New Disability Law Twin-Tracks to Mainstream Women with Disabilities

December 18, 2010
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Filed under: New Law

The working draft on the new law on disability addresses the concerns of women with disabilities through a unique twin track approach. The draft contains a section specifically for women with disabilities and, at the same time, incorporates gender concerns at several places throughout the draft to address concerns specific to women with disabilities. This is a great achievement for women with disabilities who have traditionally faced double discrimination on the grounds of both sex and disability, but have largely remained invisible in law and policy making.

The specific provision on women with disabilities in the working draft reaffirms the guarantee of equality for them. It imposes obligation on the government and the authorities responsible for implementation of the law to ensure full and equal enjoyment of all rights by women with disabilities through various measures like formulation of schemes and programmes. It further provides that schemes made for persons with disabilities be gender-sensitive. The provision also allows the authorities to give special entitlements to women with disabilities.

Besides this dedicated provision, gender concerns have been addressed in several other chapters of the draft by using the twin track approach. This approach has been borrowed from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the international convention on the basis of which the new law is being made. The Convention contains a dedicated article on women with disabilities and simultaneously addresses gender concerns in certain other articles, like those on health, awareness-raising, freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse, etc. Interestingly, the working draft goes even a step beyond the Convention from where it has borrowed this approach. Keeping the Indian context in consideration, the working draft addresses issues specific to disabled women at many more places than provided for in the Convention. The rights of women with disabilities have been recognized and programmatic interventions have been provided for at several places including in the provisions on legal capacity, right to home and family, right to privacy, education, health, social security, etc.

This is a big step ahead for women with disabilities whose concerns are not expressly addressed either in the present Persons with Disabilities Act or in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This silence demonstrates how the concerns of women with disabilities have remained invisible till now in policy making for both persons with disabilities and for women. The twin track approach in the new law will not only reaffirm that all rights are equally available to women with disabilities, but would also ensure that issues of distinct concern to women with disabilities are specifically addressed. For example, a number of girls and women with mental disabilities are forced to undergo hysterectomy in India. The working draft explicitly recognizes the right of disabled women to retain their fertility. At the same time, the chapter on the right to health requires the government to formulate programmes catering to sexual and reproductive health of women with disabilities. This twin track approach is also likely to facilitate the implementation of the law for disabled women by ensuring that none of their concerns gets missed out. Thus, the working draft definitely does a good job in mainstreaming the concerns of women with disabilities and addressing their rights.

Radhika Gupta

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