Launch of a new UNDP/UN Women joint project: Addressing stigma and discrimination experienced by women with disabilities (ASDWD)
By Katrina Scior, on 3 December 2021
On International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021, we are delighted to announce our new partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, as well as in-country partners and stakeholders on this important project.
What is the project about?
Prejudices and stereotypes hold many of us back from fulfilling our potential and leading lives as free and equal citizens. People with disabilities struggle to get equal access to education, healthcare, jobs and housing, because those prejudices and stereotypes lower expectations for them. Many see them as objects of pity or charity, some see their predicament as punishment for ‘bad karma’ in a previous life, or a shame to be kept out of sight.
Twenty percent of women in the world have some form of disability. Women and girls with disabilities face multiple barriers related to stigma, and discrimination, which hinders their progress. Such blatant exclusion hampers the achievement of the Leave No One Behind (LNOB) agenda, a cornerstone of Agenda 2030. This is very much at the heart of UN Secretary General’s report on Our Common Agenda (also UNGA Resolution on this adopted on 17th November 2021).
Image courtesy of USAID
In comparison to men with disabilities, women with disabilities are three times more likely to be illiterate and to have unmet healthcare needs; twice less likely to be employed and know how to use the Internet; and more likely to face hunger. They are also at great risk of gender based and sexual violence.
They encounter intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination arising from gender and disability, to age, economic status, religion, indigenous identity, and race, among others. These conditions further catalyse their exclusion.
A study in Cambodia found that women with disabilities were four times more likely to experience controlling behaviour from their partners than women without disabilities, and that they were at much higher risk of sexual, physical, and emotional violence. Few dared speak out, and fewer were able to access any kind of support. Since that study was conducted, COVID-19 has made the epidemic of violence against women worse – and it has hit women with disabilities harder.
The impact of stigma and discrimination on people with disabilities – especially women – has long been recognized. Yet, we still lack good data, partly because we have not yet developed robust and internationally-recognised tools to understand disability stigma experienced in different areas of life, opportunities, and its impact on wellbeing. And our response too often stops at awareness-raising, rather than approaches that have shown a positive impact in changing the underlying determinants that drive and perpetuate stigma and discrimination.
UNDP and UN Women are setting out to take on this challenge with our new project ‘Addressing Stigma and Discrimination against Women with Disabilities’ (ASDWD). With the support of the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and UNDP’s Global Programme on Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights for Sustaining Peace and Fostering Development, and UN-Women’s Global portfolio on Disability Inclusion and Intersectionality, we will develop tools to capture the stigmatizing experience and its impact on women with disabilities.
We will pilot this project in Moldova, Pakistan, Palestine and Samoa, and pilot approaches to changing attitudes and behaviour, as key steps towards creating a more inclusive society. The project will do this in close partnership with women with disabilities. It will also focus on violence perpetrated against women and girls with disabilities, with research on disability-related stigma supported by a team of experts, from the UK.
Equipped with robust evidence and proven approaches, we will join with persons with disabilities, organisations that support their rights, and women CSOs, to advocate for changes in laws, policies, and services. The aim is to nurture an enabling social environment where the disabled can live their lives with dignity, and free from violence. Our project will reflect the theme of the 2021 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, on 3rd December: “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”
According to STEP, one of Pakistan’s leading NGOs working on the disabilities agenda, ‘over half of the world’s population are women, and 1 in 5 has a disability. Yet, women and girls with disabilities are often invisible in national laws and policies concerning women and persons with disabilities.
In Pakistan, the lack of data on stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities hampers the development of adequate legislations, policies, and programmes at all levels of governance. The joint project between the Ministry of Human Rights, STEP, UN Women and UNDP will address this shortcoming.
The project’s initial results are expected by the end of 2022. As we develop new tools and approaches, we will also look to form new partnerships to build on our progress. Because protecting and advancing the rights and wellbeing of women and girls with disabilities will move us closer and faster to inclusive, accessible and sustainable societies.
 UN Systems Chief Executives Board for Coordination. (2017). Leaving non one behind: Equality and non-discrimination at the heart of sustainable development. Accessed at https://unsceb.org/sites/default/files/imported_files/CEB%20equality%20framework-A4-web-rev3.pdf
Our role as International consultants on the ASDWD project
UNDP and UN Women have appointed us to work with them in the following ways.
- We will summarise the international literature on stigma and discrimination experienced by women and girls with disabilities and their experience of sexual and gender-based violence. For our desk reviews, we will draw mainly on published reports and journal articles and identify the main lessons that apply globally and regionally.
- We will focus on 1) measurement of stigma and discrimination at the personal, familial, societal and structural levels (Scior and Hamid), and 2) interventions that have been used to overcome stigma and discrimination for women and girls with disabilities (McConkey).
- We plan to update our initial desk reviews during 2022 and 2023 to ensure that we capture any new and relevant measurement tools and interventions, and will extend our reviews to cover topics that UN partners and stakeholders identify, time permitting.
- Based on these reviews, we will produce a draft version of tools that can be used to assess stigma and discrimination towards women and girls with disabilities. These tools will also help to assess change as a result of interventions. Our @UCL_DClinPsy doctoral student Amy Dixon will be involved in this work.
- We will also create a framework of the types of interventions that have proved effective in changing attitudes and behaviours. We wish to co-produce these tools and interventions to identify which aspects of the tools and interventions are most appropriate to meet objectives of our UN partners and in-country stakeholders in Moldova, Pakistan, Palestine and Samoa. We will regularly consult with them to access their expertise on how best to customise the tools and interventions for the four pilot countries so that they can be finalised. This will take place up to April 2022.
- During the remainder of 2022, we will be available to support our UN partners in planning and implementing the tools and interventions selected for piloting in each of the four pilot countries. We will provide training and coaching to local personnel, to answer queries as they arise and to think together about overcoming any difficulties experienced along the way.
- In early 2023, we will bring together all the learning from the four countries. This will be done through webinars and reports prepared in conjunction with our UN partners. Our target audience will be disability activists and practitioners in the participating countries and internationally. Our aim is to empower them to use the knowledge gained from this project in their future activities. We will aim to complete this final phase of our work by April 2023. It is envisaged that the work will act as catalyst for future efforts internationally to address stigma and discrimination experienced by women and girls with disabilities, and to provide the tools to evaluate such efforts in a robust manner to build a much needed evidence base.