back to the Council of Europe internet portal
Social cohesion
03 activities
Accessibility and Universal Design
Assistance Activities
Cochlear Implants
Community Living
Community living for children with disabilities
New technologies
Norwegian Presidency Conference Strasbourg - 2004
Sign Languages
Spinal Cord Injury
Teacher Training
UN Ad Hoc Committee
Violence and Abuse

Discrimination against women with disabilities

The situation of women with disabilities in Europe has not, to date, been given the attention and political significance it requires.

A drafting group, comprising mainly women with disabilities, was set up to prepare a text on discrimination against this section of the population for the Second European Conference of Ministers responsible for Integration Policies for People with Disabilities (Malaga 7 and 8 May 2003). Its terms of reference were to examine, identify and analyse factors causing discrimination, taking account of the group members’ perceptions, and propose appropriate instruments, measures and actions to achieve equality of opportunity for women with disabilities.

Women with disabilities suffer not only from all the drawbacks deriving from their disability but also from sexual discrimination. The drafting group therefore chose to focus on this twofold discrimination.

Certain areas were identified as being crucial to the status of the people concerned:

  • Education and training,
  • Employment,
  • Social policy,
  • Participation in and access to decision-making procedures,
  • Sexuality,
  • Prejudices and social attitudes,
  • Motherhood, social and family life,
  • Violence.

In the field of education and training, for example, failure to offer occupational rehabilitation after an accident is more easily accepted if the victim is a woman rather than a man. With regard to financial independence, people will more readily assume that a woman with a disability should be financially supported by others, even if she is capable of studying or working. And although equality for women and girls is generally taken for granted, attitudes can be very different if they have a disability. Given that women are, as a rule, responsible for family and domestic chores, the life of a woman with a disability can be particularly hard. In a society that places a premium on female youth and beauty, it is not easy to be a woman with a disability. Although men’s right to sexuality is readily acknowledged, women with disabilities are often seen as sexless. Yet they are more frequently sexually abused than other women. In some cases their status as a woman places them at a disadvantage and in others is denied them. For example, they are in practice denied the right to found a family but are expected to take care of the family into which they were born. Women with disabilities are victims of prejudice and ignorance, even among close family members and friends.

The policies to be implemented must enable them to live an independent life, earn their own living, choose their private, professional or family life, attend mainstream schools, do ordinary jobs, visit public and private places like everyone else, and allow society to benefit from their experience, abilities and talents.
In order to secure equal treatment for women with disabilities, it is not enough to avoid discrimination or adopt positive or compensatory measures, as in the case of people with disabilities in general. In all areas the concept of difference must be borne in mind when policies and measures are being decided upon and there must also be a conscious effort to achieve equality.

Measures must be taken in all areas to secure independence, autonomy, participation and social integration for women with disabilities. Were all these aspects are concerned, it is important to remember, in framing and adopting policies for people with disabilities that they will not be effective unless they take account of the gender equality dimension.

The report entitled “Discrimination against women with disabilities” supplements Recommendation N° R(92) of the Committee of Ministers on a coherent policy for people with disabilities, particularly with regard to the issues of sexuality, motherhood and violence. There are a number of case studies describing collective initiatives and providing examples of good practices for combating discrimination.
The text has not yet been published but is available on request.