls with disabilities, as well as research on the situation of women and girls with disabilities in the EU (17). The EESC recommends that the European agencies, notably Eurofound, Cedefop, the FRA and EIGE, should adopt a more systematic approach in their work regarding people with disabilities and their situation in the labour market and in society. This should particularly take into account the situation of women and the fact that intersectionality can lead to multiple forms of discrimination. The EESC further recommends that this issue should be clearly included in their Work Programmes. At both EU and national level, the issues of women and girls with disabilities should be incorporated into the collection of data and statistics on gender and age as well as into existing statistical series and surveys in accordance with UNCRPD principles. A mechanism should be established to monitor progress and fund data collection, studies and research on women and girls with disabilities and the intersectional discrimination they face, including by the most marginalised groups in society such as from ethnic and religious minorities, to guide policy planning. All research on the rights of persons with disabilities should take a gender perspective into account, and research on women and girls should take the disability perspective into account.

4.5.

The use of current and future EU funding instruments, particularly the Structural Funds and the European Social Fund, should be used as key tools to support the Member States in promoting accessibility and non-discrimination regarding women and girls with disabilities (18) and to raise awareness and increase visibility of funding opportunities for measures of this kind in post-2020 programmes. Organisations of persons with disabilities should receive accessible information and support in accessing funding opportunities.

4.6.

Women and girls with disabilities are at increased risk of being victims of multiple and intersectional discrimination in Europe. The intersection of race, ethnic origin, social class, age, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, sex, disability, refugee or migrant status, etc. has a multiplier effect which increases the discrimination experienced by women and girls with disabilities (19). This discrimination arises from the way in which people construct their identities, failing to recognise the diversity which exists among women with disabilities and tending to homogenise women with disabilities in all social spaces and view their reality from an exclusive perspective (20). The EU and its Member States should repeal all discriminatory legislation, policies and practices, and outlaw all gender- and disability-based discrimination and its intersectional forms, including by adopting strong and broad EU legislation that protects women with disabilities from intersectional discrimination in all areas of life (21).

4.7.

History, attitudes and prejudices in the community, including in the family circle, have stereotyped women and girls with disabilities negatively, thus contributing to their social isolation and exclusion. They are almost completely ignored by the media and when they do appear, the approach is to treat women with disabilities from an asexual medical perspective and ignore their capabilities and contribution to the surrounding environment (22). Women and girls with disabilities are not sufficiently aware of their rights under the CRPD, CEDAW and EU law. The EU and its Member States should develop a comprehensive campaign to raise awareness about the CRPD and CEDAW, raise visibility regarding the situation of women with disabilities and combat prejudice against women and girls with disabilities (23). The media should be encouraged to consult and involve women with disabilities, preferably nominated by their organisations, which should also take part in presentations and monitor programmes. Organisations of persons with disabilities should receive the necessary funding to inform and train women and girls with disabilities and their families regarding their rights under the CRPD.

4.8.

The EU as a public administration has a duty to implement the CRPD internally within its institutions. The EU should ensure that issues of women and girls with disabilities are fully included and respected in their events and meetings, communication, information and consultation efforts and social security and employment policies, and should make an effort to ensure that its budgets are sensitive to gender issues. Positive actions should be taken to ensure that women with disabilities can participate on an equal basis with others in the work and functioning of the EU institutions.

5.   Specific comments

5.1.   Violence

5.1.1.

Women with disabilities are at heightened risk of violence, exploitation and abuse compared to other women. Violence may be interpersonal, institutional and/or structural. Institutional and/or structural violence is any form of structural inequality or institutional discrimination that keeps a woman in a subordinate position, whether physically or ideologically, compared to other people in her family, household or community (24). A 2014 study by the European Fundamental Rights Agency estimated that women and girls with disabilities are three to five times more likely to be victims of violence, particularly domestic violence (25).

5.1.2.

