UN disability committee: gender hangs in the balance

I spent a week at the United Nations in New York campaigning for my re-election to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.   Members of the Committee are elected for four years, and can be re-elected once, so this is my final opportunity to participate in this most amazing process for advancing disability rights.

CRPD Committee election campaigning materials for Diane Kingston

CRPD Committee election campaigning materials for Diane Kingston

The election takes place in June at the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), where countries gather to share information on progress, or lack of it, towards implementing disability rights.  Crucially gender hangs in the balance for the future CRPD Committee, which I believe is a consequence of the multiple discrimination women and girls with disabilities face from birth through education, employment, training and career development.  From the 18 current members of the Committee, there are nine positions to be filled to replace those whose mandate finishes in December 2016.  Mandates end for five out of the six women on the Committee (Maria Soledad, Silvia Quan, Ana Pelaez, Safak Pavey and myself).   Of the 17 candidates running for election only three are women, which means the best possible gender balance for the future Committee is four out of 18 women members.  

The Convention states (in article 34 paragraph 4) that there must be balanced gender representation on the Committee.  Sadly, this is not going to be achieved.

Read about CBM’s work on gender equality here


‘At the heart’ of humanitarian decision-making

“Together we launched a ground-breaking charter that places people with disabilities at the heart of humanitarian decision-making”

When Ban Ki-moon makes a statement like that, of course it does not mean we have achieved all our goals yet but it does show a hugely positive shift in the understanding of disability in situations of crisis, conflict and disaster. Gone are the stereotypical phrases that generally lead us back to a ‘charity’ model. Instead, there is the recognition of the necessity to have us at the table where plans are made; this is the first step towards real inclusion.

This is what I was writing about before the World Humanitarian Summit opened, so it was with great pleasure that I heard Secretary-General of the United Nations close the summit in such a way.

So it is a first step, but no time to relax. Now the real work begins: ensuring the the Charter, already endorsed by more than 80 stakeholders, is used, promoted and further endorsed;  ensuring that persons with disabilities and disabled people’s organisations are really part of discussions as equal partners and not only consulted in a check-box style approval process; and increasing the exchange of skills and knowledge between the humanitarian and disability communities.

I’m flying shortly, but will add to this blog soon, with more details on events over the last couple of days and opinion/comments from participants, so do check back. In the meantime, if you weren’t following live, you can catch up here:


And now updated, 26th May

During the events I sought the opinions of several people. Here are two that struck me as particularly relevant.

Two men at a booth in a conference. The booth has branding 'CBM HHoT, Humanitarian Hands-on Tool'

Nazmul Bari at the CBM HHoT booth in the World Humanitarian Summit Innovation Fair. HHoT is a prototype application to provide humanitarian field workers with practical guidance on accessibility

Nazmul Bari, Director, Centre for Disability in Development (CDD):

“There are many barriers that cause persons with disabilities to be left behind during humanitarian crises. These begin to take effect immediately post-disaster, with a lack of data and info meaning that rescuers don’t know specifics about who lives where. Then, the sudden change in environment means that difficult decisions must be made, like who to prioritise during evacuation; persons with disabilities are often seen as least important.

“Transportation to safe shelter may not be accessible and once reaching there we have examples where people are turned away on the grounds of their disability. Even if the shelter is reached and the person is accepted, there are considerations like safety, security and accessibility of latrines.

“As time moves on, the next priorities include ensuring that relief efforts are inclusive. Commonly, information about and location of distribution points are not accessible to everyone. As well as directly excluding some people this indirectly puts an extra burden on family members who may then have to collect and transport multiple relief items. A further consequence is that normal support systems – e.g. caring for children – may be disrupted. There are then more challenges once early recovery is underway: Are livelihood and longer-term rebuilding/reconstruction efforts taking the needs of everyone into account?”

Two women at a booth during a conference. The booth has branding 'Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities'

Nelly Caleb, co-Chair of Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) at the Disability Group booth

Nelly Caleb, National Coordinator of Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association in Vanuatu, Board Member International Disability Alliance (IDA) and co-Chair of Pacific Disability Forum (PDF):

Persons with disabilities are excluded from projects and policies, even if, on paper, they are ‘included’. We must be able to actively participate. In the South Pacific we see disaster affects persons with disabilities a lot, so PDF helped different countries such as Vanuatu to developed a toolkit to help NGOs, civil societies and these countries to facilitate inclusion in their Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and disaster response work.


