Every year, the NGO CSW/ NY organises a Forum where civil society organisations have the opportunity to engage in discussions to take forward advocacy needed to empower women and girls. These discussions run parallel to events happening at UN headquarters and include groups from all across the world. This year, the forum was held from March 14th to March 26th, and was organised entirely virtually. Rising Flame participated in three different panels at the forum, and brought attention to rights of women and girls with disabilities, emphasising leaving no one behind in times of COVID-19.
The first panel we attended was titled Is The Way We Think About Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Ableist? Good Practices for Disability Inclusive SRHR Programmes and Advocacy, and was organised by Women Enabled International on 17th March 2021. Niluka Gunawardena opened the discussion by laying a foundation for how we discuss ableism and how it manifests in SRHR, and Asha Hans followed that up by raising some very important points on how we should be careful about the hierarchies we create, about what resources are available, and the discriminations that have been strengthened in the time of the pandemic. Abia Akram from the Special Talent Exchange Program, Pakistan, then spoke about the lack of accessible information, reproductive rights and the existence of services for them, and brought some very important narratives to the fore on translating standards into practices and resources available for disabled women. Laxmi Devkota from NADH Nepal addressed how women with disabilities take longer time for accessing SRHR resources and how medical professionals want to rush and hurry them. Next up Pratima Gurung, president of NIDWAN spoke about the intersecting identities of women from other marginalisations, and Yeni Rosa Damayanti from TCI Asia Pacific & the National Coalition of Organizations of Person with Disabilities, Indonesia also spoke of how sexuality of persons with disabilities only if it is in the context of violence, their protection and their safety.
Our founder and executive director Nidhi Goyal then spoke extensively about how SRHR is deprioritised in our movements and society. She also addressed issues with education during the pandemic, accessibility of health services, the agency, autonomy and consent in her own sexual and reproductive health, or the forced sterilisation being done to “protect” her. “It is important for us to question how ableism leads to eugenics and eugenics is then institutionalised or put into our policies/law. Who is this at a cost of? The stigmatisation, the erasure of dignity and the discrimination of disabled women is something we need to speak of.” She also spoke of the need for us to work across movements and bring together our realities, our synergies and our hopes to ensure we leave no one behind.
The second NGO CSW panel we participated in on the 17th of March was titled Diversity and Inclusion: Intersectionality is key to building back better, and was chaired by Nidhi Goyal. She opened the discussion by asking the panelists some fundamental questions- “What does intersectionality mean for those who are living it? What are their experiences and realities and how do they reflect in our movements and advocacy?” She highlighted the need to rethink and question the ways in which power structures interact with each other and the spaces they occupy and emphasised that in order for us to build back a better and more inclusive world, all these complexities have to be kept in mind. “As a woman with a disability I experience the complexities of all the marginalizations I experience and all the privileges I hold as well”. The panelists then took the discussion forward. Gaudance Mushimiyimana from UNABU talked about the need for mainstream feminist organisations to be more inclusive of disabled women. Nidhi Goyal added that the solution to the invisibilisation of disabled women lies in a strategic alliance, and is definitely something we should take forward. Daniel Onyango from NYARWEK brought in the question of multiple marginalizations and talked about difficulties in navigating through the stigma that one experiences while being positioned at an intersection of marginalities. He highlighted the challenges posed by differences in contexts that add layers to the way discrimination is experienced. Pratima Gurung from NIDWAN shared her own experiences as an indigenous disabled woman – “I constantly feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”Easter Okech from KEFEADO then threw light on the need to evaluate whether government policies for building back economies after COVID19 are inclusive. Mwanahamisi Singano from FEMNET placed emphasis on intervention rather than an assumption of inclusion. All the panelists emphasised on the importance of intersectional inclusion at the policy level especially post COVID19, and concluded by acknowledging the need for reflection, intervention and representation that takes into account nuanced understandings of diversity and intersectionality.
The third and final panel we participated in, hosted by Women’s Fund Asia, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, and Urgent Action Fund Africa was titled Global Promises, Local Realities: 25 Years of BFPA Journey. Panelists from all across the world spoke from their specific contexts. Cybelle Lesperance from the STRASS Syndicate brought up space for diversities within mainstream movements and the understanding large scale organisations on a global level have of the struggles of marginalized groups. Dumiso Gatsho from Success Capital spoke extensively of the complex ways in which exclusion has been practised on different levels, and the need for constant creation of inclusive feminist spaces to fight it. They also spoke about practicing accountability. Tikhala Itaye, from HeR Liberty Malawi spoke on the changes in youth engagement 25 years post Beijing, and the need to look at how some of that engagement can be tokenistic. She raised several important questions, including our preconceptions when we use words like youth, and what we mean by inclusion. Lastly, our very own Co Lead, Programs Srinidhi Raghavan spoke at length about the different barriers women with disabilities face in self advocacy. “Internationally, locally, regionally we have different definitions of who a disabled woman is. It is usually a medicalized approach, our existence is not seen holistically. Further, most of the times when we go to venues to participate in conferences, they are inaccessible. How are disabled people supposed to self advocate if they are not able to access these spaces in the first place?.” She also spoke of the charity lens with which disabled people are looked at that still exists. The session ended with a discussion on the need to reimagine how we think of a movement to be more inclusive, which would allow for more participation of women with disabilities, and the importance of allyship across movements to move forward.