EU and national legislation on the prevention of exploitation, violence and abuse often lacks a focus on women and girls with disabilities. The EU should take the necessary measures to mainstream disability in all legislation, policies and strategies to combat violence, abuse and exploitation (26). Violence against women should be criminalised. They should take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect women and girls with disabilities, both within and outside the home, from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse and to facilitate their access to justice through the provision of suitable community-based assistance and support, taking into consideration their specific needs, including assistive devices, in order to avoid isolation and confinement in the home (27).

5.1.3.

The EU and its Member States should accede swiftly to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) as a step towards combating violence against women and girls with disabilities. These measures should include criminalising sexual and other types of violence against women and girls with disabilities, including ending forced sterilisation (28).

5.2.   Sexual and reproductive health and rights, including respect for the home and the family

5.2.1.

Wrongful stereotyping related to disability and gender is a form of discrimination that has a particularly serious impact on the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the right to found a family. Harmful stereotypes of women with disabilities include the belief that they are asexual, incapable, irrational and/or hypersexual (29).

5.2.2.

The choices of women with disabilities, especially women with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, are often ignored and their decisions are often substituted by those of third parties, including legal representatives, service providers, guardians and family members, in violation of their rights under Article 12 of the CRPD (30). Too often, women and girls with disabilities are forcibly subjected to sterilisation and abortion, or other forms of controlling their fertility. The EU and the Member States should take all measures to ensure that all women with disabilities must be able to exercise their legal capacity by taking their own decisions, with support when desired, with regard to medical and/or therapeutic treatment, including by making their own decisions on retaining their fertility and reproductive autonomy, exercising their right to choose the number and spacing of children, matters related to their sexuality and exercising their right to establish relationships. This should happen free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Forced sterilisation and forced abortion are a form of violence against women and should be criminalised, as defined by Article 39 of the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (31).

5.2.3.

Women with disabilities may also be denied access to information, communication and education on their sexual and reproductive health and rights, based on harmful stereotypes that assume that they are asexual and therefore do not require such information on an equal basis with others. Information may also not be available in accessible formats. Healthcare facilities and equipment, including mammogram machines and gynaecological examination beds, are often physically inaccessible for women with disabilities (32). The EU and the Member States should take all measures to ensure that women and girls with disabilities have equal access to disability-specific healthcare services for persons with disabilities, as well as to accessible mainstream services, such as dental and eye care, sexual and reproductive health and preventive services, including gynaecological consultations, medical examinations, family planning and adapted support during pregnancy.

5.2.4.

Necessary measures should be taken in terms of training professionals, above all healthcare professionals and those involved in the legal field, to ensure that they listen to the voices of girls and women with disabilities during legal investigations and proceedings. These measures should be taken in close cooperation with representative organisations of persons with disabilities.

5.3.   Education and training

5.3.1.

Harmful gender and disability stereotypes combine to fuel discriminatory attitudes, policies and practices, such as: using educational material perpetuating wrongful gender and disability stereotypes, carrying out gender-based family activities, assigning caregiver roles to women and girls and in some areas giving greater value to the education of boys over girls, encouraging the child marriage of girls with disabilities and not providing accessible sanitation facilities at schools to ensure hygienic menstrual management. In turn, these result in higher rates of illiteracy, school failure, uneven daily attendance rates, absenteeism and dropping out of school entirely (33).

5.3.2.

A comparative analysis of the EU showed that in 2011, only 27 % of persons with disabilities aged 30-34 had completed tertiary or equivalent education in the EU (34). No data are however available on women and girls with disabilities specifically. In the European schools and in different EU Member States, many girls and women with disabilities cannot access inclusive, high quality education in line with the CRPD. It has been demonstrated that the financial crisis has negatively influenced efforts towards inclusive education.

5.3.3.

Inclusive mainstream education for girls and women with disabilities must be viewed through the paradigm of high quality education, equal opportunities, support and reasonable accommodation (35), and universal accessibility throughout the entire life cycle, ensuring that women with disabilities enjoy access to continuing education as a means to enhance their personal independence, the free development of personality and their social inclusion, while exercising permanently the right to decide for themselves and choose their way of life. Parents of pupils with disabilities should be provided with the necessary information regarding the benefits of inclusive mainstream education.

