Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2022

01 December 2022

For the 1 billion people in the world with disabilities, bodily autonomy is a right but not always a reality. Too often, persons with disabilities go unprotected from violence or are prevented from making decisions about their own bodies and lives.

Stigma and gender discrimination compound the denial of their rights and choices. Women with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely to experience gender-based violence, and are often prevented from accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services. Many endure coercive healthcare practices, including forced sterilization and abortion, as well as abusive treatment. 

As the world crosses the milestone of 8 billion people and recognizes the advances that have led to longer, healthier lives, it is time to close the deep disparities that still leave so many persons with disabilities behind. We need to create an environment in which every person can flourish free from barriers to accessibility or any other obstacle to realizing their right to a dignified life. 

At UNFPA, we stand behind the “We Decide” initiative, a global effort to include and empower women and young persons with disabilities. Together with partners, we are championing innovations and technologies that promote the rights of persons with disabilities. Too often, persons with disabilities are left on the wrong side of the digital divide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, many remote learning platforms, including for comprehensive sexuality education, were not fully accessible even though adolescents and youth with disabilities need age-appropriate information about sexual and reproductive health – just as any other young person does. 

The promise of the digital world is immense. Mobile phones, for example, can open access to information and services, bringing life-changing benefits. Yet, access is not enough; we must ensure collaboration and participation. Bringing people with disabilities together with technology partners to innovate and co-create service solutions is part of our commitment to heed the call: “nothing about us without us”.  

This is just one of many steps towards the world we want, one that works for all 8 billion of us. That’s not possible if the over 1 billion persons with disabilities are left behind. On this day, let us recommit to a world where everyone is included and has an equal opportunity to thrive. Let us do everything possible to uphold and respect the rights, choices and dignity of all.

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