We spoke with Sif Holst Vice-Chair DPOD, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee and Nordic Council’s Disability Council. With over 20 years of experience as disability rights advocate, we interviewed her about her candidacy to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Committee. She is for sure a well qualified women with disabilities from our region. Our member Disabled People’s Organisation Denmark (DPOD) are urging the disability movement to support Sif’s candidature.
Questions: What would you contribute as a member of the CRPD committee?
Sif Holst: I am an experienced disability rights advocate with in-depth knowledge of disability issues and practical experience in developing solutions. But maybe more important, I work by engaging and collaborating, I work with persons with disabilities, but I also believe in the importance of engaging outside the disability community, making sure that we do not fight alone.
I am woman born with a rare disability, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I use a power wheelchair and I am dependent on personal assistance. I have overcome many obstacles through-out my life and I believe that my experiences have made me stronger and have taught me a lot, which I can use to fight for disability rights and to ensure that everyone are given the chance to blossom in their own way.
Question: What can the CRPD do more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities?
Sif Holst: We need to insist on more data. Without it, it is too easy just to talk about good intentions. We need data disaggregated by gender and disability and when possible, also by type of disability, age, and other factors. Data is an important tool to use in advocacy, to highlight where we fall behind, including getting a better understanding on the gaps and whether there is a difference when it comes to the gender, the type of disability or the socio-economic status. This focus on data can help us raise issues, where we need to do more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
The work with the Sustainable Development Goals has shown us the importance having specific targets and collecting and using data, even though it is far from perfect. We need to be inspired by this and by the cooperation of civil society achieved in relation to the SDGs. We need to make sure, that it is not only the disability organisations who talks about the CRPD and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, we need to reach out and engage. Data and the SDGs are important tools to achieve that.
Question: You are an important voice and a reference for many women and girls with disabilities, what do you think should be the next steps in advancing their rights?
Sif Holst: Girls and women with disabilities are faced with multiple barriers when it comes to gender and when it comes to disability. Too much focus is put on what we can’t do, what we can’t say and how we should just be grateful for what we are given.
One topic I think is important to talk more about is our sexuality, people with disabilities are too often thought of as asexual, it makes it more difficult to find a partner, but unfortunately it also means a lot of discrimination when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights and a blind spot when it comes to the increased risk of sexual abuse of girls and women with disabilities.
We should help girls and women with disabilities to aim for the stars. During this year’s examination of Denmark on the women’s convention (CEDAW), there was a recommendation of securing more women a leadership position including seats on boards. And a recommendation to also secure women from marginalised groups, such as women with a disability, leadership positions. That should be our aim, to make sure that a girl born today, will be able to become anything she wants, including holding a leadership position, if she fights for it.
Question: Even before the CRPD was adopted you contributed to the 2006 anthology “Children and youth in development work” about children and youth with disability. Tell us about it
Sif Holst: I worked as a development consultant at that time, supporting Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled in building a youth wing and I was also active in the Danish Youth Council. So, when the Danish Youth Council decided to publish a book about right based development work for and with children and youth, they asked me to write a chapter about children and youth with disabilities.
Too many development programs forget people with disabilities, including those targeting children and youth, and people with disabilities are often among the most poor and vulnerable. I wrote about the need to both support the disability organisations and the need to mainstream disability into all development programmes. And then I wrote about human rights, about the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the CRPD, which was in the pipeline at that point, and I mentioned the importance of other relevant declarations, such as the Salamanca declaration from 1994.
Question: What would you like to see in terms of advancement of disability rights in the next years?
Sif Holst: The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how far we still are from the vision of the CRPD. Our countries and support systems are of course different, but too often people with disabilities have been forgotten in the emergency planning and the vaccination roll-out, and too many has experienced a loss of income, have been excluded from education, have experienced a shut-down of social services, not to mention the effects on health and rehabilitation services and the rise in violence experienced by girls and women with disabilities. There have been setbacks all across the articles of the CRPD.
There is a lot of talk now about Building Back Better and I think that an important part of this is to secure our foundation.
- We need to secure disability organisations a seat at the table, to secure the right solution first time around.
- We need to make sure that we build accessible, buildings, objects, but also services, to secure us equal access.
- And we need to bring focus on the fact, that not all persons with disabilities are the same, our disability, our gender, and the resources we have at our disposal makes a difference and to move forward we need to acknowledge that.
Unfortunately, this pandemic will not be the last crisis we experience, among other things we have a climate crisis ahead of us and if we do not secure a strong foundation, we risk losing to many of our achievements every time there is a change of government, of strategy or when something unexpected happens. But with a strong foundation and partnerships outside the disability organisations we decrease the risk of that.