5.3.4.

The EU and the Member States should evaluate the current situation and take measures to facilitate access to and enjoyment of inclusive, high quality education for all students with disabilities in line with the CRPD by promoting the use of European funding instruments, and include disability-specific indicators in the Europe 2020 strategy when pursuing the education target.

5.3.5.

Relevant EU Regulations and student exchange programmes (such as Erasmus+) have been improved in recent years by including financial support for the mobility of students with disabilities. However, in practice disabled students face many barriers when trying to access the national educational services of the country of destination (attitude, physical, communication and information barriers and lack of flexibility in the curricula) (36). The EU programmes on higher education, training and lifelong learning should include support for women with disabilities. The European Entrepreneur Exchange programme should include financial support for young persons with disabilities, as is currently not the case. Good practices and challenges for student and young entrepreneur exchange programmes should be shared, and training should be provided for educational professionals, social partners and the media.

5.3.6.

Equal access to various components of ICT facilities and the information society should be ensured for women and girls with disabilities. When developing information and communication technologies, economic factors, the need for training and equal opportunities regardless of age should be taken into account to give girls and women with disabilities at risk of social exclusion or poverty access to them.

5.4.   Employment

5.4.1.

The participation of women in general in the labour market remains much lower than that of men (46,6 % compared to 61,9 %). The labour markets across all Member States show persistent and significant gender segregation. Women with disabilities are however much more excluded from the labour market. Only 18,8 % of women with disabilities are employed in the EU according to the 2015 Gender Equality Index of the European Institution of Gender Equality. 28,1 % of men with disabilities are employed. The high rate of unemployment among women with disabilities remains unacceptable and makes them more likely to live in poverty and social exclusion. Women and girls with disabilities encounter greater difficulties in entering the labour market, making it harder for them to lead independent lives. Women and girls with disabilities often face underpayment. Barriers to mobility as well as higher dependence on family members and carers create obstacles to their active participation in education, the labour market and the social and economic life of the community (37).

5.4.2.

Considering the high unemployment and labour market inactivity rates among women with disabilities, the EU and its Member States need to develop both mainstream and positive actions targeting women with disabilities to promote training, job placements, access to employment, job retention, equal pay for equal work, equal career path, adaptations in the workplace and work-life balance. Women with disabilities must have the right, on an equal basis with others, to just and favourable working conditions, including equal opportunities and equal remuneration for work of equal value (38).

5.4.3.

Bearing in mind the EU instrument for microfinancing and the European Social Fund to boost employment and promote social inclusion, opportunities for self-employment, entrepreneurship among women with disabilities, equal representation in management boards of enterprises, development of social enterprises or starting one’s own business should be promoted. Women with disabilities should have equal rights to financial assistance throughout the lifecycle of the company and should be seen as competent entrepreneurs. Positive action measures should be provided in this regard to women with disabilities who are entrepreneurs by means of soft loans, microcredit and non-returnable grants, including for women living in rural areas.

5.4.4.

The increase in the number of people with disabilities will increase the burden on carers, and in particular on family carers, who are mainly women who are forced to work shorter hours and even to leave the labour market in order to care for dependent family members (39).

5.4.5.

The EU and Member States should promote a better balance between professional and private life for women with disabilities and carers of persons with disabilities through effective measures based on their specific demands. Possible measures that may be options to achieve this goal include salary transparency, recruitment procedures and social security payments, flexible working hours or part-time teleworking, balance between disability-associated expenses in relation to motherhood and care for other persons with high support needs, promoting universal access to affordable, high quality support services at different times of the day, such as nurseries or care services for older people and other persons with high support needs, may be some options to reach this goal (40).

5.4.6.

The EU and the Member States should include women with disabilities and families of persons with disabilities in its proposed Directive on Work-Life Balance for Parents and Carers, and other policy measures to improve the work-life balance of workers and carers (41).

5.4.7.

