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My Thoughts on the Beijing Declaration

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Since I conduct research in the area of disability studies I decided to learn what the Beijing Declaration, a resolution adopted by the United Nations in 1995, had to say about women with disabilities. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is sometimes considered the most progressive scheme ever for advancing women's rights and gender equality in all aspects of life. My decision to analyze the Beijing Declaration from the perspective of disability rights was partially caused by the consternation I fell into upon learning that such an important document as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women did not mention women with disabilities at all. The Beijing Declaration, on the other hand, mentions women with disabilities exactly 36 times.

Why is it so important to analyze international documents for their stance on the rights of women with disabilities? According to many studies women with disabilities are more vulnerable to different forms of abuse. For example, according to the National Organization for Women Foundation report “when compared to able-bodied women, women with disabilities are three times as likely to be physically abused or assaulted”. Moreover, the same report states that “it is estimated that as many as 40% of women with disabilities experience sexual assault or physical violence in their lifetimes and that more than 90% of all people with developmental disabilities will experience sexual assault”.

It turns out, that the Beijing Declaration does acknowledge that fact. For instance, women with disabilities are mentioned in article 46. which states that many women, among them women with disabilities, are “particularly affected by environmental disasters, serious and infectious diseases and various forms of violence against women”. Furthermore, I was glad to learn that the Beijing Declaration does not only address the issue of violence and abuse experienced by women with disabilities, but also many obstacles they face in their access to the job market and education. For example, according to the “Discrimination and access to employment for female workers with disabilities” report, in “most countries disabled women are more likely to be out of the labor force than disabled men”. The same report reveals that in the developing countries, gender patterns in relation to disability indicate that disabled girls are likely to find their access to education even more limited than girls in general. Therefore, it is crucial that the Beijing Declaration addresses these issues by stating, among others, in article 81 (a) promises the eradication of illiteracy among women with disabilities.

Moreover, I was curious if the Beijing Declaration tackles the issues of mental health. Despite the fact that the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action adopted the WHO definition of health, according to which “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, the Declaration does not really address mental health issues. Instead, the declaration seems to focus on sexual and reproductive health, while the WHO report “Women and Health” underscores the importance of going beyond sexual and reproductive concerns in terms of women’s health. For instance, article 17. underscores “the explicit recognition and reaffirmation of the right of all women to control all aspects of their health, in particular, their own fertility”. Therefore, I believe that when it comes to women’s health, there is a lot of room for improvement in the Beijing Declaration, and while the Declaration goes, in certain articles, beyond sexual and reproductive health by addressing such issues as malnutrition or transmittable diseases, it should also underscore the importance of mental health among women.

AD: A picture of various national flags.

Overall, I believe that the Beijing Declaration is a very noble document but I do not believe that all its commitments while being right, are realistic. Some changes proposed by the Declaration require a lot of financial resources which may be lacking in some developing countries. Other commitments, on the other hand, seem unrealistic due to cultural differences around the world. I come from Poland which is a developed country, but due to the conservative agenda of our current government and the Catholic Church, women still have very limited control over their sexual and reproductive health. Birth control is difficult to obtain and legal abortion is almost non-existent in my country. Given the above, I do not believe that all the commitments expressed in the Beijing Declaration can be implemented unanimously.

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