It is possible to design a future where all have a chance to live and thrive

It is possible to design a future where all have a chance to live and thrive

Blog post by Sif Holst candidate for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

On March 22nd I attended the 66th meeting of The UN Commission on The Status of Women, CSW. The CSW’s main objective is to develop and uphold standards for gender equality and create an environment in which every woman and girl can exercise her human rights and live up to her full potential. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we in the disability movement strive for the same thing: to break down the barriers preventing people with disabilities from exercising their human rights and living up to their full potential.

And the similarities do not stop there. Both groups are found everywhere on the planet, in all religions, nations, age groups, and so on. Yet, both people with disabilities and women still experience discrimination, harassment, and barriers to achieving our full potential. In our work to break down these barriers, there was for too long a sentiment to view gender and disability as two different characteristics with different obstacles and hereby different solutions. However, women cannot be viewed solely through the lens of gender and a person with a disability solely through their disability. We must apply a holistic view, taking to account all of the factors prohibiting their full potential.

The theme of the 66th meeting of the CSW was how to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental, and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes. As I presented to the commission, there is a need to bring the physical and social sciences together and challenge our future architects, engineers, and designers to also consider vulnerable groups in their design. It is absolutely imperative if we are to ensure that no one is left behind.

15% of the world’s population have a disability, 80% live in low and middle-income countries, and are highly climate-vulnerable. Higher poverty, higher food insecurity, inadequate housing, barriers to access information, all contributes to persons and particularly women and girls with a disability being extra vulnerable to climate change and disasters.

This is a result of the multiple discrimination women with disabilities face. Let me give you an example. A female climate refugee with a disability may experience discrimination on the basis of both gender, refugee status, and disability at the same time. The discrimination that occurs on the basis of several factors is especially damming. Because the combination of discrimination based on several factors has greater consequences than the single factors isolated. The discrimination often intersects and compounds each other.

For the policies and programs put in place to mitigate the impacts of climate change and disasters to be truly effective and leave no one behind, they must be built on Universal Design ensuring that women also have access. It is possible to design a future where all have a chance to live and thrive.

The empowerment of all girls and women in the context of climate change is possible, but only if we strategically work to include and empower those who are most vulnerable.

You can read more about Sif Holst work as a candidate for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and vice-chair of the Disabled People’s Organisations Denmark here.