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Beijing, China 

Delivered via video link

Distinguished guests,
Good morning.

On behalf of the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, I am honoured to participate in the Launch Ceremony for the Call to Action on Enabling Sisters with Disabilities to Join in Shaping the Future We Want.

Thank you to the China Disabled Persons’ Federation and Mr. Jia Yong, Vice President of CDPF, for inviting UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, to this important event.

Today’s milestone reflects the importance China is placing on addressing the needs of persons living with disabilities. 

By incorporating the programmes of persons with disabilities in the national social and economic plan and human rights action plan, China has strengthened the institutions for protecting the rights and interests of persons living with disabilities.

And, the full development of China Disabled Persons’ Federation and other similar networks in China, enable persons with disabilities to reach out for support, pursue and protect their rights. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Women and girls with disabilities often face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. 

For example, girls and young women living with disabilities are often denied the right to make decisions for themselves about their sexual and reproductive health, increasing their risk of sexual violence, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.

The statistics around the risk of gender based violence experienced by women and girls living with disabilities is sobering. Women with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely to experience sexual violence. In fact, estimates suggest that 40 to 68 percent of young women with disabilities will experience sexual violence before the age of 18. 

Now, with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, we are observing that the challenges faced by women and girls living with disabilities are being further exacerbated – across health, social and economic dimensions. 

For UNFPA, these figures are unacceptable!

UNFPA’s mandate is grounded in the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, which calls for the realization of the rights of all persons living with disabilities and their participation in all aspects of social, economic and cultural life - and recognizes the needs of persons living with disabilities concerning sexual and reproductive health, including rights-based family planning. 

We also actively work with governments in the Asia-Pacific region to implement the Incheon Strategy for Persons with Disabilities, which is the region's first set of disability-specific development goals to track progress towards the fulfilment of rights of persons with disabilities - including in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence. 

In the Asia-Pacific region where it is estimated that one in every six persons, or 650 million people are living with a disability, UNFPA specifically promotes the rights of women and girls living with disabilities through:

  • advocacy and policy dialogue with governments
  • collection and use of data to guide policy development, including working to strengthen national statistical offices to ensure data includes, and is accessible to, people with disabilities; and 
  • strengthened accessibility of sexual and reproductive health and gender based violence information, education and services

For example, UNFPA has recently launched Guidelines for Providing Rights-Based and Gender-Responsive Services to Address Gender-Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for Women and Young Persons with Disabilities and is working with countries in the region to ensure these guidelines are applied.

In the context of COVID-19, and as a global leader in coordinating responses to gender-based violence mechanisms in humanitarian context, UNFPA is (a) advocating for active and meaningful engagement of organisations of persons with disabilities and networks in decision making, and (b) ensuring that GBV response services such as hotlines, health care shelters are accessible and disability inclusive. 

However, we must do more to ensure that all these frameworks and guidelines lead to practical and impactful measures.

We must not only shine a light on the needs of women and girls living with disabilities, but also take concrete action to ensure that all stakeholders, including governments, disability organizations and the United Nations system, more effectively include women and girls living with disabilities in all of our efforts.

This will require targeted interventions, to improve the standard of living of women and girls living with disabilities. This includes both reviewing existing laws and policies to ensure that rights and needs of women living with disabilities are promoted and protected - and developing new laws and policies where there are gaps.

In the area of sexual and reproductive health, we must all work to ensure that services are provided to all women in a manner that maintains their dignity, and ensures freedom from harm and mistreatment, and enables informed choice and continuous support during labour and childbirth.

Adolescents with disabilities should be provided with educational programmes and teaching materials, based on full and accurate information. We need to provide young people with disabilities with a supportive and enabling environment by reducing stigma regarding their health, involving parents and caregivers but still maintaining and upholding their rights.

We must also eliminate the heightened barriers to women and girls living with disabilities in seeking gender-based violence services. And we must ensure that such services are survivor centred.

But most importantly, if we want to effectively respond to the needs of women and girls living with disabilities, we must more actively and directly engage them at the very outset. We must hear the voices of women and girls with disabilities and let their active participation drive our policy responses.

This will all be critical to fulfill our joint commitment to Leave No One Behind.

Thank you.