World Humanitarian Summit – a quick first note

Boarded and taxiing for take-off to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, I reflected on access and inclusion. Things were slick and efficient at Brussels airport. Sure, the assistance were five minutes later than promised but it was obvious that passenger rights and dignity were priorities, and that and I’m generally not excluded from services that my fellow travellers have access to. I’m lucky enough in my home an professional life to feel equally involved, living independently and being part of a busy emergency response unit.

But switch context to a situation of disaster – an earthquake, conflict, or typhoon – and it’s clear that things have potential to be very different. Homes destroyed perhaps, friends/families separated, basic essentials like food and water in short supply or non-existent; the list can go on… At this point priorities must be made, and – for many reasons – much of the relief and recovery work neither reaches nor involves a significant part of the affected population. It’s the point at which the concept of inclusion moves beyond comfort and dignity and becomes life-saving.

To put numbers to it, one in seven of the global population is a person with a disability. There are also reports of mortality rates exceeding that of the rest of society by up to four times.


But to look at these figures positively, it is a massive resource of untapped potential. In December, for example, I visited the work of some of our partners in Bangladesh where disaster preparedness work that benefits the whole community is being driven by disability inclusion. A large part of our relief and recovery work in Nepal over the last year was done in collaboration with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), who knew not only how quickest and most accurately to identify the most marginalised people, but how to ensure the information about relief work and the services themselves were accessible.

This is the point; until all emergency responders practice inclusion to this degree there will always be a percentage of the population who are left behind.

Follow live

The WHS starts officially today, and is geared to address some of these issue, with various events and one of the Special Sessions dedicated specifically to disability. It is imperative that the outcomes reflect this agenda.

I’ll write again, but In the meantime do follow live:

Webstream https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org/live


Upcoming Events at the UN in New York

In the next two months two important events for persons with disabilities will take place at the United Nations Headquarters: (1) the 9th session of the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD (14-16 June) and (2) the High-level Political Forum (11-20 July). In addition, on 13 June a civil society forum will occur in the morning and a follow-up panel on the high-level meeting on disability and development (from 2013) in the afternoon. As CBM, we are quite involved in both events and will provide updates and outcomes as relevant. Please continue reading for background information and a timeline of key dates.

Conference of States Parties

Article 40 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) stipulates that “The States Parties shall meet regularly in a Conference of States Parties (COSP) in order to consider any matter with regard to the implementation of the present Convention.” COSP is special in that not all human rights treaty bodies have annual meetings of their States parties to report back on what they are doing. COSP creates the important space for persons with disabilities to meet fellow States parties, to network, and to share ideas and influence.

This year’s overarching theme of COSP is “Implementing the 2030 development agenda for all persons with disabilities: Leaving no one behind.” Sub-themes include:

  • Eliminating poverty and inequality for all persons with disabilities
  • Promoting the rights of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities
  • Enhancing accessibility to information and technology and inclusive development
  • Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the CRPD

High-level Political Forum

The High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development is the central platform for the global follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015.

The HLPF, which adopts a Ministerial Declaration, is expected to start effectively delivering on its mandates to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations on the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and follow-up, keep track of progress, spur coherent policies informed by evidence, science and country experiences, as well as address new and emerging issues.

The theme of this year’s HLPF is “Ensuring that no one is left behind,” being quite relevant for the rights of persons with disabilities. Click here to read the draft program. Importantly, the HLPF will have national voluntary reviews of 22 countries and thematic reviews of progress on the SDGs, including cross-cutting issues, supported by reviews by the ECOSOC functional commissions and other inter-governmental bodies and forums. In New York in partnership with IDA, we have been reaching out to Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (DPOs) and partners in these 22 countries to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in the reporting process, to disseminate and gather information, to find good practices and gaps, and assess the situation for the coming years.

A highlight is that our IDDC and IDA blog on the 2016 HLPF theme “Ensuring that no one is left behind” is featured on the UN Sustainable Development website this week. Click here to read more.

Please continue reading for dates of upcoming events and deadlines.


15 May Countries giving national voluntary reviews at the HLPF 2016 will release short reports

15 May Deadline to apply to have a side event at COSP

1 June Deadline for online NGO registration for COSP

1 June Deadline to register to organize a side event at the HLPF

10 June Deadline to register to attend the HLPF

13 June (morning) Civil Society Forum

13 June (afternoon) Follow-up panel on the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development

14-16 June 9th Conference of States Parties to the CRPD

11-20 July High-level Political Forum | Ministerial Days 18-20 July

18 July Partnership Exchange This will provide a space for dialogue among multi-stakeholder partnerships and government officials, policy makers, UN entities and major groups and other stakeholders, for showcasing the work of multi-stakeholder partnerships in supporting the achievement of the SDGs, ensuring that no one is left behind in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.