The UN Conference in Beijing in 1995, called the birthplace of the disabled women’s movement, assembled the first international network of disabled women advocating for disabled women’s rights. Since then the concerns of women with disabilities have been woven into policies, including the Beijing Platform for Action. Yet, the development and humanitarian community could do more to implement programs that include and address the needs of women with disabilities. On July 29, activists and practitioners at the Society for International Development-Washington’s Gender and Inclusive Development Beijing +20 discussion series event advocated that we move beyond an inclusive approach to advance the rights of women living with disabilities toward “an infiltration” approach.
An infiltration approach is a more active and aggressive form of inclusion. It means, as put by CEO and co-founder of Mobility International USA Susan Sygall, “We go to the party even if we don’t have an invitation.” Since 1997, Mobility International USA has trained women with disabilities to be change agents in their communities to overcome challenges faced by women with disabilities like violence and access to health care and education. Panelists underlined how networks of women like these need to grow in number and influence.
International development and humanitarian organizations are also invited to collaborate with these networks. The Disability Rights Fund (DRF) and Women’s Refugee Commission (WRS) are doing just that. DRF selects donors and disability-focused organizations to form joint advocacy campaigns to advance the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). WRS puts a strong emphasis on consulting women and girls with disabilities to inform their project design. They’ve recently documented four pilot research activities on preventing violence against women and girls with disabilities using that approach.
The private sector also has an opportunity to infiltrate through innovation. Google took the initiative to go beyond complying with accessibility standards by training all new engineers to write code for people with disabilities. A new $20 million Google Impact Challenge will fund grants to develop technologies to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
With 1 billion people living with disabilities around the world and 80 percent living in developing countries innovative approaches that infiltrate the international development and humanitarian spheres have the potential to create meaningful progress for disabled women in the next twenty years.
Learn more about the yearlong series: Beijing+20: What Does Meaningful Progress Look Like?: http://www.sidw.org/2015-sid-gid-discussion-series