Women with disabilities also face unique barriers to their equal participation in the workplace, including sexual harassment, unequal pay and lack of access to seek redress because of discriminatory attitudes dismissing their claims. The EU and the Members States should also ensure safe and healthy working conditions for women with disabilities and carers of persons with disabilities, including protection from harassment and the redress of grievances. Harassment in the workplace should be prevented through the adoption of effective harassment protocols in accordance with the application of EU Directive 2000/78/EC (42).

5.5.   Participation in political and public life

5.5.1.

The voices of women and girls with disabilities have historically been silenced, which is why they are disproportionately underrepresented in public decision making. In the majority of EU Member States, the deprivation of legal capacity of citizens with disabilities results in their losing the right to vote. Barriers to the right to vote also take the form of inaccessible voting procedures, including inaccessible polling stations (43). The EU should ensure that women with disabilities can fully participate in public and political life, and especially in the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.

5.5.2.

Owing to power imbalances and multiple discriminations, they have had fewer opportunities to establish or join organisations that can represent their needs as women, children and persons with disabilities. The EU should take measures to encourage women with disabilities to take leadership roles in public decision-making bodies at all levels and enable them to form and join organisations and networks of women with disabilities (44). Training and mentorship programmes should be provided for women with disabilities to empower them to enter political and public life.

Brussels, 11 July 2018.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Luca JAHIER


(1)  UNCRPD, General comment No 3 (CRPD/C/GC/3), p. 1; EDF Alternative report to the UNCRPD, p. 57

(2)  UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities

(3)  UNCRPD, Concluding observations on the initial report of the EU, United Nations (Article 6 CRPD/C/EU/CO/1)

(4)  Report on women with disabilities, European Parliament, 14/10/2013, p. 6

(5)  Idem footnote 3, Article. 4.3; Idem footnote 1, p. 17

(6)  Idem footnote 4, p. 9

(7)  Idem footnote 3, Article 16

(8)  Report on ending forced sterilisation against women and girls with disabilities, European Disability Forum, 2018, p. 49

(9)  2nd Manifesto on the Rights of Women and Girls with Disabilities in the EU, European Disability Forum, 2011, pp. 18 and 34

(10)  Idem footnote 9, p. 4

(11)  Ad hoc module of the EU Labour Force Survey (LFS) on people with disabilities and long-term health problems, 2002.

(12)  Idem footnote 4, p. 24

(13)  UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

(14)  Idem footnote 3, Article 6; Idem footnote 4, p. 6

(15)  Idem footnote 3, Article 4.3; Idem footnote 1, p. 17

(16)  Idem footnote 9, p. 47

(17)  Idem footnote 4, p. 16

(18)  Idem footnote 4, p. 9

(19)  Idem footnote 1, p. 2

(20)  Idem footnote 9, p. 52

(21)  Idem footnote 1, p. 15

(22)  Idem footnote 9, p. 11

(23)  Idem footnote 3, Article 8

(24)  Idem footnote 1, p. 8

(25)  Survey on Violence against women, Fundamental Rights Agency, 2014, p. 186

(26)  Idem footnote 3, Article 16

(27)  Idem footnote 9, p. 21

(28)  Idem footnote 3, Article 16; Idem footnote 8, p. 49

(29)  Idem footnote 1, p. 10

(30)  Idem footnote 1, p. 11

(31)  Report on ending forced sterilisation against women and girls with disabilities, European Disability Forum, 2018, pp. 49 and 50

(32)  Idem footnote 1, p. 11; Idem footnote 9, p. 34

(33)  Idem footnote 1, p. 14

(34)  EU — SILC 2011

(35)  Idem footnote 9, p. 32

(36)  Alternative report to the UNCRPD, p. 43

(37)  Idem footnote 4, p. 7

(38)  Idem footnote 9, p. 41

(39)  Idem footnote 9, p. 45; Idem footnote 4, p. 6

(40)  Idem footnote 4, p. 14; Idem footnote 9, p. 43

(41)  Idem footnote 3, Article 23

(42)  Idem footnote 4, p. 25

(43)  Alternative report to the UNCRPD

(44)  Idem footnote 1, p. 16


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