The Gender Equality Agenda Must Be Inclusive of Women with Disabilities

Women Enabled International
4 min readOct 7, 2021

By Shubha Nagesh and Mildred Omino

A picture of a Black, blind person with short hair. They are wearing necklaces in tones of yellow, red black and white, and a pink scarf around their shoulders. Photo credit: Canva
A picture of a Black, blind person with short hair. They are wearing necklaces in tones of yellow, red black and white, and a pink scarf around their shoulders. Photo credit: Canva

The Generation Equality Forums represented a pivotal moment for gender equality, with governments, feminist collectives, women’s rights organizations, philanthropies, civil society, international organizations and members of the private sector all coming together in solidarity to take collective action to advance gender equality and the rights of women and girls (UN Women, 2021). However, there was room for much improvement when it came to the inclusion of women with disabilities.

The forums were lauded for many things, including for setting the stage for young advocates and activists working to advance gender equality in their contexts. There were diverse opinions about inequalities, challenges, resources, policies, programs and research as enablers or barriers to navigating the complex milieu of inequality and social inclusion for women. The opinions shared had one thing in common: speakers agreed that for equity to be achieved and sustained — and to ensure no one is left behind — diversity must be prioritized.

Women with disabilities comprise 20 percent of all women worldwide, and women constitute 75 percent of the disabled people in low and middle income countries. Girls and women of all ages with any form of disability are generally among the more vulnerable and marginalized of society (Human Rights Watch, 2015).

The Generation Equality Forum was lauded for creating partnerships for collective action to accelerate gender equality — the Action Coalitions — , which focus on gender-based violence, economic justice and rights, bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), feminist action for climate justice, technology and innovation for gender equality, and feminist movements and leadership. These thematic areas all have a disproportionate impact on women with disabilities. With commitments to invest USD $ 40 billion in the action coalitions over the next five years, it is imperative that they intentionally engage women with disabilities in overall programming to ensure equity in gender equality.

A survey conducted by Women Enabled International with respondents across the globe revealed that the forums held in Mexico and Paris were marred with accessibility challenges, thus posing a barrier to the effective participation of women with disabilities. Some of the key concerns raised include incompatibility of the platform with screen readers and the lack of closed captions and sign language interpretations in most sessions. This silenced numerous voices of women with disabilities in the forums. Meaningful participation should start with platform accessibility but go beyond it, with women with disability taking active leadership moving forward.

If women with disabilities are not included in gender equality efforts, it all seems in vain.

How can Generation Equality ensure that women with disabilities have equal power to propel the feminist movement forward?

  1. Include a disability perspective in the planning of events. Registration forms which include questions on reasonable accommodations are a good example of this. While differences may pose challenges, they also create opportunities to design tailored systems and strategies that will allow for the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities.
  2. Accessibility is more than a checklist for compliance. It is a human right. Incorporating the principles of Universal Design — designs that work for all irrespective of their ability, age or status — can help improve the user experience for everyone. Common accessibility features to consider incorporating for online events include touchscreens, visual support for auditory information, closed captioning, text-to-speech cap, zooming in on websites, documents and images, transcripts and interactive captions for video content and image descriptions. Be sure to consult support sites to enhance accessibility. A few examples include Rooted in Rights accessibility guide; RespectAbility’s accessibility toolkit, and Harvard’s tips for hosting accessible virtual events and meetings.
  3. Efforts must be made to engage with and leverage the expertise of women with disabilities and their advocates to support the design, implementation and the monitoring of future events.
  4. Institutions and organizations must be held accountable for their responsibility to include everyone and to not leave anyone behind. Clarity on guidelines to accomplish this must be provided at the beginning, so accommodation begins early in the process and is not merely an afterthought.

It is time to take concrete actions to advance gender equality for all. Achieving this shared vision will take each one of us to do our bit so we can all build the inclusive world we imagine.

About the authors

Shubha Nagesh is a public health physician and works with The Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun, India. She runs a community based program for children with disabilities, with a focus on girls. She is a Senior Atlantic Fellow in Global Health Equity.

Mildred Omino is a Gender and Disability Rights Activist, currently an Administrator at the Gender and Disability Unit at the University of Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya. She is a Senior Atlantic Fellow in Global Health Equity.

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Women Enabled International

Advancing human rights at the intersection of gender and disability.