Generation Equality Forums: Leaving Feminists with Disabilities Behind

Women Enabled International
5 min readSep 16, 2021

Esta publicación está disponible en español aquí.

By Estefanía Cubillos Nova in collaboration with Cristina Dueñas Díaz

According to a report by the World Bank and the World Health Organization, women with disabilities are 1 in 5 women worldwide. However, the little participation and representation that feminists with disabilities — including women and other marginalized genders — had in the two editions of the Generation Equality Forums is concerning. These forums are global gatherings that bring together civil society, governments, activists and allies to advance the rights of women and girls. The first of them was held in Mexico at the end of March of this year; and the second, in Paris from June 30 to July 2.

You can find more information about the forums in this fact sheet.

At the Forums, a five-year action plan was presented to achieve progress towards gender equality. This action plan includes a number of concrete and transformative actions, including funding for USD $ 40 billion in financial commitments, but judging by the inaccessibility of the meetings and the scarce communication of UN Women and the organizing governments with us, its implementation mechanisms appear to not be taking into account feminists with disabilities around the world.

Barriers to Participation

There is the text “Accessibility is so much more than ramps”. Below it, there is an illustration of a person who has a prosthetic arm and is wearing sunglasses.
There is the text “Accessibility is so much more than ramps”. Below it, there is an illustration of a person who has a prosthetic arm and is wearing sunglasses.

Before the start of the Generation Equality Forums and throughout the entire process, organizations such as Women Enabled International (WEI), in support of feminists with disabilities, made various requests to UN Women for the platforms of the forums to be accessible so the full participation of the public, including the public with disabilities, would be guaranteed.

The Inclusive Generation Equality Collective (hereinafter, the Collective) — a group of feminists with disabilities and organizations that advocate for rights and justice at the intersection of gender and disability — was one of the groups that participated in this advocacy work . One of the objectives of the Collective is to ensure that the Generation Equality Forums include all feminists and promote equality leaving no one behind.

As part of its advocacy work, the Collective sent letters to the authorities in charge of the forums and developed awareness campaigns on social media relating to accessibility and the leadership of women with disabilities. However, our voices were not prioritized, particularly at the Paris Forum, as shown by the results of surveys the Collective did to people with disabilities who tried to participate.

In general, the barriers that prevented the participation of feminists with disabilities were related to the great difficulty of navigating the site. Many members of the Collective needed outside help to register and log in, and there were problems accessing the chat, but no contact information was provided in case of experiencing accessibility issues.

One of the most affected groups was that of feminists with hearing disabilities, due to the absence of captions and the lack of interpretation in sign language. In some events there was no interpretation into spoken languages, and it was not possible to participate through the microphone. Often times in spoken interpretations, the language interpreter and the speaker were heard at the same time, which made it difficult to understand what was being said. Documents in PDF format were also not accessible to blind participants.

Testimonials and Suggestions to Contribute to Change

Text reads “Accessibility is the key to all other rights.” To the right of the image there is an illustration of a woman in a wheelchair. She is wearing a blue veil and a green shirt.
Text reads “Accessibility is the key to all other rights.” To the right of the image there is an illustration of a woman in a wheelchair. She is wearing a blue veil and a green shirt.

The survey on accessibility at the forum also included questions about suggestions to ensure accessibility at future events. Respondents shared the following ideas:

People with disabilities must be a part of the design, planning and organization of the event, which includes the platform to be used.

The event process must be accessible in all its stages and in all spaces, for example, the registration forms must include points about the accessibility needs of the public; platforms should be tested for accessibility to ensure that they are easy to navigate; visual accessibility must be guaranteed — including the different contrasts and font sizes — and and spoken and sign language interpreters must be included in all discussion rooms.

A Call to Attention to the United Nations

Relating to experiences at the Generation Equality Forums, Patience Dickson, a Nigerian activist with disabilities, believes that the participation of all feminists is important, including those with disabilities. One of the solutions to this issue is to continue advocating and raising awareness about accessibility and the participation of people with disabilities in the feminist movement.

For Itzel Moreno, a hard of hearing woman who holds a PhD in Deaf Community, Education and Sign Language, equity implies equal opportunities:

“We know that paying for captions, for sign language interpreters and for a platform that allows for accessibility requirements is expensive. However, it is a priority because I believe that the lack of equal opportunities in the Forums hinders the work done to empower us as feminists with disabilities. For centuries, women with disabilities have been marginalized, seen as a punishment, loved (sometimes) but not wanted. Remember [the] “Leave No One Behind” from the Operational Guide for Sustainable Development of the United Nations working groups. ”

Reaffirming the feelings of many participants with disabilities who were in this forum, Cristina Dueñas Díaz, a Spanish woman with a disability who specializes in accessibility, adds that accessibility is a human right and the UN must defend it and put it into practice. “Women with disabilities feel very disappointed and even angry with the discrimination we have suffered due to the lack of accessibility.”

Faced with these difficulties, Cristina highlights the importance of feeling supported. “The Collective and WEI have been a great support, an example of sisterhood and a safe space to share our reflections and demands. We could see that many people agreed with us and showed us their support on social media.”

Letter to France and UN Women and Next Steps

WEI — in collaboration with the European Disability Forum, Femmes pour le Dire, Femmes pour Agir, International Disability Allliance, and Sightsavers — sent a letter to UN Women and the Government of France, outlining negative experiences related to inaccessibility and other exclusion factors which hampered the participation of feminists with disabilities during the second Generation Equality Forum.

This letter, which was supported by more than 200 individuals and organizations, is available here.

The Collective is currently preparing an accessibility protocol that will help improve future events so that feminists with disabilities continue to advance in the fight for our rights and are able to participate fully in the feminist movement, noting that accessibility is a human right, not a favor.

After the Generation Equality Forums, it is clear to us that there is still a long way to go for feminists with disabilities to achieve equality, which for centuries has been denied to us, but we are here, building community and organizing, ready to fight for our rights.

About the authors:

Estefanía Cubillos Nova is a journalist. Cristina Dueñas Díaz is an accessibility specialist. Both are part of the Inclusive Generation Equality Collective.

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Women Enabled International

Advancing human rights at the intersection of gender and disability.