Remarks by Ambassador Haslach at the Collaborative Workshop on Women and Disabilities as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

Remarks by
Patricia Haslach
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the Collaborative Workshop on Women and Disabilities as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa 

(As prepared for delivery) 

Salem new! Good Morning to all of my sisters here this morning…as well as the gentlemen present too!  Your presence and involvement is very important!  It is a privilege to join you all here today to launch this workshop, co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the Ethiopian National Disability Action Network, known as ENDAN.

I would like to thank Hana Bekele, who is one of our prestigious Mandela Washington Fellows from 2015, for her work to make this workshop possible and for inviting me to welcome you and to speak to all of you. Today, we are here to acknowledge and commemorate the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which began on November 25, the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women and ends on December 10, International Human Rights Day.  During the 16 Days, there are other important dates to recognize as well, including today, World AIDS Day, and also Thursday, December 3, which is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The 16 Days of Activism Against GBV is very important to me and to the United States government, which is why the U.S. Embassy has been working hard to make this one-day consultative workshop possible.  We feel it is very important to significantly increase awareness of these issues, and highlighting the campaign through traditional and social media is a critical part of that, as well as working closely with key partners like ENDAN.  Today, we are here to talk about the impact of GBV against women with disabilities and the role of civil society, media and other stakeholders in finding ways to eliminate this scourge in all societies.

In Ethiopia, women with disabilities are among the most disadvantaged and marginalized populations and are also one of the populations most vulnerable to physical and sexual violence.  One question that is important to ask and understand is “what puts women and girls with disabilities at greater risk?”  First of all, in many places, there is double discrimination and stereotyping, both for being a woman and for having a disability.  Women with disabilities may find themselves trapped in abusive relationships because they are financially and socially dependent on their partners and families for survival.  There are the factors of stigma, ignorance about disability, as well as a lack of social support for those who care for them. Mothers with disabilities may also fear losing their children if they report domestic violence or abuse.

According to a joint World Health Organization/World Bank “World Report on Disability,” over 15% of the world population has a disability, making it a population of over 1 billion people, with the female prevalence of disability being nearly 60% higher than for males.  Violence against women constitutes a violation of their human rights.  That being said, violence against women and girls with disabilities continues to be hidden, ignored, and underreported for many of the reasons I explained earlier.  Additionally, women and girls with disabilities often do not have easy access to the legal system, and the law enforcement community may not respond appropriately to reports of violence against women and girls with disabilities, leading to a lack of reporting and prosecution.

So, what needs to be done?

We need to work together to promote the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in mainstream efforts to address violence against all women by ensuring that women with disabilities are aware of their rights and can physically access programs and services. This is why I am particularly encouraged by the presence of my friend Yetnebersh Nigussie here today who is the Chair of the Board of Directors of ENDAN and a key supporter of women with disabilities, along with so many others in this room who are dedicated to improving the lives of women with disabilities.

We need to educate parents, partners, nurses, caregivers, and other health care service providers to deal respectfully with persons with disabilities and offer quality care when their help is required. And we need to educate the media and key opinion leaders on this important issue to ensure that women with disabilities are included in discussions of human rights and how violence against them is a violation of their human rights.  Organizations like ENDAN can address how to train communities to include and communicate with people with different types of disabilities to avoid isolation of women and girls with disabilities.

Additionally, we in the U.S. Government, along with other partners, need to actively include women with disabilities in developing and implementing programs, policies, and protocols for service providers, and support organizations who work with women with disabilities. I am proud to say that I have personally made people with disabilities, women and children the focus of our Ambassador’s Special Help Fund within our Embassy Small Projects Office, as well as through our USAID Mission’s ongoing program with ECDD on disabilities and inclusive employment. We have worked very hard at the Embassy to recruit women and people with disabilities for President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative, and Hana is a clear example of that.  Additionally, we are working to help make the legal system more supportive and responsive to reports of violence against women and girls with disabilities.

Ultimately, violence against women will only end when women and girls are fully valued by society and able to fully participate. The United States is committed to being a part of the global effort to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.  But we can’t do this alone. Only through collective action will violence against women be eliminated.

Thank you for your commitment to this issue and I wish you a productive workshop!