Global Disability Summit Spotlight session: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

24 Jul 2018

Global Disability Summit - London

Remarks of Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA

Good afternoon distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen. 

UNFPA is honoured be part this historic first Global Disability Summit. 

We congratulate and thank the organizers, the UK Department for International Development, the Government of Kenya, and the International Disability Alliance, for convening this event and championing the rights of persons with disabilities. 

Should a disabled young woman or man be able to enjoy safe sexuality and keep well and healthy? 

Should disabled persons get quality education, information and services for sexual and reproductive health?

Should a disabled woman be able to make her own decisions about whether or not to have children and get support to have healthy children?

Should all disabled girls and women live free of sexual abuse?

Yes! All people have the right to live in dignity free of discrimination. 

I am thrilled to be at this Spotlight session dedicated to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of persons with disabilities. 

This is a subject that is often overlooked and neglected. And we are here today to make sure that these universal rights are promoted and protected. 

The 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the only United Nations convention to explicitly position the right to sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights. 

Yet even though these rights exist on paper, the lived realities of persons with disabilities, especially girls and women, are harsh. 

As many participants at this Summit can attest: Women and adolescent girls with disabilities are often told they cannot become mothers. They are often told they shouldn’t be in intimate relationships or partnerships.

They suffer in silence from violence including egregious levels of sexual violence, at times inflicted by those who care for them. 

They face extreme stigma and discrimination – laced with assumptions that they do not need sexual and reproductive health services because they are asexual. 

They are denied access to comprehensive sexuality education, limiting their ability to have safe, healthy and enjoyable relationships. 

Decisions about their bodies are taken for them. Human rights violations are committed such as forced contraception, forced sterilization, and forced abortion. 

We are here to take a stand and say no more!

Universal human rights and universal health care means rights and healthcare for ALL, without discrimination! 

For UNFPA, universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are a priority. 

With the support of DFID, UNFPA convened a research and policy initiative in East and Southern Africa to strengthen access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for young persons with disabilities across the 23 countries in the sub-region. 

With support of the Government of Spain, we launched the WE DECIDE global programme to promote the empowerment and rights of women and young persons with disabilities. 

In September we will officially launch a global study on ending gender-based violence and realizing sexual and reproductive rights for young persons with disabilities. We fast-tracked the Summary Brief which is available today in different formats, especially for this audience.

A major finding of this study is that involving young persons, including young women and girls, with disabilities is integral to understanding the issues and developing the laws, policies, and programmes that respond to their needs. 

A second central claim is that in order for young persons with disabilities to fully enjoy their human rights, States must not only eliminate discriminatory laws and regulations and guarantee equality as a matter of law. They must also pay attention to the distinct needs of young persons with disabilities within laws, policies and programmes. 
Finally, this study finds that States must take action to eliminate stigma, prejudice and discrimination against young persons with disabilities to ensure their full inclusion. 

To make sure that everyone counts, we call on the global community to strengthen quality and comparable data on disability. This commitment is embedded in UNFPA’s new Census Strategy, where we are advocating and providing technical support to United Nations Member States to collect and disaggregate data on disability according to the criteria of the SDG indicator framework and using the Washington Group methodology. 

I stand before you today with another commitment. A commitment that UNFPA will continue to deepen our work in the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities across our 3 transformative results to achieve by 2030:
●    zero maternal deaths,
●    zero unintended pregnancies and
●    zero gender-based violence and harmful practices, including female genital mutilation and child marriage. 

Ladies and gentlemen, UNFPA’s commitment is to deepen our investment, know-how, and dedication to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of persons with disabilities. 

Our new Strategic Plan commits us to this, and the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind compels us to keep innovating, advocating, and pushing to ensure that persons with disabilities everywhere, are fully aware and able to exercise their rights; to access sexual and reproductive health information, education and services; and to live free of violence and discrimination. 

In the words of the great writer of Africa, Chinua Achebe: If you don’t like someone else’s story, write your own!

We at UNFPA relish the idea that in solidarity with you and the movement of differently abled persons already, that new story is being written! And that in this brave era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through the power of disabled people everywhere — women, girls, boys and men — a new and different story about the beauty and brilliance of “difference” will soon be at hand. 

Thank you!


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