A Call for an End to Violence Against Women and Girls with Disabilities Under International and Regional Human Rights Law
10 NORTHEASTERN U. L. REV. 583 (2018).
71 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2018 Last revised: 12 Aug 2019
Date Written: October 1, 2018
In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that “girls and women of all ages with any form of disability are generally among the more vulnerable and marginalized of society.” Since then, the issue of violence against women and girls with disabilities has gained greater attention on the international stage. In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a study on violence and disability, recognizing that disability can be both a cause and consequence of violence against women with disabilities. In addition, activists and policymakers, alike, began to call for applying the protections of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to women and girls with disabilities, respectively. Moreover, in 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which is the first international treaty to specifically protect the rights of all people with disabilities, including women and girls with disabilities. Among other provisions, the CRPD requires States Parties to develop and implement programs designed to stop violence, abuse, and exploitation of women and girls with disabilities, including involuntary sterilization and forced abortion.
Despite the widespread adoption of the CRPD, the CEDAW, the CRC, as well as domestic laws, violence, abuse, and exploitation of women and girls with disabilities continues in most, if not all, countries throughout the world. Moreover, most women and girls who experience violence remain unable to access a system of justice that should provide them with protection from violence as well as redress and reparations. Even in those countries in which the domestic laws appear to ensure access to justice, formidable barriers exist which prevent many women and girls with disabilities who experience violence from enforcing their rights under law.
This article analyzes the role of international and regional human rights law in protecting the rights of women and girls with disabilities to be free from violence and to access justice. Part I of the article presents an overview of the problem of violence against women with disabilities, followed by Part II which identifies and discusses the many legal, physical, and attitudinal barriers that prevent women and girls with disabilities from exercising their right to access the judicial system. Part III discusses the CEDAW, the CRC, and the CRPD, which provide some protections for women and girls with disabilities who experience violence. Part IV discusses related regional legal protections for women and girls with disabilities within the regional human rights systems of the Americas, Africa, and Europe. Part V of the article discusses Peru as an example of a country that has ratified all relevant international and regional treaties on the rights of women with disabilities, and has enacted new domestic laws and policies to address discrimination and violence against women with disabilities. However, even Peru continues to apply discriminatory laws and policies that deprive women with disabilities access to justice. As the Peruvian example illustrates, so long as domestic laws deprive women of their legal capacity, the vision and protections for them under domestic as well as international and regional human rights treaties will not be realized. Part VI of the article, therefore, provides recommendations that should be implemented to prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities and ensure their access to justice. The article concludes with a call for greater international, regional and country- specific laws, policies, and advocacy to prevent violence against women and girls with disabilities and ensure their access to justice.
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