(Photo by Karolina Harz)
This is the second of a series of interviews with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
In this interview, we spoke with MEP Sylwia Spurek about the issues facing women and girls with disabilities, the advancement of disability rights in general and what the Parliament can do more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
Question: How are the issues of women and girls with disabilities included in the work of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM Committee)?
Answer: Intersectionality is crucial for the FEMM Committee, and the majority of matters discussed and files proceeded take this approach. My group, Greens/EFA, always highlights that when we speak about women’s rights, we should give particular attention to the group’s which face intersectional discrimination, including women and girls with disabilities.
However, my opinion, also as a former Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, is that EU as a whole is far from implementing the recommendation of CRPD, issued in 2015, to mainstream a disability perspective in all its gender policies. The CRPD also recommended that the EU should develop affirmative actions to advance the rights of women and girls with disabilities, establish a mechanism to monitor progress, fund data collection and research on women and girls with disabilities, and ratify the Istanbul Convention, in order to combat violence that women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to. None of these recommendations was implemented and while the FEMM Committee cannot do it on its own, needed advancements could and should be discussed more often.
An occasion for that will be on 30 November 2021, when the FEMM Committee is organising an inter-parliamentary committee meeting, with a panel focused on preventing and combating violence against women and girls with disabilities.
Question: What would you like to see in terms of advancement of disability rights by the end of your term?
Answer: There is definitely a lot to be done and disappointingly, the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2030 does not provide ambitious solutions towards needed advancement. Undoubtedly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UE is a party to already for 10 years, sets a framework of standards that not only should be implemented, but must be, as a matter of a legal obligation. Already in 2015 the UN Committee, which monitors the Convention, issued recommendations for the EU, pointing out what changes are needed. Most of them are still accurate.
To give examples of the crucial ones: the EU must prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability outside employment, for example by adopting horizontal anti-discrimination directive, blocked in the Council since 2008. It should also ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which would allow individuals or groups to bring complaints to the UN Committee, in the cases of violations of their rights. The issues of independent living, accessibility and equal recognition before the law are the crucial areas, where not enough is being done. Finally, protection of women and girls with disabilities from violence should be established at the EU level.
Question: What can the Parliament do more to protect the rights of persons with disabilities?
Answer: Firstly, Parliament should ensure that it is more accessible to persons with disabilities, in line with the ‘leading by example’ policy. At present, the majority of Parliament’s work is not accessible to persons who are blind, deaf or persons with intellectual disabilities. Persons with disabilities are also under-represented on the European Parliament’s staff, and Parliament itself is not seen as a disability-friendly workplace. Parliament should also become more involved in work on the next European Union report on the implementation of the CRPD (in response to the ‘list of issues’), and take the lead in the debate on the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which is currently stalled. We should also exert greater pressure on the Commission and the Council to increase the pace of implementation of the CRPD standards, including increased protection of women with disabilities from violence.
In my opinion, Parliament could attach greater importance to the rights of persons with disabilities if it set up a separate Committee specialising in the area of disability.