Women with disabilities in the European Union still face double discrimination despite the progress achieved: this was the message heard last week at a conference on "Women with disabilities in the EU: situation and way forward" at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
To fight against that exclusion it is "essential that civil society understand what is at stake," said Christophe Lefèvre, member of the EESC's Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights, which organised the hearing.
Participants in the conference included representatives of various disability organisations, as well as of the European Commission and the European Parliament. They stressed the need to promote legislation at EU level to protect the rights of women with disabilities.
"The European Union should promote specific initiatives to fight discrimination against women and girls with disabilities, in all its forms," said Helga Stevens, member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the Disability Intergroup. She added that women, and especially women with disabilities, were still underrepresented in EU institutions, and that "much work needs to be done" to change this situation.
In this regard, Ana Peláez, from the Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities (CERMI), pointed out that "women and girls with disabilities are not specifically addressed by the policies".
"Sometimes, women and girls with disabilities are not perceived as citizens, and this situation must change," said Alba González from CBM. "The system is very sexist, but we (women with disabilities) want to take our own decisions and we need people to understand that," she added.
Women with disabilities are more disadvantaged than men, and more efforts need to be made by the European institutions in order to overcome this gap, most of the speakers agreed.
According to Hana Velecka, policy officer at the Unit for Disability and Inclusion at the European Commission's DG Employment, the Commission's current Disability Strategy was still valid, and a lot had been achieved in recent years. Nonetheless, she explained that "there is no clear agenda in the strategy: it takes a broad perspective and covers problems that are common to both men and women".
Among other initiatives, Ms Velecka highlighted the importance of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which contained four principles which were particularly relevant for women with disabilities: gender equality, equal opportunities, work-life balance and inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Halliki Voolma, from DG Employment at the European Commission, stressed the importance of paying special attention to violence against women with disabilities, and highlighted that fighting against it was one of the main focuses of the Commission's action in 2017.
"Women with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be victims of domestic violence, and we need to pay attention to this aspect," said An-Sofie Leenknecht, from the European Disability Forum. "These women should not be objects of charity; they should be able to participate in society and take their own decisions about their own life," she added.
Madi Sharma, member of the EESC's Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights, emphasised that forced sterilisation and abortion for women with disabilities was a violation of human rights, which were a basic principle of the European Union: "This has to stop," she concluded.