Women and gender equality

Women and girls with disabilities in Europe

Women with disabilities constitute 16% of the total population of women in the European Union, and 60% of the overall population of 100 million persons with disabilities. This corresponds to an estimated 60 million of women and girls with disabilities; equivalent to the total population of Italy.

Women and girls with disabilities face multiple and intersectional discrimination in all areas of life, including, socio-economic disadvantages, social isolation, violence against women, forced sterilisation and abortion, lack of access to community services, low quality housing, institutionalisation, inadequate healthcare and denial of the opportunity to contribute and engage actively in society. Women with disabilities are also two to five times more likely to face violence. The status of women and girls with disabilities is not only worse than that of women without disabilities, but also worse than that of their male peers. This is especially so in rural areas with fewer services and opportunities for this group than in urban environments.

For instance, according to data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC):

  • 29.5% of women with disabilities in the EU are at risk of poverty and social exclusion compared to 27.5% of men with disabilities (EU-SILC 2018)
  • only 48.3% of women with disabilities are in employment in the EU, compared with 53.3% of men (EU-SILC 2017)

EU’s obligations to ensure the rights of women and girls with disabilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an international human rights treaty ratified by the EU and all its Member States. It commits all who ratify it to implement and promote the full realisation of all human rights for all persons with disabilities through the adoption of new political tools and review of existing policies.

Equality between men and women is a general principle of the CRPD (Article 3). In addition, article 6 of the Convention specifically recognises that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination and requires States parties to “take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and “ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights” set out in the Convention. The CRPD also has to be implemented in light of the CRPD Committee’s General Comment No. 3 on women and girls with disabilities.

In 2015 the CRPD Committee adopted specific recommendations to be followed by the EU in its Concluding observations on the initial report of the EU. The Committee made the following recommendations to the EU on women and girls with disabilities:

  • Mainstreaming of a women and girls with disabilities perspective in its forthcoming gender equality strategy, policies and programmes, and a gender perspective in its disability strategies
  • Development of affirmative actions to advance the rights of women and girls with disabilities
  • Establishment of a mechanism to monitor progress
  • Funding of data collection and research on women and girls with disabilities
  • Accession to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) as a step to combating violence against women and girls with disabilities

However, in practice, women and girls with disabilities are seldom included in both the gender and disability rights agenda. For instance, both the EU Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 and a Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 failed to address the specific situation of women and girls with disabilities. 

EDF’s work on women and girls with disabilities

We work to ensure all its advocacy include the perspectives of women and girls with disabilities, for which our Women’s Committee play a fundamental role. You can find more information on the work of the Committee and its role on this webpage.

Our publications

Our webinars

Gender equality at EDF

We adopted a Gender Equality Plan 2015-2017 at our 2014 General Assembly. The Plan is a result of our commitment to equal opportunities for women and men through guaranteeing equal opportunities and equal treatment for both sexes and combating all types of gender-based discrimination.

At EDF we recognise equality between men and women and this is reflected in the Forum’s Internal Rules, which holds gender equality to be one of the guiding principles for all aspects of our work, including all governing bodies, staff, committees and representation. This commitment extends also to the our Employment Strategy, which includes advancing equal opportunities in terms of gender.

The Plan is drawn up with the primary aim of achieving full equality between women and men through actions designed to redress the inequalities which still exist between sexes.

The Istanbul Convention

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence better know as the “Istanbul Convention” is an international treaty to help tackle violence against women and girls. It was adopted in 2011 and entered into force in 2014.
The Convention is the first European instrument that aims legally to prevent gender-based violence, protect victims of violence, and punish perpetrators. It explains what countries have to do to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. Some of the measures are awareness raising, data collection, and legal measures (for example recognising that forced sterilisation or female genital mutilation is a form of violence against women). The focus is for governmental bodies to be involved in prevention, prosecution, and protection activities. This can be done through training, education, resources, law enforcement, and legal systems. 
Thank to organisations of persons with disabilities, the Convention has been translated in Easy to read in different languages: 
States Parties to the Convention 
  • 34 European countries have ratified the Convention. 
  • The 13 countries that have not ratified the Convention are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. 
  • The European Union signed but did not ratify the Convention.  
  • Implementation and monitoring of the Convention 
All States that ratified the Convention need to apply it through “implementation”. This means that they have to adopt laws, policies and measures to apply the Convention. 
There are two ways the implementation of the Convention is monitored: 
1.  Country-by-country evaluation procedure that starts with a baseline report and ends with final reports and conclusions from an independent expert body (GREVIO)
2.  Special urgent inquiry procedure that may initiated by GREVIO when there is reliable information that indicates a violation of the Convention
Importance of the Convention for women and girls with disabilities 
Data show that, on average, women and girls with disabilities are 2 to 5 times more likely to face violence than other women and girls. In the EU, 34% of women with a health problem or a disability have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime. Violence may include domestic and gender-based violence, institutional violence, forced sterilisation, contraception and abortion, and harassment, including sexual harassment. Despites being more at risks of becoming victims of violence, women and girls with disabilities receive limited awareness and education on violence and sexual education. Due to lack of awareness, accessibility, and reasonable accommodation, they have difficulties or even cannot have access to support and justice.
All these aspects are covered by the Istanbul Convention. When drafting this Convention, many principles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were taken into consideration. The implementation of the Convention explicitly stating the protection of rights of people with disabilities.  
Engaging with the Convention and its monitoring body 
Non-governmental organisations, including organisations of persons with disabilities and of women with disabilities are a crucial part to upholding the standards in the Convention by participating to the implementation and monitoring of the Convention. 
They can report violations and failure to implement the Convention to the GREVIO, as part of the country evaluation or inquiry procedure. 
Learn more about the Convention and the monitoring procedure:
If your country has not ratified the Convention, you can advocate for ratification: download our template letter to send to your government